“I distrust those people who knew so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony
“There is one road to certainty – through a door marked ‘death.’” – John Orberg
When I began my own personal deconstruction two and half years ago, it was not something I planned for or even wanted. I’d much rather have remained within my happy, blissful bubble of certainty. Let’s be honest, that’s a much easier way to live. It’s far easier to have someone spoon-feed me what I should believe in neatly defined categories. When we are able to put things in simple dualistic terms it makes the game much easier to play. I’m right, you’re wrong; I’m in, you’re out; this is up, and this is down; black and white, Democrat or Republican, and so on. However, we all know that’s not how life works. To be human means to live in the grey, to get in the mess and deal with complexity. This is the case with deconstruction. Most of us aren’t so lucky as to have a choice. Many of us are throw into the journey of deconstruction whether we like it or not courtesy of some sort of trauma. And like so many others I found myself on the path with no map or compass and no idea how I’d even ended up there. It all started with a genuine cry into the dark for answers.
Since starting a podcast I’ve gotten a lot of pushback about the idea of deconstruction. It’s certainly a provocative and often misunderstood term. As a result, I’ve often heard a lot of people and religious leaders say that it’s unnecessary, immature, a sign of weak faith, a sin, and even that it’s only something millennials do. Let me just say that those people, although the mean well, fundamentally misunderstand what it means to go through a deconstruction. If we are to engage with folks who may be in different phases of their spiritual journey in a loving and productive way, we need to first understand what spiritual deconstruction is, and also what it isn’t. Until we gain that understanding, we may continue to do more damage than good, and continue to see people around us leaving the faith.
People who are on a spiritual journey (AKA going through a deconstruction) aren’t bad people. They don’t have less faith, they aren’t sinners (at least not any more than the rest of the world), they aren’t being punished, they aren’t suffering from “white privilege” (or any other sort of privilege for that matter), and they aren’t doing anything wrong. People who end up in a deconstruction are people from all sorts of backgrounds, education levels, cultures, age groups, and believe it or not religions! This isn’t exclusive to Christianity. Regardless, religious leaders and religious systems have a habit of shaming people who are experiencing a deconstruction as if they did something wrong or are lacking in some way. This is absurd! One of Jesus’ disciples was nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas needed to be shown the holes in Jesus’ hands after his resurrection just to believe it had actually happened! Israel, God’s “chosen people,” literally means “to wrestle with God.” The fact is, there are people all throughout the bible who are struggling with what it means to be a follower of the Divine.
This brings me to the second most common misunderstanding. Most people who are in the midst of deconstruction aren’t trying to leave religion or even stop being part of community. IF that was the intent, then why bother to engage with deconstruction at all? What would be the point? It would be far easier just to burn it all down and be done with it. This is not what deconstruction is about though. Deconstruction is a careful and deliberate examination of ones beliefs from the inside. It’s about coming to terms with what you believe outside of your inherited beliefs. It’s about growing INTO your faith, no out of it. Sure, there are instances when one’s spiritual journey may lead them away from the faith altogether. However, that is certainly not the goal. Deconstruction is a process of growth and maturation. It is not necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater as they say.
The religious leaders in our communities need to recognize that deconstruction is not a new phenomenon. Great religious figures have gone on their own spiritual journeys all throughout history. It’s something that is as much a part of the spiritual process as losing your baby teeth is to a toddler. The best thing we can do as leaders, family, friends, and community is love them through it – even if we don’t happen to be in the same place on the path – even if we don’t completely understand it. We must create safe spaces to allow for questions, dialogue, and inclusion. We must stop worshipping the golden calf of certainty, and learn to embrace the God of Divine mystery.