Deconstruction

Deconstruction

Deconstruction is in vogue

I recently looked at #exchristian posts on Instagram. There are a lot of them. It’s pretty popular to recount what is wrong with the Church. Why? And how far should it go?

What’s deconstruction?

Deconstruction is more than just saying what’s wrong with church. A lot of times it’s saying what’s wrong with the Christian faith. It’s saying Christianity is essentially stupid. That’s often what deconstructionists say. But, they don’t so often set out to prove their claims.

Memes in no way prove that a worldview has no meaning or validity. And proving that there are problems with a church, the Church, or particular people in the Church is not the same as proving that Christianity gives an inaccurate picture of the world. 

Deconstruction has happened before

Deconstruction is not new. The hashtags are new but deconstruction has actually been happening since the beginning of Christianity.

For example, the apostle Paul and other early Christians argued for the truthfulness of Christianity while others sought to disprove it (see Luke 1:3; Acts 1:3; 9:22; 17:3; 18:4-5, 28; 19:8; 24:25; 26:22-26; 28:23).

People have sought to deconstruct all sorts of aspects of Christianity. Early Christians were accused of cannibalism because of confusion over the Lord’s Supper. They were accused of atheism because they didn’t believe in the pantheon of Greek gods. And they were accused of political disloyalty because they wouldn’t give ultimate allegiance to the empire or offer sacrifices to the emperor.

There are things that should deconstruct

Many memes convey important messages, important critiques that should be taken to heart. There are many sad and despicable things that happen in the church. My family and I have experienced some of those things.

Spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, making idols of pastors, legalism, pridefulness, inhospitality, just to mention a few, are unacceptable and should be condemned as such. Many movements have important things that should be gleaned from them. There are things that can be learned from #exchristians. There are also things that should be confessed and cried over.

Jesus Himself “deconstructed” things

Jesus criticized the religious leaders. He was a rebel with a cause. He reached out and welcomed the Samaritan woman even when that was socially unacceptable (Jn 4). Jesus tipped tables in the Temple. He composed a letter through the hands of John partially to critique and challenge the Church (Rev. 2-3).

Jesus wasn’t silent. He brought up stuff but also proposed solutions. The apostle Paul modeled the same approach.

I believe church leaders should take the same approach. They should take the opportunity to listen, learn, and lovingly address problems.           

How does one know what should be deconstructed?

Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous and influential German philosopher, came from a very devout family. Yet, he ended up a very articulate deconstructionist. He very poetically and memorably said: God is dead and we killed him.[1]

Nietzsche didn’t stop there, though. He spelled out what that means for our lives. He reasoned, and I think rightly, that if God is dead, then there is no actual meaning or morality. It is might that makes right. The strong slay and the strong say what is right and what is wrong.

Nietzsche lit a fuse and dynamited God and with Him all basis for morality and actual meaning.[2] So, how much should be deconstructed and destroyed? How do we know? On what basis can we judge what is right and wrong?

If we’re going to prune for the sake of health and good fruit, how much do we cut back? If we cut back too far do we not lose all hope of fruit and flourishing?

There is a point to pruning but if we prune back the very existence of purpose that seems like a cut too far. It seems to me that’s not going to serve the purpose of the pruning.

If one of the problems we’re critiquing is people’s failure to love it seems foolish and unproductive to cut off the possibility of the existence of actual love. And yet, that seems to be what many are doing. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist said in his book, The God Delusion, that morality and love are simply a “blessed precious mistake;” a happenstance of evolution.[3]

Yet, as G.K. Chesterton said, if we rebel against everything we lose the grounds and ability to rebel against anything. So, is there a basis for actual truth? If so, what? And how does one know? If not, how does one know what should be deconstructed? 

What are the reasons for deconstruction?

            “Christian” Hypocrisy

Christians and so-called “Christians” often fail to live the Christian ethic. They fail to live a life of love. Often they even carry out evil actions. Sexual abuse seems to have even become prevalent. And so people reason, not so unreasonably, that Christianity is pointless if not also a plague on society.

Problems with people acting immorally, of course, don’t actually prove that Christianity is a shallow or wrong worldview though. This is especially the case if people are using Christian criteria to critique Christianity. Yuval Noah Harari has said,

“Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are “equal”?[4]

It doesn’t make sense to say Christianity is wrong and yet also use Christian morality as a measurement of what is morally wrong. If someone is to critique Christianity they must have an epistemological basis to do so. That is, they must have knowledge of what is right and wrong.

Is that knowledge just innate? If so, why? And how does it work?

            Empty Dogmatism

Some people grew up attending a church that only offered empty platitudes and forced dogmatism. Their genuine questions were not able to be asked and certainly weren’t honestly answered. And so, when they confronted challenges or hostility with their beliefs they give it up. They don’t feel they have solid grounds for continuing to be committed to it.

            Morality

Some “former Christians” deconstruct Christianity not because of reasoned augmentation but because of Christian morality. Some people don’t like what Christianity says about sexuality or other moral issues.[5] So, they criticize Christianity on moral grounds although they may have no warranted ground for their sense of morality.

Notes

[1] See his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

[2] Nietzsche grounded meaning in a doctrine he called “eternal recurrence.” He essentially proposed living in such a way that if your life was to eternally reoccur that you would be living in such a way that it would be less terrible. Nietzsche grounded purpose in this fictitious notion. Fictitious because Nietzsche did not actually believe in God or in the reoccurrence of our lives.

[3] Dawkins says, “Could it be that our Good Samaritan urges are misfirings”? By Dawkins account we have “programmed into our brains altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on…. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes”). (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 252-53).

But, if we are brutes, why shouldn’t we be brutal? Nietzsche, for instance, promotes the strong acting like “large birds of prey” and freely abusing the weak “lambs” because after all that’s what comes naturally and there is no God to impose morals. He said, “I expressly want to place on record that at the time when mankind felt no shame towards its cruelty, life on earth was more cheerful than it is today,… The heavens darkened over man in direct proportion to the increase in his feeling shame at being man” (See par. 7 of the Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality).

Jean-Paul Sartre said, “The existentialists… thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is not infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, what we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men” (Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, 22).

If we don’t acknowledge God then the moral laws that flow from His character are gone as well, and we are left with blind skepticism and relativism; every person doing whatever is right in their own eyes. As we consider this we should never forget that, as Martin Luther King Jr. exhorted, “everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’”

[4] Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (New York: Harper, 2015), 109.

[5] As Romans 1 says, “people suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

Photo by Aaron Burden

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