Tear Down to Build Up
Discovering an authentic belief system that gives purpose and meaning to life is a high priority for many people. It’s healthy to honestly question beliefs that we previously took for granted. We call this process “deconstructing.”
“Deconstruction” has been a buzz-word in academia for some time now. At the risk of oversimplifying, deconstruction involves reëxamining literary, philosophical, historical, theological, legal, or psychological texts in an effort to understand the biases of the cultures from which they emerged. For example, most of occidental civilization has historically been both patriarchal (male dominated) and binary – good versus evil, right versus wrong, without acknowledging the grey areas between. Narratives are studied in an effort to separate that which applies cross-culturally from that which was a product of the times.
In recent years scholarly deconstruction has collided with problems in the western church, especially in North American conservative Roman Catholic and “White” Evangelical Protestant denominations. The patriarchal and binary assumptions of fundamentalism are being questioned. But it isn’t simply a matter of scholarly pursuit. A lot of people, especially millennials and Gen Z, have almost been forced into deconstructing the faith in which they were raised.
Some have been abused by church leaders. Others are shocked to see their religious leaders supporting far-right-wing politics, denying science, and promoting conspiracies. They may have been taught that the Bible is inerrant and infallible in every detail.
Some are appalled at the vitriol hatred of the LGBTQ+ community, or the lack of concern for social justice issues. Others struggle with theodicy – the problem of evil – Why would an all-powerful, good God, allow such horrible suffering in the world? Some people cannot fathom the belief that a loving God would consign people to an eternity of torture. Bible students wonder about all the violence in the scriptures, much of which is attributed to God.
The reasons vary, but many people find themselves walking away from, or at the least, deeply questioning the theology they were taught. That’s deconstruction. A plethora of social media groups are dedicated to providing platforms for religious deconstruction dialogue. There you can find people who have completely rejected the whole idea of God. They have tossed out the whole kit and kaboodle. Some of them are quite dogmatic in their atheism. Others are confused, not knowing what to believe. Not a few are cobbling together a smörgåsbord of Christian, Gnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age beliefs, picking and choosing what feels good to them without too much concern for logic. There’s much confusion and misinformation afoot.
I love to be around people who are deconstructing their faith. The very fact that so many people are questioning and searching indicates a deep thirst for authentic spirituality and intellectual honesty.
I came to faith in the Jesus Movement, was influenced by fundamentalist neo-Pentecostalism, fairly quickly saw some rather bizarre interpretations of scripture, and was relieved to settle into Calvary Chapel where Chuck Smith taught me the Bible. I’m grateful for those years. I love the scriptures and know the stories pretty well. And, I knew and loved Chuck. He was my spiritual father; his wife Kay, my spiritual mother. But Chuck’s teaching was patriarchal and binary. His eschatology was fringe, and his political views grew increasingly conservative over the years. Calvary Chapel became a haven for wealthy white boomers. Behind the scenes, I saw some things with which I could not agree. I was pushed into deconstructing.
I never stopped believing in God. Jesus touched and changed my life. I could never deny that. I hold the Bible in the highest regard. But, biblical inerrancy, violence in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation, eternal torture for most of the human race, homophobia, misogyny, patriarchy, racism, lack of concern for the environment, the push to seize political power and dictate morality, and the support of highly immoral politicians is causing me to rethink almost everything.
Deconstructing one’s faith is difficult for many people. Belief systems are tied to family and identity. Deconstruction can cause ruptures in important relationships. Letting go of dogma can feel like betrayal, like a kind of death. It wasn’t that hard for me because I wasn’t raised in church and new ideas were welcomed in my family of origin.
My belief system was kind of like a house I had built around Jesus. It worked for a while. It kept him safely confined. Until it didn’t. The old wineskin burst. The theological house started to crumble around me. So, I caught the spilling wine in a basin and poured it into a new wineskin. I demolished the old house and am building a more spacious and sturdy structure.
I never lost Jesus. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. Conversely, he has become more real, more alive, more active in my life than ever. I love him more than I ever have. My love of the biblical text has grown stronger. I am learning to see the Bible through the cultural contexts in which it was written, paying attention to who wrote what to whom. I interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. I interpret everything through the lens of what Jesus taught. The red letters eclipse everything. I am listening to the voices of indigenous people, Black people, Africans, Asians, Latinx. I make an effort to hear what women have to say. I consider perspectives outside my own experience and background.
My faith is blooming; my love is expanding; my relationship with God is deepening. I am discovering who God created me to be. I am stripping away the personas, challenging the assumptions, and discovering a greater wideness to God’s mercy. I’m on a journey. There is much I do not know. I’m comfortable resting in the liminal space of not knowing. I’m ok with mystery. I love the God of Israel more than ever. I rediscovered my love for creation. I love others, especially the hurting, broken, marginalized others. I’m deeply concerned for social justice. My creative side is waking up. I am discovering that I am part of a vast family. I’m less judgmental, less dogmatic, and more accepting.
Three things are helping me the most: Listening to other voices, engaging in depth therapy, and diving deeply into spiritual direction. I’m a spiritual director, and I would be honored to walk beside you in your journey as you seek authentic meaning and spiritual connectedness.
You can find me here: https://www.theunstuckspirit.com