I know plenty of people who have walked away from the faith they grew up with. You probably do too.
In fact, walking away from one’s childhood faith has almost become part of the American right of passage into maturity: 1. Go to church as a child, being dragged by your ear by mom or grandma or whomever, 2. Go to college and learn that all of that Bible stuff is really just a bunch of fairy tales, 3. Become enlightened, 4. Choose your new socially acceptable path, ranging from hedonism to relativism to pluralism to universalism to materialism / intellectual atheism.
I understand why people deconstruct their Christian faith upon leaving the nest at age 18 (or can finally verbalize the deconstruction they’ve already been harboring internally for several years as an adolescent), I really do. While there are exceptions, a trend that I see is people who grew up in strict, legalistic churches and/or who saw hypocrisy from their church or parents and/or grew up in church environments where hard questions were given pat answers or weren’t allowed at all.
What started out as an inquisitive question of exploration, which went unanswered, gradually turned into a hardened fist of cynicism.
Plenty of people are deconstructing the faiths they grew up with, but without a guide to this deconstruction. While I know “not all who wander are lost,” they also don’t know where they are or where they are going. To be of assistance to those in the pre, post or present deconstruction phase of their faith, here are 5 do’s and don’ts of deconstructing your faith:
1. DO: Deconstruct to Reconstruct. DON’T: Deconstruct to Annihilate.
You deconstruct something to figure out what is wrong with it, seeing what needs to be repaired or replaced so you can reconstruct it into something that works, or that works better.
Often when people deconstruct their faith, they fall into the proverbial “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” metaphor. Because they were scarred by something associated with, let’s say the Bible, they then associate the Bible as being one and the same with that trauma. In their deconstruction they obviously want to throw away the trauma, as they should, but when this is done lazily or haphazardly, a lot of meat is thrown away that deserved a much closer examination.
You can’t blame Jesus if your parents were jerks or your church was filled with jerks or if nobody was smart enough or courageous enough to answer your questions. Jesus is still Jesus. It would be a shame to throw him away just because the bathwater surrounding him was sour.
Please understand, I’m arguing you should throw away the sour bathwater. But you need to dissect it away from Jesus himself and give him a chance to stand on his own two feet before you decide you’re finished with him.
2. DO: Look at the origins of a faith. DON’T: Base everything you think about a faith based on your contemporary experience with it.
Origins matter. Who was this religion’s founder? Understand that founder is entirely different from followers who came generations later. The founder is held accountable for what the founder did and taught and how he or she persuaded their original followers to follow them. What was the appeal of originally going to that religion? Was political power given? Was sex given? Was wealth given? Was sacrifice required? Were you persecuted? Did you become rich or did you become poor? Were people taught to kill or to love and forgive? Who did the founder claim to be? How did they live (morally? immorally?)? How did they die?
To not examine a religion’s founder is to not want to be intelligent. It’s to not want to know.
3. DO: Respect the differences and contradictions among different faiths. DON’T: Insult all faiths by saying they are all the same.
It’s hip and trendy to say all religions are the same (pluralism). But honestly it just doesn’t make sense. It’s also insulting to all faiths. It takes away the uniqueness of every faith. It says blatant contradictions aren’t actually contradictions. It says the things people are willing to die for don’t actually matter. That the God they personally love is no different than some god that hasn’t even been invented yet.
It’s like telling me that I should love all women the way I love my wife, because they are all the same.
No they’re not.
It’s like saying all foods are the same.
No they’re not.
All cars are the same.
No they’re not.
All college degrees are the same.
No they’re not.
You get the picture.
It’s like giving every kid who plays a sport a participation medal and never keeping score. You’re all the same! You all did the same!
I would love to see a society that is mature enough where we can have intelligent conversations about the differences and contradictions that arise when comparing different faiths without someone crying “bigot” or “judgmental” or getting all in a huff. The worst societal sin has become to be different from someone else and to have different views from someone else.
The way to kill the truth is to act like all truth is the same.
We have killed the ability to actually learn about one faith or another.
A pluralist or relativist will say, “No we are honoring all faiths, taking bits of each of them.” No, I don’t honor my women by taken bits of each of them. This isn’t how God works either! If you have a faith that allows for that, like Hinduism and its 1 million gods, then that’s fine, you are a Hindu then. But label yourself correctly and call yourself that and let others label themselves and explain how they are different than you. Because they are.
4. DO: Be honest about your motives. DON’T: Hide behind a facade of what is simply most convenient for you.
Are you dismantling your faith because you just don’t want anyone telling you what to do? Because you want to have sex with whoever you want? Because you want to live however you want? Because you want to party hard and not have to deal with the ramifications of what some God says to you? Do you just not want anyone in authority over you?
If so, do you then realize that if you are the only authority in your life, you are the god of your life?
Is your reason for rejecting God, or for not putting your name under any specific religion, so that you can be god of your own life?
5. DO: Deal with questions that need to be answered. DON’T: Act like no assumptions can be made about what the questions are that need to be answered.
Now that you’ve dismantled everything, how will you be forgiven? Yes, I’m assuming you need to be forgiven. Do you feel you need to be forgiven? And does what you feel change reality? In other words, if you feel you don’t need to be forgiven, does that actually change anything if in fact you do need to be forgiven?
To say “assumptions can’t be made like sin, or morality, etc.” is to make a major assumption: the assumption that no assumptions are allowed! Instead of playing that philosophical black hole, just be real enough and grounded enough to answer the questions that are staring you in the face:
How did you get here?
Do you have a purpose?
Do you need to be forgiven?
How will you be forgiven?
Don’t assume that God is so weak and small that He couldn’t reveal to us who He is. Don’t assume that He doesn’t love us enough to intentionally reveal to us who He is.
If your reconstruction of your deconstruction can’t answer those questions, please be humble enough, courageous enough and honest enough to go back to the drawing board. Better yet, go back to the trash can and see if you can’t find the baby you threw out with your bathwater.