- Base skepticism, critical questioning, cultural criticism, and having the courage to speak truth to power are all values that I share in common with contemporary deconstructionists.
- These values are important because the church is deeply flawed. In a lot of ways, the church in the United States has departed from the criterion of Christ and the example of the early church. If no one speaks up and offers criticism, then nothing will change for the better.
The Protestant Reformation
- There are strong parallels between the Age of Reformation and the current era of deconstruction. There is much for deconstructionists to glean from this turbulent period of church history. This, of course, is the value of history itself: it enables us to learn from both past successes and past failures; it gives us the ability to replicate the good of previous eras and to evade the bad. The Protestant Reformers were not all that different from the deconstructionists of our age. In fact, the Reformers were deconstructionists in their own right. Their overall goal was to reform a wayward church that had departed from the standard of Jesus and his apostles. This involved deconstructing distorted beliefs and perverted practices that had seeped into the church over time.
- Though I believe that their intentions were often pure, they didn’t always do this with the right spirit (some of the crude, childish, and venomous rhetoric of Martin Luther serves as a great example). The Reformers themselves departed from the way of Christ on many occasions (one can think of all the senseless violence and “killings in the name of” that occurred during those volatile times, for instance). Deconstructionists who are seeking to reform or renovate the church would do well, then, to study the ambivalent example of the Reformers, learning from both their triumphs and their failures. A list of lessons that we could learn from such research might include: how to offer good criticism rather than bad criticism, how to disagree with someone in an ethical manner rather than in an unethical manner, and how to “speak truth in love” rather than in contempt.
Testing & Falsification
- Sometimes people need to question their beliefs and deconstruct their faith in order to deepen their beliefs and refine their faith. Beliefs often need to go through a process of testing and falsification in order to become secure, stable, and strong. Deconstructionism can be an ally in this process.
- Of course, if the central claims of Christianity are false, then faith deconstruction can be a useful tool in uncovering the truth. People should believe in things because they are true. If Christianity isn’t true, then one shouldn’t have any desire to believe in its claims.
- My critique is focused not so much on the deconstructionist’s point of departure, but on her place of arrival: as you run away from something, what are you running towards? As you walk away from something, what are you walking towards? Where are you going? What will be your final destination?
- I mentioned three types of deconstructionists in part one: (1) the “arsonist,” (2) the “gentrifier,” and (3) the “renovator.” When I discussed these three forms of deconstruction, I compared worldviews or belief systems to dwelling places or places of residence. The arsonist is left without a home, which, in most cases, is much worse than having a home—even if the home is in poor condition. The gentrifier has a new home, but there’s no guarantee that this new build will be any better than the old one—and it could end up being worse. The renovator has an updated home, but some of the new renovations could easily lead to new problems.
- Here’s my main question and my main concern: is the new living arrangement truly better than the old one? Is the destination better than the place of departure? Isn’t it true that there are no perfect living spaces, no perfect structures, no perfect homes? If you move to a new neighborhood, if you become a member of a new religious subculture, won’t you just find the same problems—even new problems, different problems? If you change your address, if you change your belief system, how do you know that you won’t find yourself right back in the housing market, right back at square one, in a few years? Every system has flaws and shortcomings. Every community has its problems. The new thing is not always the better thing. Sometimes it is even worse than the thing that came before it.
- Holding two degrees in theology, I have had the privilege of studying both the history of religions and the history of cults. When you study the history of cults, one thing that you will notice is that many cult leaders come from Christian backgrounds, often fundamentalist backgrounds. After deconstructing their Christian beliefs—regardless of how distorted those beliefs may have been—they end up constructing something far worse. The same is true for many cult members: they are usually people who have walked away from the church, for one reason or another. What seems like heaven on earth, what seems like paradise, what seems like the perfect dwelling place, the ideal home, soon becomes a living hell! How do we know that what lies in front of us is better than what lies behind us? That’s my main question.
Conclusion: Words of Advice for Those Deconstructing Their Faith
I have gone through my own journey of deconstruction. I am almost 37 years old now. I have had the opportunity to study all the major world religions, all the major cults, and all the major worldviews and ideologies, and I think I might be able to offer some counsel that has some worth. So, I want to close with some friendly words of advice for those who are currently engaged in the process of faith deconstruction—no matter where you might find yourself within that process:
1st, self-criticism is so important here. We are capable of criticizing others, but are we capable of criticizing ourselves? Are we willing to criticize our destination with the same vigor with which we criticized our place of departure? Will we allow ourselves to wage the same criticisms towards our new home that we waged against our old home? Doing so might enable us to avoid a lot of new problems and new difficulties down the road.
2nd, is our criticism constructive and fruitful or merely destructive and unfruitful? Sometimes we can be right while also being wrong; sometimes our words can be true, but our intentions can be venomous. As a result, the truth of our words can fall on deaf ears.
3rd, I think we should focus more on reconstructing than deconstructing, more on building and repairing than demolishing and destroying. As a society, we should emphasize what we believe in, not what we don’t believe in; we should highlight what we love, not what we hate.
4th, in the same spirit, we shouldn’t seek to burn bridges, but to build bridges. Generally speaking, I don’t think burning bridges is a good idea. In life, you never know how things are going to unfold. You never know who is going to come back into your life and who you might need again in the future. That’s why I think we should be very cautious and very wary about burning bridges.
5th, we would be wise not to be so quick to put ourselves in boxes and label ourselves. Be your own person! Think for yourself! Come to your own conclusions! For instance, you might currently find yourself in a process of deconstruction, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be an “arsonist.” Don’t allow other people to control who you are and who you will become. Make your own decisions. Own your own decisions.
- Final Words: wherever you have come from, wherever you are, and wherever you are going, I wish you all the best… with all my heart, I really do…. Grace be with you. Peace be with you. Love be with you. Always. Godspeed, my friend.