By now, you’ve probably heard some Christians (or ex-Christians, or post-Christians) talk about deconstructing their faith. Defining that term is a little difficult: in the context of the secular world, it relates to a complicated postmodern literary theory that prods at the limitations of language and knowledge. YIKES!
In colloquial spiritual use, however, deconstruction simply refers to the personal process one goes through when they begin to question the tenets of their own faith.
In the mind’s complex web of meaning, even our most fundamental beliefs can be distorted by feelings and experiences that we assume to be essential aspects. Imagine pulling a Bible off a shelf, finding it coated in dust, and believing that the dust was supposed to be there. Deconstructing faith is like pulling your mind off a shelf, dusting it off, and realizing that many of the ideas within simply don’t belong.
Many Christians see deconstruction as a temporary process: a way of “cleaning out” the cultural clutter that others have come to accept as gospel truth. Some will eventually reconstruct their faith into a familiar, yet refined form; others will return radically changed, if they return at all. Still others see it as a never-ending practice that keeps us eternally, spiritually open to something beyond our own understanding.
In any case, deconstruction is a harrowing coming-of-age journey through the dark, with no clear destination in sight and no reward guaranteed. Some of us embark willingly, following threads we found in sacred spaces while guided by spirit and hope; others are forced into it, as confusion and cognitive dissonance reveal fractures in the foundations of our most fundamental beliefs.
Though the path is never the same, it is always difficult to pioneer. It takes immense bravery and intense vulnerability to question the beliefs your community tells you are, without doubt, the Absolute Truth. Worst of all, those same people — the ones who loved you, guided you, and baptized you in the Spirit — are unlikely to understand or support your journey in any way. More often than not, they will find it deeply disconcerting.
If you begin this journey, you may be fortunate enough to find support from the more progressive members of your church. Unfortunately, it’s far more likely that they will turn their backs on you, while declaring that you turned your back on GOD. You may be anxiously interrogated — out of love, of course — or even attacked for your alleged betrayal. It will sting just the same, either way. You will begin to feel hopelessly, desperately alone.
Eventually, you may question whether you’ve made the right decision. At that point — somewhat curiously — you’ll realize you never even made a decision. All the events of your life had, somehow, simply led you here. You couldn’t possibly flick a switch and return to what you were before — at least, not in the same way. Your mind has already been shaped into something new. This process cannot be reverted, but it just might be resolved.
Finally, in the throes of darkness, you discover a still, small light that has somehow been present inside of you this entire time. You still may not understand what it is, or where it will lead you; regardless, it shines. A cocoon begins to rip open, and the light tears into the darkness. You are being reconstructed; you are being born, again.
While many celebrate this process as essential and beautiful, many more challenge it. For example, if you’re older than a Millennial, and American, and staunchly conservative, and currently attend a suburban or rural church — then you are probably deeply suspicious of all of this.
You may be personally offended that the children you instilled with Absolute Truth are now questioning your teachings, or even trying to correct you. You may be concerned, out of love, that all these deceived souls will be lost to hellfire, forever: even worse, that may begin to instill YOU with doubts. A desperate anxiety may slowly creep into your soul, threatening to undermine all you have ever believed to be good and righteous.
Here’s the problem: your age, and all those other factors I listed? The technology you’ve had access to, the locations you’ve lived in, the type of education you’ve received, the diversity of people you’ve encountered, the economic and political forces that surround you, the leaders you look up to and the enemies you loathe? All of those factors deeply affect the way you perceive God, Christianity itself, and what either of those things actually means.
For all of us, the context of our life influences the relationship we have with the divine — or the type of relationship we think we should have, or if we should have one at all. It affects the way we read the Bible, what we look for within it, what we believe it is, and how it ought to be used. It affects the language we use to communicate the truth. It affects everything we believe, and whether or not we can believe at all.
This is precisely why deconstruction is essential, and perhaps even spiritual: it is an attempt to overcome the ever-changing contexts of our beliefs to seek something eternal beyond them.
For the record: that’s probably the most Christian sentiment I’ve ever heard. It’s the same attitude held by the diverse, devout theologians who shaped thousands of years of evolving beliefs that many now take for granted as gospel truth. It’s the very same spirit the church tried to cultivate in their children — many of whom they now reject as sinful, mislead, and mistaken.
In a parallel universe, those of us who dared deconstruct our beliefs would become pastors; in this universe, we’re more often pariahs, excommunicated (and historically, executed) by the churches we loved. We are more often viewed as heretics or blasphemers than saints — usually by people casually forgetting how many saints died horrible, flaming deaths at the hands of the church. All for the unforgivable sin of believing things that future generations of Christians would consider to be blatantly obvious — even absolute.
Unsurprisingly, this is one reason why Millennials are abandoning churches in droves. Not because we deconstructed — but because, once we returned, we were rejected.
We were told that we had to believe the exact same things, in the exact same language, forever; we deconstructed, studied two thousand years of Christian history, and learned how that claim is absurd and unfounded. YOU — not God — insisted that we accept your culture in black-and-white, absolute terms. Given your binary option of “Yes” or “No”, most of us had no choice but the latter.
Yes, that hurts us; no, we’re not turning back. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. So please, don’t excommunicate us, or pester us, or gaslight us into rejecting our entire life experiences as evil and invalid. You raised us on your teachings, and you sent us out into the world. We are the seeds that you planted: do not reject the flowers we are becoming.
We’re living on a prayer, while questioning what prayer is, and wondering if there’s even anyone out there to listen. We’re taking a strange leap of faith — whatever that means — into the mysterious spaces in your absolute reality — whatever that may be — all while being led by the spirit — whatever that is — to something far greater than ourselves — whatever we are.
Learn from us. Listen to us. Love us.