I’m not super in love with the term “deconstruction” to describe the journey I have been on in my spiritual life. Although, I’m also not sure what a better shorthand for the experience should be.
The latter sounds the best, but also seems too ethereal and ungrounded for some to take seriously. At least, “deconstruction”, as brutish a word as it is, captures the gravity and weight of the process.
Here’s some attempts to describe the experience, and if you can come up with a better word then, truly I am all ears:
There’s a nagging suspicion that the main support pillars of my theological belief structure are not as strong as everyone is making them out to be.
There’s fear and grief that those I respect most will disown me to various degrees upon learning of this process in me; perhaps they’ll outright leave my faith community, or henceforth keep me at arms length with the cold or pitied look you might give to one who is just too far gone.
There’s also at times a budding excitement that the good news about God is better than I ever imagined!
There’s a care and reverence for my tradition that I carry throughout the process, to which others so easily and falsely malign me as trampling underfoot.
There’s an aura of curiosity and love for the truth that I hadn’t experienced before, but is decried by others as a prideful, self-serving, unhelpful, destructive enterprise.
This doesn’t exhaust it, but perhaps you get the gist. Maybe you’ve been there yourself.
I totally get why some of the people I care about most are so worried - the conclusions I’m coming to, on their view, spell near certain doom for anyone who endorses them. Perhaps eternal conscious torment in hellfire awaits me and those I speak to about my questions and my “idiosyncratic” ideas.
“Clint, haven’t you heard of Pascal’s Wager? It’s so so so not worth being wrong about some of this stuff. You’re in danger; best to play it cautious, toe the party line, and save yourself the possibility of a world of hurt.”
I just might - if I could.
But I can’t.
I quite literally cannot make the Wager. I simply find myself not in the possession of the evidence I would need to assert some of those things anymore. It is not stubbornness. Frankly, I miss the airtight security that came with theological certainty about the things that matter most, including eternal destinies.
I’d like to say that upon deconstruction that I’ve found a new home and new community where the emotional distress is minimized, but I’ve encountered yet another enclave of nonnegotiables. So often, and I’m sure there are exceptions (though I haven’t found a community like this), it turns out that the deconstruction journey away from the bastion of down-the-ticket conservative theology leads to an adoption of some of the most toxic versions of the political Left: radical anti-men feminism, radical anti-racism, anti-free speech, anti-gun, 1619 project, power dynamics as the central motif of human interaction, the list goes on. As though Jesus’ “love thy neighbor” automatically means adopt the Democratic Party platform. Can’t we think through this a bit more than that?
Each of these topics deserves more nuance to be sure, but I’ve found it surprising that just because I tweaked my view of inspiration that, for example, people expect me to be in favor of raising the minimum wage. It is amazing how intertwined our theology and politics have become.
In any case, I’ve been in this liminal space so long that I suspect it is now my home. The in-between. An intellectual nomad of sorts. If you need an overly basic, reductive label, a theological liberal and political conservative. What sort of beast is that? Perhaps the same goes for the theological conservative and political liberal, they must feel similarly stranded.
This is partially why Tony and I started Open to Truth. Not at all that we want to push conservative politics, it doesn’t come up all that much, but that we could both have a space to talk honestly about our theological questions, doubts, and journeying, and other big ideas in culture and worldview, while also not being beholden to trod some political line either.
Cultivate a love for the truth - wherever it may reside. It’s much more easily said than done. If that is your thing, then welcome aboard. If not, you’re of course also welcome aboard, but you may not like it too much!
If you are interested in the phenomenon of deconstruction, you can hear Tony and Clint share more about their experience in this week’s episode. You can watch on Youtube or listen on your favorite podcatcher.