William B. Bowes on The Psychology of ‘Deconstruction’

One of the values that is prized in our culture, particularly among younger adults, is authenticity. There is an exaltation of (and an exultation in) the authentic. We all have seen the many “coming-out” or “transitioning” stories that describe an experience of liberation coming from an embrace of one’s “authentic self”. These sorts of stories come in various forms, but an astute observer will note that there is great cultural acclamation and praise for those who leave behind an old identity to embrace a new, alternative, “authentic” one. It is seen as the height of individualism and personal liberty to leave behind what one was taught or how one was raised, with all of the forms and traditions accompanying these, for the new frontier of a new identity or self-expression. The shucking off of the expected or established path is celebrated; there is no prize or commendation for adhering to or maintaining beliefs that represent an “old way” of doing things. In short, almost irrespective of the type of transformation or the nature of the beliefs that come or go with it, our society loves a story of personal liberation.

A unique place where we see this pattern is the stories of “deconstruction” from those who have long identified as Christian or have been raised in a Christian environment. If you are like me, you have heard many stories from friends, family or by celebrities about this process of taking apart, or deconstructing, what they once believed. The deconstruction narrative generally begins with a period of simply accepting what one was taught, whether as an effect of borrowing from the family’s faith or of being immersed a Christian culture with little interaction with those leading different lives or believing entirely different things. Then, over time, removal from those environments can lead to the inevitable question, “do I even truly believe these things?” This self-examination may be brought about by relationships with non-Christians who are kind, genuine people who live normal lives, but have an entirely different perspective. It may be brought about by having to face a personal or spiritual crisis for which one was woefully unprepared. Whatever the harbinger, it leads to a crisis, where one’s assumptions and presuppositions are taken apart like bricks from a proverbial wall of one’s constructed reality or worldview. The foundation underlying this wall is never as strong as the person hoped, and eventually it comes down. Inasmuch as it results in a vulnerable and authentic quest for personal fulfillment, this sort of exodus from Christianity is often met with praise.

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For those of us who have heard many of these stories, there is a sense that this comes out of the blue; we feel shocked that someone we knew or were influenced by rejected their faith. However, it is never that simple. Deconstruction is always a long process, and sometimes it leads to a revelation that someone is not necessarily rejecting what they believed so much as becoming aware that they did not really believe many of those things in the first place. In that case it may be accurate to cast it as an exchange of the pretentious for the authentic. Deconstruction is a highly experiential and affective process, one that involves how a person feels about Christianity or certain Christian beliefs just as much as (or possibly much more than) it involves whether or not someone finds Christianity or certain Christian beliefs to be intellectually reasonable, rational or consistent with reality. This is why deconstruction stories always tend to focus on someone’s emotional response or personal aversion to difficult Christian beliefs like the existence of hell.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, William B. Bowes

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