Deconstruction, and the Christians who do it.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 June
DECONSTRUCT 'di.kən'strəkt verb [with object]. Take apart; unbuild.
2. Analyze a concept, belief system, or text, by taking it apart—usually to expose its hidden workings and assumptions, often to undermine its apparent soundness, significance, truth, or unity.
3. Reduce to its constituent parts, in order to reinterpret it.
[Deconstruction 'di.kən'strək.ʃən noun, deconstructionism 'di.kən'strək.ʃən.ɪz.əm noun, deconstructionist 'di.k(ə)n'strək.ʃ(ə)n.əst noun.]

The term “deconstruction” came from 20th century philosopher Jacques Derrida—who usually gets credit for the whole idea. But the idea doesn’t come from Derrida; just the word. The idea goes all the way back—to the beginning of western philosophy. All the way back to Socrates of Athens. Yep, the founder of western philosophy himself.

See, whenever an Athenian would state something which he was entirely sure was true, Socrates would respond, “Is that really true?” and start asking questions. Piercing questions. Analytical questions. He’d pick that idea apart. Yep, he’d deconstruct it. Taught his students to do likewise. The Socratic method has been practiced ever since, ’cause people realize how utterly valuable it is. The only people who think it’s not valuable, are the people who were awfully fond of their ideas, and absolutely hate to discover there’s no substance to them. Socrates managed to enrage so many of those people, they got him banned from Athens—that or drink poision, and because he never wanted to leave Athens, he chose the poison.

When Derrida first wrote of deconstruction—in his 1967 book De la Grammatologie (English, On Grammatology)—he was writing about words and their meaning. How they only have meaning in context: Whenever we use a word, it might have a dozen definitions in the dictionary, but it only means the one thing the speaker or author intends it to mean, and we figure out that meaning through where and how it was said or written. Further, the word’s meaning is only significant because it’s the opposite of something else: We say “up” because we don’t mean “some direction other than up”; we say “yes” because we certainly don’t mean “no.” Deconstruction analyzes all these things about language, and helps us better understand what it really means.

Same as postmodernism, a term which was originally just about art, people jumped all over deconstructionism, and decided to apply it to everything. Everything. You can deconstruct a piece of literature… but you can also deconstruct the law, and try to understand why laws are really made. Or history, and try to understand why we really tell the stories we do, with the spins we put on ’em. Or politics, and what politicians and their sponsors are really after. Or belief systems, ethical systems, philosophies, worldviews, and religions.

Or Christianity. Which is why I bring up the subject on TXAB; I’m not just jabbering about it ’cause I think it’s a neat idea. There are people who grew up Christian, who realized at some point, “Do I actually believe this stuff?” and are deconstructing it. No, not tearing it down, like deconstruction’s critics often complain: Taking it apart to understand it better. I did that, back in my twenties. I still do it from time to time. I find it profoundly helpful.

But yeah, often people are trying to tear it down. Taking it apart so they can nitpick it to death. Much like you take apart a bomb so it won’t go off, these people either don’t like Christians or Christianity, or think Christianity is something harmful or dangerous. They’re hoping if they do a little deconstruction on it, they’ll prove it false, and it’ll stop working. Or collapse like a house of cards.

There are a lot of Christians who object to deconstruction—same as they object to postmodernism, same as they object to any idea they don’t wholly understand. (Critical race theory, for example.) In my experience, they object because they don’t really have faith in the institutions getting analyzed. They fear, deep down, these things won’t withstand scrutiny. Deconstructionists might actually find something that makes ’em fall apart—so they’re nervous. Even terrified.

Sometimes for good reason! Some of those things don’t hold up to scrutiny. Like racism, sexism, nationalism, militarism, partisanship, violence, fear-based reactionism, or any of the other Christianist practices and idols which people have swapped out for the living God and true religion. Deep down they know their “faith” is in fact hypocrisy, and deconstruction threatens to shed light upon the deep darkness in which they dwell, Jn 3.20 and call ’em out.

To my mind, Christianity at its very core is Christ Jesus, his teachings, and the gospel. All the other stuff we’ve piled on top of that? Meh; my faith’s in Jesus, not them. I trust him, not that. So feel free to take ’em apart. Jesus can always hold up to scrutiny.

Antichrists and deconstructionism.

To be fair, a number of deconstructionists aren’t legitimately trying to understand how Christianity works; aren’t legitimately trying to sort out what’s true and what’s false, what’s of God and what’s of the flesh. They are trying to knock things down.

For all sorts of reasons. We usually presume it’s because Christians have been behaving badly, so antichrists want revenge. And yeah, every once in a while it is somebody acting out for just this reason. But for the most part, people don’t believe in God because they simply never had a God-encounter. We Christians never showed ’em one. So they can’t believe such things are real.

It’s why I keep telling people we need God-experiences. The cornerstone of Christianity can’t be anything else. That rock can’t be deconstructed away; not without completely misrepresenting him. He perseveres.

If you’re tackling deconstruction with the goal of taking apart your Christianity, only to never ever put it back together ’cause you quit… well this sort of thing happens. But if you actually meet Jesus, it rarely happens. (Oh, it still happens; note Judas Iscariot.) When you really meet him, your doubts in him vanish. Your doubts about everything else in Christianity might still be there; often for good reason. But your mind is usually made up about him: You’re gonna follow him forever… or you’re gonna flee his presence in terror like a cat from the vacuum cleaner.

Anyway. When people tackle deconstruction for destructive reasons, it’s not because they wanna understand things better, or learn what’s true and what’s false. It’s because they figure it’s all false, and they’re looking for evidence. Or at least dirt. They try to deconstruct Christianity ’cause at the very least, they figure they can antagonize unthinking Christians; and at the very most, they can lead Christians away from Christ.

And sometimes they are successful at leading Christians away. I have friends who grew up Christian, and antichrists were easily able to lead ’em away with simple arguments. Their faith was millimeter-deep, and evaporated quickly. (They never met Jesus either.)

Yep, they’re deconstructing for the same reason as Christian apologists who try to deconstruct heretics or other religions: They wanna prove other people wrong. So they’re taking Christianity apart, looking for weak spots.

Which—let’s be honest—they will find. Over the centuries there’s a lot of chaff which got into the wheat. Bad teachings, bad teachers, cover-ups which try to paper over the sins of our great saints, claims which have no solid foundation, fleshly behavior which pretended (and still pretends) to be fruitful.

Hey, Christians are human, and humans have a lot of depravity in us. Stands to reason our depravity has wormed its way, through a billion tiny holes, into Christ’s church. He purges it from time to time; look at all the sexual abuse cases which keep getting exposed. He’s not gonna purge all of it till the End, though. So it’s still there… undermining stuff, and providing damning evidence for deconstructionists.

We Christians are meant to find this stuff. And expose it, condemn it, and reject it. It’s why the Holy Spirit keeps nudging us to doubt it! But like I said, we got hypocrites who don’t wanna find it. They’d rather pretend it’s not there. That it’s a lack of faith, a lapse of faith, a spirit of chaos, which leads people to scrutinize our faith. Don’t go digging around; you’ll only get dirty!

Doing it right.

But just because various people use deconstruction for destructive reasons, does not mean it’s an irredeemable practice. Does not mean it’s a sign of unfaith and apostasy. Does not mean Christians shouldn’t tackle it from time to time.

In following Jesus as best we can, we regularly need to better understand why we do as we do. We wanna find and eliminate errors in thinking, errors of motive, stuff we’ve prioritized and overemphasized that Jesus doesn’t, and any hangups or roadblocks which keep us from loving God and our neighbors with all our hearts.

When we don’t, or refuse to, there’s inevitably gonna come a point where the Holy Spirit can abide this willful ignorance no longer. He’s gonna insist. We call this a faith crisis, and depending on how much we resist it, it’s either gonna be a big surprise (“I can’t believe I thought that was true; man was I dense”), or it’s gonna shake us to our core.

When that faith crisis comes—and it will—Christians either lobotomize ourselves and refuse to progress further in Christianity, or we freak out and quit, or we do some level of deconstruction. Might not a deep analysis, but there’s some analysis. We look at the scriptures. At Christian traditions. At history. At reason and logic. At fellow Christians and their practices. At all sorts of things, hoping for insight. And if we trust the Holy Spirit, we’ll get it; and if we don’t, it’ll take a few years longer, and we may yet slip into the easier options of self-lobotomy or apostasy.

Like I said, we gotta trust the Spirit. What also helps is a fellow Christian who’s gone through the very same faith crisis. Your church should have a few; go find ’em! They’re the ones who have actual answers. (Instead of the old, pathetic cliché, “Just pray really hard and God’ll get you through it.”) Christians have the bad habit of not looking for them at all, and not finding them, ’cause they’re embarrassed by their doubts, or ’cause their churches are full of hypocrites who pretend everything is just peachy. But real Christians have faith crises… and real Christians tackle that struggle instead of insisting it’s a devilish trick or something to evade.

So if you’re slamming your head against just such a crisis—if you notice a bible difficulty you just can’t reconcile, or an inconsistency between two Christian teachings and you need it resolved, or you now find it impossible to believe God would do what people claim he has: Start asking questions. Start taking stuff apart so you can understand it better. And find a trustworthy Christian who’s struggled with the very same thing; they’ll be a great help!

I should add: Find a trustworthy Christian whom you can interact with in person. Too many Christians make the mistake of going to “Bible Answer Men” on the internet. I get plenty of questions from such people, and I always try to redirect ’em towards people in their churches. ’Cause I don’t know you! I’m not gonna be there in your life to make sure you’re okay; that you can handle the answers I offer you; I can’t follow up with encouragement and guidance and spiritual insight into the life-circumstances which led you to these questions. You need real-time, real-life assistance, and I’m not that. Neither is any other guru with a podcast, radio show, YouTube channel, or publishing contract. Plus we’re super easy to ignore, and all of us need a fellow Christian who will get in our faces when necessary.

Yeah, if your church fights the very idea of you doing any sort of serious introspection and analysis, you’re in the wrong church. Go find one which trusts the Holy Spirit.

Then, with that kind of assistance, in that kind of safe space, ask the hard questions—of others, and yourself. Find out what’s true and what’s not. Toss what’s not; cling tight to what’s true once you find it. We’re wrong; Jesus is right. And if we wanna be right, this is simply something we gotta do. Got it?