The word “religion” can have different meanings. At its simplest, it means “belief in and worship of God or gods” (Oxford Dictionary). But more precisely, religion is often seen as a designated set of beliefs and rituals by which people relate to a god. Thus religion (implying dogma and restrictions) is often contrasted to spirituality (emphasising freedom and feelings).
Like many other people, I have lost my religion, or a large part of it. Many others have lost their faith in God as well, though I haven’t.
This movement is one of the stories of our times.
unkleE loses his religion
Although I wasn’t raised in a christian family, I was sent to Sunday School, went on to a church youth group, and committed myself to being a christian in my mid-teens. Because I was young, I more or less accepted what I was taught.
But I used to be an argumentative person, and I wanted to be sure that what I believed was true, and to be able to present my beliefs logically to non-believers. So I began questioning what I had been taught.
Life changes you too. Maturity came upon me late (if at all!), but experience nevertheless caused me to think again about much of what Protestant christians believe.
Early on, I lost much of my faith in the church as an institution, and in many of the staples of church life – church services, sermons, clergy and systematic theology.
Also early on, I came across anomalies in christian doctrine, notably:
- the evangelical understanding of Jesus that didn’t fit very well with what the historians tell us, and wasn’t very well based even on the gospels; and
- reading more about science (mainly cosmology, neuroscience, psychology and biology), plus history, archaeology, philosophy and people’s stories, led me to see flaws in other common christian beliefs. But the same reading reinforced my core beliefs in God, in the divine Jesus and in the way of life he modelled and called us to follow.
And so I came to where I am today, almost 74 years old, with a lot of religious dogma and ritual quite unrelated to me. My beliefs make me somewhat of an alien in almost any denomination. Yet my belief in Jesus has been much strengthened by my reading and life experience, and my commitment to follow him is as strong as ever. (You can read more about my journey in the links below.)
Not Robinson Crusoe
It turns out that I am not alone.
According to “Science Mike” McHargue, 40-50% of people will go through a major faith transition at some point in their life. This can include conversion from unbelief to belief, “deconversion” to non-belief, and a major change in beliefs.
It is no news that in the western world (primarily Europe, North America and Australia), younger generations are turning from religion in droves and church attendance has plummeted in the last 50 years. In some countries in Europe, the numbers are close to evenly split between the religious, the spiritual but not religious, and the atheists.
Different journeys, different destinations
It is easy to find online people’s stories of their faith transition experiences. As you’d expect, they turn out in many different ways. Of those who deconstruct their faith, some become atheists or agnostics, some move to a spiritual belief that isn’t exclusively christian, some reconstruct to liberal or progressive christianity (the two are different), and a few end up more or less back where they started.
At the same time, there are those who transition in the opposite direction, from unbelief to belief, or from a cultural or nominal belief to a stronger more personal belief.
More conservative christians often see deconstruction as a failure of faith, when in reality it often occurs because of a failure of conservative christianity to provide answers to some obvious questions.
Some obvious questions
Reading faith deconstruction and reconstruction accounts reveals a few common themes of problems not well answered by evangelical christianity:
- Hell: even strong christians cannot easily reconcile belief in a just and loving God with the idea that finite sins will be punished with never-ending suffering and torment. Many research the Bible and find that it doesn’t teach what traditional christians have been led to believe.
- Jesus: the Jesus of the gospels, concerned about the poor and oppressed, suspicious of wealth, espousing non-violence, critical of the religious leaders, and establishing the kingdom of God on earth, is far more interesting and attractive than the Jesus of the evangelical church. The idea of a penal substitutionary atonement is often rejected as barbaric.
- The Bible: there are so many problems with the idea that the Bible is inerrant, that many christians can no longer believe it. Reconstruction almost always leads to a more realistic and evidence-based view of the Bible and how it conveys God’s revelation to us. The early parts of the Old Testament and the Canaanite genocide are particularly subject to deconstruction.
- Social justice: reconstructed christians often take a greater interest in social justice and community welfare than they once did, and often take up more progressive views on social issues such as gay marriage and gender equality.
- Church: many change churches (to something less dogmatic) or swap church for some other form of christian meeting, or give up on the organised church completely, at least for a while.
Of course the final conclusions vary a lot, and I don’t necessarily agree with how all people deconstruct and reconstruct their faith, but I am sympathetic to their need to come to a belief they can hold with integrity.
Deconstruction and reconstruction on this website
I have begun a new section on this website, Faith deconstruction, to address what I see as an important issue. I want to encourage those on this journey not to be daunted or distracted by negative comments from fellow believers, nor (on the other hand) to jettison any belief without prayer and careful consideration.
I have started with a few Deconstruction stories, to give the flavour of what is happening. I am planning pages to look at the main issues and offer some ideas about how we might reach a more truthful and satisfying faith.
Read more on this site
- Faith deconstruction
- Deconstruction stories
- Seventy years in the making – my faith reconstruction story.
- When sensitive and thoughtful people begin to doubt.
- When thoughtful christians begin to doubt.
Deconstruction & reconstruction webpages
- How to Deconstruct (and reconstruct) Your Faith. Rethink.
- How to Deconstruct Your Faith Without Losing It. Relevant.
- Deconstructing faith: Meet the evangelicals who are questioning everything. Premier Christianity.
- Losing my religion: how I almost lost my faith and gained it back. Scott Higgins.
- Faith shift: healing and hope. Facebook group.
- Deconstruction Does Not Mean Christians Are Trying to Leave the Faith. Christian Post.
Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash