What is deconstruction?

Somewhat recently I was asked this question on TikTok. I responded that largely deconstruction is people trying to understand that various parts of their faith in order to, ultimately, rebuild one that is far stronger and deeper than the one they had when they started. While I think the answer I gave was sufficient for a bare-bones understanding, I thought I should take the time to really explore what deconstruction is, and what it means for people of faith today.

The term “deconstruction” comes to us from the discipline of philosophy and was concieved of by Jacques Derrida. Deconstruction is the idea of taking things that are accepted as opposites, and attempting to understand the tensions between them. Usually it is assumed one member of these pairs is somehow superior to the other. Some common examples of these pairs are mind and body, inside and outside, and literal and metaphorical. The examination of tensions often asks questions like “is this actually superior,” “is this structure inherent or a construct of text,” or “should there be this conflict?” You can read more about this here, but largely deconstruction seeks remove the duality that exists between concepts in order to understand the concept on its own.

Therefore we will not listen to the source itself in order to learn what it is or what it means, but rather to the turns of speech, the allegories, figures, metaphors, as you will, into which the source has deviated, in order to lose it or rediscover it—which always amounts to the same.

Jacques Derrida

When we apply the concept of deconstruction to Christianity, it often causes people to become uncomfortable. Deconstructing in Christianity is coming to a place where you are faithfully doubtful, meaning you are comfortable enough to wrestle with your doubts while mainting faith in God through Jesus. After all, many of us are taught not to question our faith. To have doubt, for one reason or another, some believe to be some contemporary brand of apostasy that is taking people away from the Church. Some common dichotomies are whether or not something is sinful, is Scripture innerrant or not, and being social justice or personal righteousness minded. When people deconstruct Christianity, there are many who believe that they are looking for a reason to justify their sinful behavior, or are simply not being Christian anymore. However, doubt has been a thing that Christianity has been able to wrestle with since the very beginning (John 20:24-29). Overcoming that doubt is what has lead to many of the people of faith we look up to and admire.

Deconstruction is a careful and deliberate examination of one’s 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, not out of it.

John Williamson, The Christian Post

Personally, I think the attack on people deconstructing is absolutely absurd. No matter when you came to faith, we have all had a moment where we have wrestled with doubt. I once read a great book on the subject of having doubt in your faith. The author essentially comes to the conclusion that we must be humble enough to realize that we cannot know everything. Wrestling with doubt has had many different names throughout the centuries, and is certainly nothing new to Christianity. In fact, the concept of ignoring doubt, and simply “having faith,” did not enter the Church until the rise of fundamentalism in America in the 19th century. The current buzzword is simply deconstruction. People who are deconstructing their faith do not need to be attacked or shamed in their journey. This will do far more harm to people than we may realize. Most often, this journey is started because of some type of trauma that makes them realize they were taught something harmful. Instead, we must be willing to come alongside those of us who are deconstructing and walk the journey with them. As we become partners with them in their journey, it can even help us wrestle with our own questions that we may not even be aware of. It is far more Christlike to walk alongside people who are questioning the faith than it is to shame people for wrestling with their doubts.

Going Forward

Despite the best efforts of my parents, I was blessed with the gift of not having faith growing up. This afforded me a nice position, when I ultimately came to faith, to ask tough questions all along my faith journey. I have had poor influences, and great influences as I have sought to be a better Christian. Many people are not so lucky. Deconstruction is not a means to justify sinfullness, but rather, its a means to grow even deeper in your faith. I’m certainly not encouraging you to deconstruct, but rather to be comfortable asking questions. When the pastor says a certain behavior is sinful, ask yourself if you know this to be true. Send your pastor an email asking them to explain. Research how the Church has handled it all along. Then find people who disagree with you and have a conversation with them. Have the humility of knowing that your are not 100% correct on everything. Be open minded enough to let God speak truth to you. Doubt is completely natural, and acceptable. We have become a people that value having a faith that has been handed to them, rather than a faith that has been earned. It used to be that people would go through rigorous training before being baptized into the Church. People deconstructing are attempting to earn their faith, and we should be grateful for their journey. It’s okay to disagree, but the reality is that they may be on a more Christlike path than those of us who dig our feet in and are unwilling to question our faith.

FYI I recently started a podcast and Patreon. If you would like to get some more content from me, check these spaces out. Make sure to drop likes everywhere as it helps me get the word out on this blog. I’m very excited to be writing this series and think it could be a great help to everyone.

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