Deconstructing Faith Is a Spiritual Discipline
Updated: Jan 8
Deconstruction is a good word, one that should be valued and seen as a necessary component of healthy spiritual work.
While doing home renovation years ago, I discovered some damp, rotted wood in a major structural beam, called a sill plate, that sits on top of our foundation wall. I was doing floor joist work to our tiny, old, bent aluminum-sided house in New Jersey, and my heart sank when I discovered the rot. To fully replace the sill plate would be an expensive and disruptive job. For me, I had no choice as an early family man with not much money or time but to try and fix it myself, which meant I couldn’t take the whole side of the house apart and install a new giant beam of wood.
So I set about hacking away at the rot as best I could in a cramped space, all the while paying attention to whether I was catastrophically compromising the load bearing beam. Fortunately, the rot didn’t go all the way through. I also found a chemical that would prevent more rot, presuming no more moisture would get to the wood. Then I pounded and nailed in new material, effectively patching the sill. Even though a more thorough job may need to be completed someday, it was the best I could do under the circumstances. Once I completed pulling out the rot and putting in a patch, I could proceed with the rest of the structural work, which needed a solid sill plate to nail into.
In religious life, likewise, we sometimes encounter rot. Maybe it’s an unloving attitude, vestigial word usage, an exploitative practice, or brow beating--name your rot. When we see something corrosive or corrupt, it’s discouraging. Whether you’re aware of it or not, and I hope you can be, dread creeps in as to how you’re going to deal with it. Do you go all the way and rip things apart and rebuild, or can you effectively patch something up? We all have to make the right decisions for our situation.
Either way, deconstructing, or to use a more exacting word, demolition, is an important part of trying to rebuild. You can’t have the joy of a mature religious structure if you’re not working on the ongoing decay. Deconstruction of faith, then, is as important a part of spiritual discipline and practice as any presumed work of being holy. Deconstruction of religion was a core feature in the stories of Jesus.
My point is that sometimes it’s our human-made religious life that needs occasional disassembling or an outright gut job. It’s not just our own individual corruption or sin, it’s the social constructions within religion that likewise require monitoring.
Deconstruction is a word we’re seeing quite a bit lately in reference to religious life. A conversation that sounds deconstructive can seem negative or even snarky. No doubt a lot of religion can be quite peculiar, and sometimes even abusive and boundary invading. It seems to come with the territory, and certainly in America. That said, deconstruction is a good word, one that should be valued and seen as a necessary component of healthy spiritual work. Especially for the person who is experiencing upheaval with regard to religion, the work of deconstruction helps lay bare the foundational elements. Also, such work might seem endless. That old house I lived in had rot in other places too, which took time to repair over many days as a weekend warrior.
Psychologically speaking, such work is often called “regression in service of the ego.” You have to go backward to go forward. You have to dig down and find your footing if you ever hope to improve and go up. That’s why therapists will often look at your origins with your parents and social situation. Likewise, your religious origins need to be talked about. They formed you and are a part of you and might be showing signs of decay in ways you don’t realize. It is an inevitable part of the life cycle, and of existing in human history.
So if you’re feeling like your work of deconstructing is negative or indicates that you’re nothing but a malcontent, then think again. You are doing some necessary, courageously spiritual work. Taking things apart is sometimes the easiest and definitely the messiest part of the job. But like any job, it can be harder than you think, and good work if you can find it.
Recent discovery: It’s not a recent discovery for me, but if you haven’t seen the cartoon work of the Naked Pastor, then you’re missing out. There’s a link on my online resources page.