7 Myths About Faith Deconstruction For Those Who Aren’t Doubting (Yet)

7 Myths About Faith Deconstruction For Those Who Aren’t Doubting (Yet)

It’s alarming how often I have read or heard ridiculous misunderstandings about the process of faith deconstruction from those who have never gone through it. Some of it is fear mongering, and some is honest misconceptions by caring people struggling to understand. The following are the top 7 frequently repeated myths I’ve heard about people in the process of faith deconstruction.

1.  This is just a fall into relativism and a refusal to believe absolute truths. We grew up being warned about the dangers of postmodern relativism. We were reminded that there is absolute truth, and truth mattered. We agree. That’s exactly why we cannot believe that this one subculture in one place and time in history has it figured out, and everyone else is wrong. Truth is real, but our interpretations of it are human and fallible. We respect absolute truth more than most because we admit that we can’t possibly know it fully and we are willing to spend our lives in pursuit of truth.

2.  Faith Deconstruction is the first step toward atheism. Well, okay, yes it actually is. But it isn’t inevitable. Many people begin doubting the validity of certain truth claims from their tradition and go through deconstruction only to come out on the other side of it with a different sort of faith. Some become more progressive in their theologies but remain Protestants. Some move to “sister” faiths like Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, while others move to a completely different religion all together. And then there are those who move to agnosticism or atheism. The process of faith deconstruction is not prescriptive. It would be wonderful if it was because at least we would know where we are going. Most of us have no idea where this thing is headed. We only know that we must continue wrestling and seeking truth, goodness, justice, and love.

3.  The people leaving the church are leaving their faiths. Some of us will leave our faiths, but many more of us will not. We don’t stop having beliefs because we stop attending church. We simply stop attending church. There are different reasons: we are disillusioned by the abuses of power, we are sick of the hypocrisy, racism, misogyny, and downright meanness in the church, we are weary of the church using God as a political weapon. For many deconstructing people, we actually love Jesus and can no longer find him in the church so we have no motivation to be there anymore.

4.  You cannot love God if the Bible isn’t the center of your faith. Deconstructing the Bible is difficult because at the core of American evangelical faith is the Scriptures. In that tradition, God and the Bible cannot be separated. However, when we doubters began to realize how the majority of Christians throughout the last 2000 years until present day had no access to the Bible due to poverty, illiteracy, or persecution, we had to ask if their faiths were real or less than our own. If they were not, and their relationship with God didn’t require deep knowledge or access to the Bible, the door then opened to explore the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we have been emphasizing the wrong thing all along, and the Bible doesn’t belong at the center of our faith. Jesus does.

5.  Doubts are the result of being influenced by secular humanism. Perhaps for some this is true, but generally those with faith questions have them because… the Bible itself has demanded them. We were given a conservative hermeneutic that told us that the Bible is truthful in all its claims, but when we read the internal contradictions and the blatant scientific, historical, and archeological mistakes, we had to ask how that was even possible. We were looking for a reasonable explanation from the Bible about the Bible. The inconsistencies within Scripture itself demand an explanation that conservative literalism cannot answer without intellectual dishonesty and a heaping dose of cognitive dissonance. Those that deconstruct simply couldn’t live in that dissonance any longer.

6.  Only those with weak faiths will doubt. If you spend enough time in the “deconstruction” world, you’ll find that the overwhelming majority of doubters are the ones who took their faiths the most seriously. They were the ones who were in church for every service, went on the missions trips, stood alone at See You At the Pole, and pledged to follow all the Christian rules including sexual chastity until marriage. They were the ones who became the pastors, Sunday school teachers, and missionaries. They chose to attend Bible schools and seminaries. Faith doubters are the ones who are serious enough about their faiths to bother asking questions that can lead to doubt in the first place.

7.  This is just taking the easy road. Deconstructing faith is one of the bravest things that someone can do. It takes unbelievable amounts of courage to be willing to hold deeply held beliefs and values to scrutiny and to be open to being wrong. Vocalizing our doubts has been costly. We’ve lost family members and important relationships. We’ve been kicked out of ministries, jobs, and churches. We’ve been ostracized and slandered and lost the respect of communities that once valued our voices. We’ve been afraid for our own souls and those of our children. None of this is easy, and not a single one of us began doubting and deconstructing because it was something we wanted to do.

Feeling misunderstood and mischaracterized is part of the pain of deconstructing faith. We feel like pariahs in the community as if we have a disease people are afraid they will catch if they come too close or ask too many questions. We wish people would just ask us rather than assuming or believing their pastor/teacher’s warnings about deconstruction or reading a book by a non-deconstructed Christian about us. We are willing to tell you how we got here and what the journey has been like if you are brave enough to ask us and listen to our answers. And you’ll have to be brave because it is entirely possible that when you hear what we have to say, you might find yourself beginning the faith deconstruction process too. If you do, know that it will be okay. Many won’t understand, but those of us who have been there do, and we will be here waiting for you down at the bottom of the slippery slope.

7 thoughts on “7 Myths About Faith Deconstruction For Those Who Aren’t Doubting (Yet)

  1. Hi Dalaina! I’m stumped on your first myth and I’m hoping you can help me understand. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a few questions.
    1. How do you define truth?
    2. When you say that interpretations of truth are fallible, what exactly do you mean by that? Does that include your own interpretation?
    3. If you can’t know the truth, how do you determine what is true or false? Or even that the Bible is false?
    4. If you know it to be true that you can’t possibly know truth, why are you pursuing it?

    1. Christy good questions. Here is the way I see it.
      1. I can’t define it any more than I can define many things like the wind. I can tell you all kinds of things about the wind but there are many more things I don’t know.
      2. I am will and expect to learn more truth which may very well disprove what I now believe is truth. Yes I do include my own interpretation. I have found great freedom in not having to know all truth, or even having the truth I believe now to be proven wrong. It is a little like the kid who says they hate something you offer them to eat, I love the look on their face when they discover they love it. I am often pleasantly surprised.
      3. The Bible is not God, it does tell me a lot about him. I try to be honest with myself and if I find something I believe is wrong I accept what is true. For years I believed God was out to get me. It took years to undo that “truth” and I am still learning of God’s unconditional love for me. This love God has for me grows as I experience it. It come with a 2 inch piece of thread I treasure. Because I was sewing one day on a very fussy pattern on my sewing machine. I realized I had not filled my bobbin, I asked God to make it last. Then I forgot and went on sewing the next three pieces of the project. When I finished I had two inches of bobbin thread left. I broke down and cried because it showed me God loved me enough to care about the littlest things.
      4. I pursue the truth because I can know some of it. It is a life long journey.

      1. Shary, rhank you so much for your thoughtful reply. In regards to the first question, basically what I’m asking is what do you mean when you use the word “truth”? You have to have some way of defining it, what you mean by it, otherwise we could be talking about pineapples for all I know. Do you see what I mean? You and Dalaina seem to be defining it very differently from its traditional definition: the real facts about a situation, event, or person (Cambridge dictionary). I’m curious as to what you mean when you use the word truth. I agree with you whole-heartedly that the Bible is not God but it does tell me a lot about him. Do you think the example you gave about what you thought about God could be better defined as “wrong”?

    2. Hi Christy! Thanks for asking. I think that this one might be THE one that surprises so many people, in part because for decades church leaders bellowed “the postmoderns” and their relativism and disregard for the truth. I bought it until I realized (pre-deconstruction!) that I cared a lot more about the truth because I am more post-modern in thinking and so did many of my millennial and gen-z peers (and a lot of older folks too). I think it was just a gross misunderstanding of the humility that it takes to say that you cannot be right about everything because you are an imperfect human, and I think it was a fear of losing power because we also don’t think that anyone else can be right about everything because they are human too. It’s a big loss of status and privilege and power when you can’t convince people that you have the corner on GOD’S TRUTH.

      1. How do you define truth?
      What is real, accurate, timeless, and transcends culture.

      2. When you say that interpretations of truth are fallible, what exactly do you mean by that? Does that include your own interpretation?

      Absolutely it includes my own interpretation. If I believe the same things in 5 years that I do now, I’m doing it wrong. As I learn and grow, my understanding of the truth grows. It doesn’t mean that the truth has changed, just that my grasp on it has matured/developed/shifted. And it can shift wrongly, no doubt. I’d say this about every human being in every place and time. We are all wrong about things. Often we cannot see these things in our own time, but eventually we do. Take the equal value of women and brown/black skinned people. We didn’t always believe that (and many still don’t). My grandmother preached to me long and hard about not dating a black guy at college and used the Bible and her church’s interpretation of that “truth” to defend her beliefs. Because we are fallible humans, our interpretations/understandings of truth are fallible. No one is exempt, and it’s disturbing to encounter people/communities/churches that believe that they have it all figured out.

      3. If you can’t know the truth, how do you determine what is true or false? Or even that the Bible is false?

      There are a lot of kinds of truths, and I think it’s important to use the right sources for learning. If I am looking for truth about something about science, reading a history book is not helpful. I should be reading books by the experts in that field with the most updated knowledge possible. When I want to understand the past, I am wise to read historians from multiple perspectives (especially the non-victor’s) as well as archaeological evidence to support it. If I am looking for spiritual truths, I think it can be found in many places: tradition, holy texts, experience, and community. Different groups weigh these things differently, but they are all valuable.

      I think it’s important to differentiate “false” and “true” and “truthful” and “factual.” A literalist interpretation of the Bible says that the Bible must be FACTUAL or it is FALSE. So it’s important to literalists, for example, to defend a 7 day creation story because it seems (on the surface at least) that this is a literal reading of the Genesis creation story (one of them anyway). If they cannot say that it is FACTUAL that the world was created in 7 days, the Bible must not be TRUE. However, another way to understand the Bible is that ancient writers were not concerned with FACTUAL the way moderns are. The point of the Genesis creation story was not to state how the earth was created, but why. The earth was made by a Creator with intentionality, beauty, and humans (both genders) in God’s image. That’s the TRUTHFULNESS of it that doesn’t need to be FACTUAL.

      So when it comes to reading the Bible, I go back to wanting to make sure that I am using the right sources. The Bible has a lot of different kinds of literature, and they should be read differently. I should not be reading ancient apocalyptical literature as if it is telling the future because that is not what apocalyptical literature does or is. I should not be reading ancient texts as a science books when there was virtually no such thing during the 1500 years in which it was written. I should not read everything as history when I know that ancient writers embellished their tribal histories regularly (and archaeology and other historical accounts confirm that many events didn’t occur as the ancient text say (btw, most Jews have no problem with this – they don’t see the Torah as factual)). I should not read letters written to certain people/churches at certain times in history in certain cultures about certain problems as necessarily binding because I do not think for a second that the writers intended many of their words to be instructive for anyone beyond the people/church they wrote to (thank God, or we would need to give all slave owners the option to keep their slaves). Genre matters. Purpose matters.
      In summary, the Bible can be TRUTHFUL in what it asserts, even if it is not FACTUAL. And the Bible is not remotely the only source of truth in the world. I understand that a literalist sees this as making the Bible FALSE and will compromise on FACTUAL details to keep away from this (ignoring history, science, archaeology, and frankly, common sense). A more progressive hermeneutic allows other fields to inform a biblical reading without feeling threatened about the TRUTHFULNESS of the Bible, and it allows some parts of the Bible to go the way of “that was for then and not for now.” For example, I don’t think that rape victims should be required to marry their rapists even if I understand the nuance of why that might have been a good thing (ugh) at that time and in that culture. The principle of reparations is the TRUTHFULNESS of that ancient law. I don’t need to believe that God ordered the ancient Israelites to murder babies in order to understand that the gods of the ancient world were incredibly violent and the ancient Israelites might have believed that God wanted them to do this because they couldn’t conceive of anything else. I don’t need to believe that slavery is okay in some contexts as long as you are kind as the Bible asserts to understand that slavery was the norm in the ancient world and people did not yet understand what image bearer really meant and that it is incompatible with holding another human as property.

      Is this messy? Yes. Very. Does it mean that you will ever master the Bible and sort out what is fact and what is truthful and what is simply cultural and now irrelevant? Nope. It’s a lot harder to have to continue to struggle with the text for TRUTHFULNESS than it is to just say that it’s all FACTUAL and refuse to listen to anything that might indicate anything different.

      4. If you know it to be true that you can’t possibly know truth, why are you pursuing it?

      That is the work of life, isn’t it? To continue wrestling, listening, learning, shifting, and growing. I can never know fully, but I can move ever closer toward it with enough humility to continue throwing out what has been shown to be wrong for a belief system closer to truth. In the same way, I can never love perfectly, but I can and should continue the pursuit of loving my family, neighbors, enemies, creatures, and nature more deeply and fully as my life unfolds.

  2. Dalaina these are so true. I have gone through them all. Now life is a continual looking for truth. Truth is too big to say “now I have the truth”. Sometime I don’t like the new truth I see and have to struggle with it for awhile. But I know in the end I will understand it and accept it. One of the first and biggest truths I learned was I had to be honest with myself.

    1. I love this. I think being honest with ourselves is a brave and hard thing to do because we know the potential costs. When I dive headfirst into my questions, I remember thinking, “I’d rather be an honest atheist than an in examines Christian.” I don’t feel nearly as angsty and stressed about it as I did before, but I’ve realized that the questions won’t ever be done unless I decide to no longer seek deeper truths.

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