Surviving a Near-Deconstruction Experience
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Originally published on Staseos.net
I consider myself very fortunate. About six years ago, I was on the path towards total deconstruction of my faith. For those who aren't familiar with the term, it refers to a movement among people who want to keep some aspects of the Christian identity while tossing others, and for many it ultimately looks like walking away from Christianity entirely. Many influential people who have deconstructed over the years claim that they did so because of "abuse," or because of questions that Christians couldn't answer, or because they couldn't find the spiritual or relational fulfillment they wanted. As someone who's experienced church leaders abusing their power or failing to answer my questions, I empathize, but I'm also skeptical that these are the real reasons why most people deconstruct, and I'll explain why. Unprepared for the Challenge Here's how my own near-deconstruction began: As a young Christian woman in a university setting with dreams of a successful writing career, I quickly realized that my professors, along with the gatekeepers of the publishing world, were, for the most part, quite hostile to Christianity. At first, it was more subtle, but as I spent years learning and working in a liberal arts department, I came to realize that it was essentially a hive mind, with little to no appreciation for anything other than secular progressivism and all its little errands. As a young twenty-something, I had a sincere love for Christ, which is what I think ultimately saved me from imploding, but, unfortunately, like many young, modern American Christians, I grew up with a very feelings-focused approach to my faith, with endless lessons about how the Bible applied to me and my story, so I subconsciously believed that God orbited around me and primarily existed to make me happy and help me achieve my dreams. This wrong belief added to my confusion when I encountered so much hostility about my faith. My younger self thought something like, "Surely, God doesn't want me to miss out on a cool opportunity or to be a social outcast? He's supposed to bless me, and that means I should feel affirmed and happy. If that's not happening, something must be wrong with what I'm believing." I also absorbed the popular message that Christianity is mostly about being nice to other people rather than ordering one's life around God and His vision for humanity. I was a little more biblically literate than most people my age, but I had no exposure to church history or apologetics, both of which are needed when dealing with a daily onslaught of postmodern lies. In summary, I was extremely vulnerable and unprepared to deal with the pressures of the secular world. For those reasons, plus a dash of cowardice, I didn't consider that I could effectively challenge my professors and peers when they spewed half-truths or downright lies. Instead, I saw only two options. I could identify myself as an icky "conservative" Christian who rejects the nonsensical claims of secular progressivism and face scorn... Or I could be a mid-2000s Jen Hatmaker-type. One of those "cool" Christian women who talk about God's love and offer vague inspiration and motivation while avoiding any kind of criticism or controversy from anti-Christian audiences.
A Faulty Strategy I ultimately decided to go with a blended strategy: I would start my career by watering down my convictions to avoid losing opportunities or suffering significant social discomfort, but once I achieved some success, then I'd get bolder and be more truthful about my beliefs. In hindsight, that was silly, but I tried it nonetheless, and it didn't take long for me to find myself filled with angst in pretty much every area of my life. At any given moment, I was hiding or pretending, and anyone who does that for an extended period of time realizes how exhausting it is. On top of that, I had to distance myself from devout Christians to avoid feeling conviction for my cowardice, so I spent more time with secular progressives and started to imbibe their cultural assumptions. The gradual result was increased selfishness, conflict in my relationships with Christians, desperate people-pleasing, confused thoughts, spiritual drought, and weakening morals. Another consequence of trying to appease secular progressives is that if you do it well, as I did, you may end up with many secular friends and admirers, so their approval becomes even more important because it's personal. Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to keep their approval, given the irrational and demanding nature of progressivism. Just look to the rise and fall of J.K. Rowling if you need an example. My writing suffered, too. In an ironic twist, my attempts to appease progressives to kickstart my writing career ended up temporarily killing my creativity. I didn't particularly enjoy obsessing over my skin color, genitalia, capitalism, or every single perceived slight I've ever suffered since birth, so I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of writing jargon-filled gibberish about those subjects, but I tried my best despite awkward, inauthentic results. Unsurprisingly, my love for writing eventually became angst-filled, too.
Deconstruction Slowed Thankfully, a series of strange events slowed my descent into deconstruction. During the 2016 presidential election, my progressive coworkers and acquaintances were so bitterly obsessive about politics that I started to crave more sanity and humor, and I found it in the form of non-progressive cultural commentators online, some of whom were also Christians. That was my first real reference point for bold Christianity, and it made me realize that there are more options than I previously realized. Not everyone has to water down their convictions to reach an enthusiastic audience. Two years later, when I dared to publicly state that I thought the way the Democrats were attempting to ruin Brett Kavanaugh's life was ghastly, I was met with shrieks, slander, and instant ex-communication from the progressive bubble where I'd spent the last six years of my life. In hindsight, that shouldn't have been surprising at all, but it was. It probably would've been pretty painful, too, if I hadn't had a massive perspective shift when my first child was born earlier that same year. Vivian's birth significantly changed the pace of my spiritual maturity because it dawned on me that I would be her primary example of what it means to be a Christian woman, and, at that point, I was not at all the type of Christian woman I wanted her to become. Did I really want my daughter to be a coward in exchange for applause from an audience that can't even accept the most basic truths about reality? That question is what made me abandon my faulty strategy and just live boldly for Christ. Now, a few years later, I'm sad to admit that every consequence I feared came to fruition in the form of lost friends and opportunities, but I'm also happy to report that it was the best decision I've ever made. God blessed my boldness and gave me everything I thought I lost. Instead of fragile friendships that required hiding or conforming, I met people with true character and godly wisdom. Instead of writing about mandated, worn-out subjects I had little interest in, I was free to explore my own passions and creativity, and After She Falls was born soon after. Instead of confusion and stagnation, I was filled with a desire for more knowledge and spiritual reinvigoration. If I could go back in time, the only thing I would change is the timing. I wish I would've abandoned my passive, progressive-lite Christianity so much sooner. Lessons Learned I tell you this story because I think many deconstructionists encounter similar obstacles and choose the same strategy I did. Many young Christians like myself survey the world and see endless adversaries between them and their goal to serve Christ. There's not a single institution left that isn't riddled with vindictive gatekeepers and their coercive tactics, and that's a daunting realization when it finally sinks in. I completely understand the temptation to shrink back and hide, or to simply conform, but that is the opposite of what you should do, for multiple reasons. The first one is because Christianity is true. The modern world screams otherwise, but the simple fact of the matter is that there is a staggering amount of historical evidence to support the accounts recorded in the Bible. Additionally, Christianity provides the most compelling philosophical answers to life's most challenging questions. Given the rich tradition of scholarship surrounding the Christian faith, if a deconstructionist claims that "there are no answers," one has to assume that they simply don't want to find them. This is one of the reasons why I now strongly advocate for church history and apologetics to be an integral part of Christian education both in and outside of the church. The second reason why you should live boldly for Christ is because you will be much more personally fulfilled. Rather than hiding or pretending, you can live a truthful, authentic life and connect with others who are doing the same. Rather than constantly worrying about how you're being perceived, or how your goals and happiness might be negatively affected by other people's disapproval, you can embrace the goals of God and enjoy the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It is truly a joy to rid yourself of constant self-obsession and people-pleasing. It leaves you with peace that surpasses all understanding. A third reason why you should live boldly for Christ is because you will not appease secular progressives no matter how much you try. Most of them are irrational and emotionally manipulative, and their demands will leave you stunted and drained. Even the most watered-down version of my faith eventually irritated my peers and acquaintances because I wouldn't accept allof their baseless claims about race, sex, or religion. You should answer this question truthfully: What's the point in building friendships or business relationships that depend on you totally conforming to the other person's worldview or risk being "canceled" if you don't? Don't waste your time. Shake the dust off your feet and move forward. Questions to Consider Obviously, there are multiple reasons for people to wrestle with the Christian faith, not simply the ones I outlined above. For some, there is real trauma that must be addressed. For others, it's a matter of theological confusion. For example, I think that many Christians who grow up in a church that over-emphasizes Calvinism or pacifism is bound to suffer unnecessary angst. Or, in my case, it was the weak spiritual training with an overemphasis on God's mushy-gushy love that leaves young Christians vulnerable to various kinds of pressure from the secular world. Another reason some people deconstruct is attention-seeking since it has become an easy way to build a large audience in a post-Christian culture. However, more often than not, I believe deconstruction is simply motivated by fear. Specifically, the fear of losing opportunities and friendships. This is evidenced by the fact that many deconstructionists want to keep the socially acceptable parts of the Christian identity but toss aside the ones the secular world deems bigoted or toxic. The fear of man's disapproval ultimately overrides the fear of God, and it's the reason why deconstruction tends to become a way of disassociating oneself from orthodox Christian beliefs. The daunting reality young Christians like myself must face is that there are many obstacles between you and your desire to live for Christ in our confused, post-Christian culture, where fools temporarily reign. You will lose friends and opportunities if you choose to be faithful--that's a promise from Christ himself. But the blessed truth is that Christianity is true, and God is faithful to those who persevere. Carmen Schober is a wife, mother, writer, and cultural commentator. You can read her cultural work at Staseos, The Stream, and her debut Christian romance novel, After She Falls, is available online wherever books are sold. Follow Carmen on Instagram and subscribe to her website for writing updates.