A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, February 14, 2022

Deconstruction Calmly Considered

Deconstruction: "the analytic examination of something (such as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy" (Merriam-Webster)

In Christian circles, of late, deconstruction is all the rage. Generally when one deconstructs their Christian faith, they reexamine their beliefs, often previously unexamined in any depth, as they were accepted as received from childhood or from someone believed to be an authority. Deconstruction takes place when current beliefs seemingly prove to be inadequate in light of current circumstances.

In this post, I argue for the necessity of deconstruction. Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. The examination of life requires a back and forth, a give and take, between deconstruction and reconstruction. Human beings who are self-reflective and have a healthy sense of their own intellectual limitations will engage in such intellectual activity. Persons who have never changed their minds on anything are incapable of such sophisticated thinking.

Human beings deconstruct all of their lives. Children who believe in Santa Claus when they are very young will, at some point, deconstruct their belief in the Jolly Old Elf and reconstruct their understanding of gift giving and receiving on Christmas Day. When I was a child, I remember believing that dogs and cats were the same animal. The dogs were the boys and the cats were the girls. When I learned differently, I deconstructed my belief in order to reconstruct my new understanding that dogs and cats were two different animals. These two examples are hardly sophisticated, nor do they cause a huge crisis for most children. Neither do children use the language of philosophy to make sense of their changing realities. Nevertheless, on a rudimentary level deconstruction and reconstruction are taking place.

A more serious form of deconstruction is when a woman who has come to believe that her boss is a kind, gracious, and decent man attempts to curry sexual favors from her for a promotion. Now, everything she has believed about him is called into question. Here's another example: a child grows up with a loving, nurturing, and caring father only to discover as an adult that he is deeply involved in organized crime which has involved his dad even in murder. Let's take one more. A young woman's best friend is discovered to have a secret life as highly paid call girl, not only because she likes the money, but because she enjoys that way of life. These are serious examples, to be sure, but they are instances of when persons are faced with a reality contrary to the facts they have believed. They are now thrust into the world of deconstruction to make sense of the new reality.

People can deconstruct their politics. Over time some committed Democrats have become Republicans while others move from being Republicans to Democrats. The reasons for this can be many: a change in political views, a change in the particular party itself that is not acceptable, or possibly some new revelation that made current loyalties no longer possible. Whatever the reasons, deconstruction is taking place.

There is no doubt that persons can find themselves deconstructing their Christian faith as well. (There are people in all religions that engage in deconstruction. My concern in this post is only with Christianity.) The reasons for this can be many. They come to believe that what they have embraced is primitive and no longer possible in the 21st century world. Others deconstruct their faith because the Christian leaders whose authority they unquestionably accepted turned out to have feet of clay. It can be even worse. Church leaders-- pastors and others-- who have no accountability turn out to be abusers of their authority hurting some under their pastoral care. Others deconstruct their faith because they are part of a church community that is spiritually unhealthy and even downright toxic. They reason that if that's what Christianity is about, they don't want any part of it. It's the failure of these relationships that call into question the very faith they have embraced; and it does no good to offer words of rationalization like "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven," or "Just keep your eyes on Jesus. He'll never let you down." Such justifications do not help, but reinforce the idea that while abuse may not be OK, we should come to expect that it will happen and we just need to move on. That Christians are forgiven does not excuse the sin that needs forgiveness; and ultimately, we cannot just keep our eyes on Jesus apart from the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church--its clergy and laity--embody Christ for the world. Their understanding of Jesus will be filtered through those of us who claim to follow him.

Not all deconstruction is so drastic. Others deconstruct their faith while remaining in the faith. Personally, I deconstructed my belief in a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 and a six day creation in favor of an evolutionary understanding of the creation of the universe and life on earth along with a different reading of Genesis. I deconstructed my belief that ordering the extermination of the Canaanites in Joshua was OK because it was what God wanted, and began to read those texts in their moral and theological complexity in the context of the entire biblical canon.  I deconstructed my belief that people who never heard of Jesus automatically go to hell to a more sophisticated understanding articulated by John Wesley that God will judge everyone by what they have done with the light they have been given. While I continue to believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word to us and the central witness to Jesus, God's Incarnate Word, I no longer embrace the term inerrancy because I believe it is too problematic of a concept and too indebted to Western modernism which ultimately undermines the authority of Scripture. I still believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, but I no longer embrace the belief in the rapture of the Church simply because it is not in the New Testament.

To be sure, I have remain committed to certain beliefs I have had for as long as I can remember-- I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Jesus as the decisive way to salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the church as the Body of Christ and the necessary vehicle in offering God's plan of salvation to the world. Of course, I have also refined those beliefs over time as I have read, reflected, and conversed with people smarter than I; and as I have worked to integrate my Christian faith into everyday life. Deconstruction is a life-long task.

However, deconstruction cannot be the end of it all. When something is torn down or at least partially torn out, something else should be constructed or at least renovated in its place. Nature abhors a vacuum. It is also true that human flourishing abhors a vacuum of purpose.

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