A phrase that’s become popular to describe…well, that’s a problem…it’s a phrase or term that is used to describe many similar things that really aren’t the same thing. So any given conversation about “Deconstruction” could involve hard, academic work in which false information is replaced by true information or it might also be used to describe a person’s experience of disenchantment with Faith after watching a YouTube video.
And all kinds of conglomerations of information in between those two.
In the context of this post, it doesn’t matter where people are on that spectrum. People of all ages are finding themselves “deconstructing” faith in light of information – both reliable and unreliable – in ever increasing numbers because, I want to suggest, of the magic of Social Media.
Podcasts, blog posts, online articles, YouTube videos, TikTok videos…an ever increasing list of popular methods of disseminating narratives and information…have accelerated an epistemological crisis. And this crisis is a root cause, I’m suggesting, of the current state of our deconstruction. It didn’t start the fire. I’ve been deconstructing since I graduated from Bible College and started reading academic work we weren’t exposed to in my undergrad education – long, long before Al Gore dreamed up the interwebs.
Some wouldn’t even call the process that I’ve gone through, “deconstruction.” The first term I ever came across that captured my imagination and made sense of what I was experiencing was simply, “unlearning.” But often when people talk about “deconstruction” they are not only replacing “alternative facts,” they are also talking about the measure of their experience against the reality of their evangelical upbringing. Even while I was in Bible College there was a struggle to reconcile the things we said about relationships in the church with the reality of the relationships we were experiencing in the church. That cognitive dissonance was enough for several of my Bible College friends to abandon faith.
And 35 years later, the amount of abuse that seems to have been baked in to the evangelical system – abuses of power, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, financial scams, spousal abuse, child abuse – and the coverup of all the above, once whispered about is now the topic of six new podcast series and one new specialty cable series.
The phenomena of social media has provided an incredible opportunity for everyone to get a front row seat and private tutorial on some of the best of Christian scholarship and academics. It’s also made equal or greater space for piles and piles of “fake news.” If your confirmation bias is itching, there are dozens or even hundreds of possible social media outlets that will scratch that for you. Are you pretty sure the “Libtards” are witches in league with Satan who eat human baby embryos during weekly bridge club meetings? There’s a TikTok for that and maybe a YouTube channel or two as well. Want to hear someone “spill the tea” on their time in MegaChurch X and how horrible it was? There are a hundred new TikToks and 8 new podcasts.
The challenge is that some solid academic, data based, scholarship based, and still faith based, information is now accessible right from the academic source now without the filter of a denomination or local pastor who have “protected” people in the past from information that might trouble their faith. Like the Bibles that used to be chained up that protestant Bible College learned about in church history class, information that practitioners felt was too dangerous for normal people to have to process – because we never helped people learn to process – was put on the high shelves away from “the kids.” But now a 3 minute video, with very little context and little opportunity to process, is coming directly to your phone every few minutes. Not just the Dan Brown, Davinci Code nonsense, but excellent, accurate scholarship that is supported by facts and data.
And when people feel like those who know things have been keeping those things from the people who want to know things – they don’t react with warm gratitude and increased feelings of trust and respect.
We are in an age of epistemological crisis and it won’t be well met by people in power shouting, “trust us!”
“Me too!” was the galvanizing cry of survivors of abuse that empowered thousands to come forward with their own stories of abuse. “Church too!” was the muffled cry that escaped the gravity of evangelical church culture to air our dirty laundry as well. As more people tell their stories the less credible evangelical culture and leaders become – not because of the stories, because the stories are everywhere – but because our typical response is to shame and blame the accusers and story tellers even as our self-defense rhetoric exposes our brokenness.
As a pastor of an evangelical church within and evangelical system, I can tell you that one of the greatest pressures we face – as pastors – is that people of a certain age crave certainty. Despite belonging to something we say is “by faith” we want to know and we want guarantees. Recently I saw a TikTok in which a young, evangelical pastor was musing about theologians questioning what the Bible actually says about hell (not much btw). This earnest young man asked, “Why would anyone become a Christian if there was no hell?” Actually, I imagine by the way he said it he would capitalize that, “Hell.” Bless his heart. Faith isn’t a matter of coercion, it’s running to someone, not running a way from some thing. “But if I can’t believe that YouTube video about the man who visited hell in a vision and was raped by demons, can I believe any of this is real?” The path to church growth among people of a certain age is certainty. Offer it. Guarantee it. But that same certainty is, to people of another age, repugnant. I don’t mean a lack of knowledge or belief or conviction but rather that certainty that believes it has all the answers and that all the questions have answers and there is no room in faith for doubt. That’s what makes a lot of people embrace deconstruction.
So let me eject this post onto the interwebs. Not as an answer but just as a notification. We’re in an epistemological crisis.
2 thoughts on “On Christian Deconstruction and Social Media”
Jesus spoke of a spiritual temple or church, and it is obvious to me that you have been hanging out there for some time now. I’d stay with that, until the deconstruction of religious Christianity is complete.
“We’re in an epistemological crisis.”
Yes we are, as was spoken by the Prophet Hosea: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”…
referring to a spiritual destruction with regard to the healing/salvation of the soul. It is the people of religion that call themselves “God’s people.”
And from the Prophet Amos: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:”…
there is a lack of spiritual knowledge.
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I don’t know who you are, Pastor, but I’m glad that I stumbled upon your blog after WordPress.com recommended “A Pastor’s Story” after something I’d just written on my blog thehappynarcissist.com .
I’ve upset family and friends by my calling my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “my possibly imaginary Friend,” even though I’ve explained ad infinitum the origin of my phrase and why I still employ it. By referring to Jesus as “possibly imaginary,” I let the world know that I am not “certain” to the degree that I can “prove” Jesus to anyone’s satisfaction except my own, but by capitalizing the “F” in Friend, I also profess my simple faith in Him.
Anyway, please keep writing, Pastor. I’m reading you.