Round One here. I finally finished Faking It (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003) by William Miller. An outstanding exercise in applied moral philosophy. If you liked Hamlet, read this book. If you've never seen Hamlet but pretend that you have, definitely read this book. You will learn to second-guess and third-guess youself and everyone else. I'll summarize Miller's comments on prayer, irony, and alchemy.
Prayer. Religious practice offers ample scope for fakery, that is for doing actions without the kind of mental thoughts or states generally assumed to accompany those actions. He points out that "prayers uttered in foxholes are completely sincere," with no sense of the fakery or disconnectedness that sometimes accompanies personal or communal prayer (p. 64). He points out the incongruity of many of the prayer-like biblical psalms being essentially pleas to God to smite enemies or exact revenge upon them (p. 67). How can one who deems forgiveness a virtue sincerely offer such words in a petition to God? Finally, "prayers in which we humble ourselves before God by proclaiming how unworthy we are of His grace or of His beneficient attention have a certain amount of playacting and shamming built in" (p. 65). Makes me think of how newly called Seventies fall all over themselves proclaiming how unworthy they are for such a weighty calling.
Irony. You can't evade the charge of fakery by merely distancing yourself from the roles you play in life. Miller skewers that kind of half-engagement.
The ironic pose is a common one and more complex than most. Those who adopt it seem to feel that irony gives them some control over feeling foolish about playing the various roles they are self-conscious about playing. It is a style of making one's less than full immersion in various roles the substance, as well as the style, of one's character. (p. 125)But it's a tricky act to pull off, and other people tend to see through the pose well before the would-be ironist. Bad ironists "insult us by their lamely hostile comments, which are all the more offensive because they radiate superciliousness, excessive self-regard, and contempt" (p. 117). Ouch. I suspect bad ironists are overrepresented in the ranks of liberal Mormons. I personally found this to be a painful chapter to read.
Alchemy. He likens the alchemist to one who overidentifies with a role and is incapable of extracting himself from it, even when he can sense it is inauthentic or even downright fraudulent. He draws the metaphor from Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman's Tale, where the alchemist was a figure of wonder to the common man, a sort of sage or philosopher. Even then, people knew at some level "that there was an alchemy racket" (p. 170). What's surprising is not only that people kept playing the game, but that alchemists did too!
They are crooks and they are believers. They deceive others, not to get rich but to fund their researches, so committed to and so enthralled are they by the quest for the philosopher's stone. * * * When they swindle their marks they are really engaged in an activity completely analogous to a modern scientist applying for a research grant. (p. 171)For Miller, this is the "other side of the faking-it coin" where one is "drowning in his role" and can't separate himself from it (p. 176). A form of knowing and practiced self-deception sometimes, but at other times well hidden self-deception that transmutates into sincerity, buttressed by hope. We all feel a twinge of ironic empathy when we read of dedicated alchemists, don't we?
There's no real prescription for how to become a sincere or authentic person at the end of the book. Anxiety about sincerity, fakery, even identity, characterizes the human condition. It's part of life, not a character flaw. But in general he regards just going through the motions with more sympathy than most commentators. Feelings follow actions as much as the other way around. My four-word review and summary: Stop worrying, just persevere.