So... deconstruction. Let's talk about it. Now, I admit that in Christian circles the word has a "fad-ish" quality - not just from overuse, but also from inappropriate use as people either misunderstand what it's about or adopt it in order to keep up with the Joneses. Christianity especially, has a history of religious fads in North America so alike secular culture that it's sometimes hard to tell the difference. Except... psychospiritual deconstruction isn't actually a fad! Instead, it's a developmental step in our personal growth that's so destabilizing, so spiritually disorienting that everyone who has been through it will tell you the same thing: they didn't choose it, they didn't want it, it totally sucked, but they're glad it happened and would do it again if they had to.
So, what is deconstruction?
Well, it's complicated, because humans don't actually mature in a straight line. Instead, we grow in fits and spurts with smaller changes in between, and in the same way that a teenager might hit a "growth spurt" our spiritual development does the same thing. Sometimes the time between spurts can be so long that we forget what it's like and fall into thinking that the times of slower growth are how things should be.1
But deconstruction isn't just any spurt in growth - it refers to something specific we do many times in our lives. Deconstruction is when we go through a period of reorganizing how we understand our inner and outer worlds. Usually, this involves questioning things from our past and reinterpreting them in light of new information from lived experience. When we're young this happens so frequently and in such small increments that we simply call it "growth" and enjoy the ride. However, as we age and our worldview settles in, changes to that worldview become increasingly turbulent as the belief systems and power structures that form the foundation for our sense-of-identity undergo tidal changes.
Sometimes, it's a tsunami.
And this is the religious deconstruction you've been hearing about. It's when a long-time believer has an experience that can't be reconciled against their established worldview. It's when their systems of belief and authority come into question in light of real life circumstances that don't line up, and the believer is left with a choice to either accept reality in its own terms and do the inner work of making sense of it all, or deny the experience and persist in incompatible belief. How and which choice is made depends on a staggering array of factors for each of us.2
Of course, there's sooo much more going on when we deconstruct. This is because our beliefs, lives and relationships don't play out in a vacuum. So not only must we endure radical internal change, but in most cases the real life circumstances that initiated the whole thing continue, which must then be navigated without the comfort of everything we thought was true about the world. It's like trying to steer a ship through a storm without a keel - let alone a rudder! Either way, no one on board stays dry.
Personally, I think the reason deconstruction has emerged as a cultural phenomenon is because it's real. I think we are in widespread spiritual crisis as, increasingly, the worldviews handed to us from previous generations aren't equipped to handle the scale of a world that's increasingly complex and exhibiting signs of systemic stress. I think humanity's only way forward in these urgent times is to slow down, grieve our losses, make peace with death and learn to see that to which we've been blind all along, and deconstruction is precisely the task we undergo when we wake up and begin the process of letting go of the life to which we cling.
My own deconstruction?
It was a thousand deaths.
Developmental theorists disagree on whether or not humans develop steadily over time or in stages. My view is integrative: everyone grows all the time, but not in every area of their lives and not at the same rate. Sometimes this growth is gradual, straight and steady, other times it's exponential with periods of plateau in between. Every person and situation is unique. ↩