Doubt – a Friend to Faith: A Journey of Faith Deconstruction

I love this definition of the process of deconstruction: (Deconstruction is)…an academic term for the systematic pulling apart of the belief system you were raised in. It’s what happens when the questions you’ve pushed down your whole life finally bubble over the surface, and you’re forced to stare honestly at your doubts. The infallibility of the Bible. The omniscience of God. The finality of hell. (Huckabee).

Many of you have reached out to me since I started opening up last fall about my faith deconstruction. I have met with some pretty incredible people who have gone through similar journeys, and I’m so thankful for the chance to be able to be honest without the fear of feeling judged. I’ve also opened up to some of my closest friends – believers and non-believers – and the overall response I have received from so many of you has been beyond encouraging. Those conversations have helped propel my journey into expanding my perspective and being open and honest about the questions I’ve been afraid to face. I used to only sense the questions that I had…But now I’m actually acknowledging them (Huckabee).

I’ll admit, I’ve been avoiding writing another piece on this topic for the last five months because I’ve struggled with what I wanted to say and how to say it. After giving up on multiple drafts, I finally figured out why it’s been so hard to follow up to my last post from September.

Apart of me felt like I needed to have this huge, climatic follow up and fill you in on where my journey of faith has gone. I imagined that there would be this big aha! moment. Or that I’d have some definitive answers of where I’ve arrived.

The truth is, I haven’t arrived anywhere. In some cases, I feel more confused than when I initially started opening up about this last year. Confused, but hopeful, because I feel the shift happening in my heart.

The biggest difference between then and now, is that I am much more confident in being uncertain. When I read that last post of mine, I can’t help but notice how scared and fragile my tone is…But I guess being fragile and vulnerable would be a good place to start in deconstructing your faith. I can’t help but be excited for that version of myself. I was diving into what will probably be the most important personal journey I’ll ever take. One that will help me see things clearer and even help me be a better wife, mother, and friend. I’d wish this journey of uncertainty, discovery, and doubt for anyone.

I used to be afraid of the term spiritually homeless, because I felt like admitting that would make people feel like I was going off the deep end or something. In contrast, I feel like it’s honestly one of the best, most humbling places to be in.

You see, I think there are two ways to be spiritually homeless. I could feel detached from spirituality or religion and just throw in the towel and accept that nothing will ever work for me and that I’m better off not searching for something higher than myself.

OR, I could accept that I have wiped the slate clean and I’m not sure what aligns with my heart right now…but use that as a jumping off point into a very beautiful and important journey of self-discovery.

I’m excited to be doing the latter. I’ve been reading some great authors with different perspectives, and articles about science, faith, and religion. I’ve tried to assume a posture of humility and being hungry for knowledge.

We are limited to what we know. Our knowledge can keep us stuck in the past if we aren’t constantly evolving our knowledge. Why? Because we are always changing. We are fluid human beings. We change in different environments and around people, we change with age, and we have different seasons of our life which force us to adapt. If we are always changing, then wouldn’t that include our mental, emotional, and spiritual being, too?

For me, being spiritually homeless means that my brain is still searching for those feelings of being ultimately connected to something higher than me. I came across a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex done by neuroscientists that have discovered a part of the brain that is literally responsible for our spiritual experiences – the parietal cortex.

“When we feel a sense of connection with something greater than the self—whether transcendence involves communion with God, nature, or humanity—a certain part of the brain appears to activate.” (Livini)

So, when we feel “close to God” or if we are regularly meditating, chances are, that spiritual part of our brain (also responsible for sensation, language, influencing attention, and more), is more fired up. In Christian lingo, this would probably be a time when we feel “on fire” for God. I know I experienced this many times during moving worship sets (when the words, lights, and effects all hit just right), or maybe at a church retreat. In the same way, regularly praying, reading the Bible, and communing with God would mean that we are continuously activating this part of our brain. The same study also says: “In other words, whether the thing that makes a person feel connected to something greater involves church, trees, or a stadium full of sports fans, it appears to have the same effect on the brain.”

That being said, what happens when we aren’t activating that part of our brain? We aren’t meditating, praying, reading, worshiping. Then we feel a little “dry”, don’t we? That’s because your parietal cortex is taking a vacation.

Ok, so I know some of you are thinking that I’m a total kill-joy adding all this science to faith.

But why can’t both of those things co-exist? If God is the creator of all things, isn’t he also behind science? I’ve always been drawn to the scientific explanation for things. Even if we are told to “have faith”, sometimes a logical answer just feels better. I like when things just make sense.

And this is why I’m okay with feeling spiritually homeless now. It has propelled me on a search to find what truly fills and fuels me. It’s ME that has to change, not my church, not my community. It’s forced me to look beyond cookie-cutter religion and the 4 walls of a church. If I don’t find what fills that void of feeling spiritually disconnected, then I will probably always blame others for how I feel.

The most important thing to me now is constantly remind myself to stay humble and to actually putting into practice what I’m learning. If I gain all of this new knowledge about other perspectives and spirituality, it’s not all the knowledge that will change my life. I have to actually put it into practice and physically discover new experiences for myself. “Life doesn’t reward you for what you know, but for what you do” – Benjamin Hardy.

We don’t need the religious labels, but rather, experiences that bring down the barriers between ourselves and others, giving us a more broad perspective of the world rather than being confined to our own (old) knowledge. I find hints of this when I’m in community with other women and moms with different backgrounds. I experience this love and fellowship when I’m in nature, soaking in creation with others who may have a totally different background than me, but have the same love for the outdoors.

To share the things you love most about life with other people, but while experiencing a new perspective of those things – what a beautiful way to stay humble and hungry for knowledge. I’d rather be constantly surrounding myself with people of different perspectives, then to always risk being limited by group think. I don’t want to cut myself off from learning about other people because we have differences and I believe my way is the only way.

As apart of my journey to learn about other perspectives, I recently read Lesley Hazelton’s book Agnostic: a Spirited Manifesto. She writes, “This is the agnostic’s faith: not in answers, but in possibilities. It’s in the way doubt opens up thought instead of closing it off – in the vitality of a mind intrigued, challenged, dancing with uncertainty instead of being plagued by it. That is why, as an agnostic person, I place my faith in inquiry. Or as Emily Dickinson poetically put it, I dwell in possibility.”

I haven’t yet thought of myself as agnostic, but I resonate so much with this. It reminds me that it’s OK – or rather, necessary to pursue doubt. For someone that has spent their life following a particular religion or set of standards, I’ve often been taught that doubt is a dark place to be. But I’m so confident that doubt is NOT “spiritual warfare” or an attack of some kind. I think it’s an opportunity to renew your membership, if you will. To determine if you, without a doubt, (see what I did there), are still completely convicted by what you believe. Doubting and asking questions allows us to arrive at a confidence in what we believe. Isn’t that what faith is? We put our faith in something, because we don’t know all the answers. It’s mostly what we are willing to risk being wrong about because it means something significant to us.

In his playwright called “Doubt,” John Patrick Shanley writes this:

“Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite – it is a passionate exercise.” And Hazleton adds, “an exercise of the heart, that is, as much as of the mind – not of one against the other, but of the two interwoven, each constantly challenging and thus enriching the other.”

After pursuing this faith deconstruction, I could honestly end up right back where I started, with the same doctrine and faith that I once had – believing wholeheartedly that Jesus is the only way to truly experiencing God. But if we’re being honest, this journey could also bring me somewhere else. I have no idea what to except but I can imagine that that’s the exciting and beautiful part of the journey – finally finding what resonates with myself, for myself, and not letting anyone else’s opinions or perspectives hinder it. It’s between me and something higher than me.

Sources:

Hazleton, Lesley. Agnostic: a Spirited Manifesto. 2016.

Huckabee, Tyler. How to Deconstruct your Faith without Losing it. Relevant Magazine. https://relevantmagazine.com/feature/how-to-deconstruct-your-faith-without-losing-it/

Livini, Ephrat. Columbia and Yale Scientists found the spiritual part of our brain – religion not required. Quartz. 30 May 2018.  https://qz.com/1292368/columbia-and-yale-scientists-just-found-the-spiritual-part-of-our-brains/

Miller, Lisa and Balodis, Iris. Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences. Cerebral Cortex. 29 May 2018. https://academic.oup.com/cercor/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/cercor/bhy102/5017785?redirectedFrom=fulltext

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