Every so often, I have to just laugh about the newest surefire solution to Christianity’s decline. Addressing the growing waves of deconstruction has become the newest cottage industry. And one progressive Christian guy, Keith Giles, is hoping to cash in on it while he still can. He’s written two books now that use the same stupid deepity catchphrase, all while being blissfully unaware of what he’s actually doing to wreck his own religion’s chances of a rebound. Yes, he wants Christians to know that ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s certainty.’ And he wants his flocks to know that they can be completely certain about the utter uncertainty of their religious beliefs.
I just cannot with these would-be spiritual leaders and their inane tummy rumbles. Even the progressive Christians of our world can’t resist this kind of talk.
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Deconstruction vs deconversion
In recent years, I’ve heard less and less about deconversion and more and more about deconstruction.
Deconversion means a complete rejection of Christianity. It means discarding all of the false beliefs that add up to the religion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t imply any careful examination of how the person ended up in Christianity in the first place. Nor does it imply any examination of the deep beliefs that often feed into conversion and adherence to Christianity: feelings of worthlessness, baseline misogyny, needing a cosmic Daddy, white colonization, etc.
Deconstruction tends to mean examination of those deeper beliefs and false beliefs, but only up to a point. It doesn’t at all indicate a rejection of Christianity itself. Often, a deconstructing person ends up still being Christian, just in some much milder flavor of the religion. Also often, the deconstruction doesn’t include a careful examination of any culture-war affections.
(“And I’m still pro-life,” drawled the deconstructed mainline pastor I talked to some time ago. He said it like he was achieving some kind of massive win for Team Jesus, instead of marking human rights’ loss.)
Deconstruction and deconversion are two great tastes that taste great together
When I deconstructed, it led straight to deconversion. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to not to chase the truth all the way to the very kernel of reality. It was years before I knew anybody even could do that.
Is God even real? I cried aloud with a cracking voice. Or is that, too, just a lie?
And the ceiling answered, unblinking and emotionlessly, just as it always had: with complete and utter silence.
No loving parent would ever allow their anguished child to cry out like that without taking meaningful steps to soothe and comfort her. If my mother had heard me like that, she’d have stepped in immediately. (In fact, she did. Always. Without fail. I cannot remember a single time when she didn’t.)
But nothing came to my aid then.
So I took that silence for my answer.
As a concept, reality is neither good nor bad, neither loving nor hateful. It just is. The problem was my desire for it to be something it wasn’t. Tackling the programming that had led me to so much vulnerability to religious lies and to fighting reality so hard, well, that took a while longer. But at least I’d found my footing at last by deciding to run my life only according to reality. My foundation was secure at last.
If any gods want me to think any differently, well, I reckon they already know where to find me. Until then, I’ll go with what is real and the rest can go hang.
Deconstruction rarely tackles Christianity’s biggest lies
To me, being so long deconverted that I’ve forgotten what it was like to viscerally fear Hell and being “left behind,” it feels like deconstruction nowadays rarely tackles the three central lies of Christianity:
- A god who looks like the Bible’s Jesus/Yahweh combo package really, truly exists for realsies…
- … And he totally loves humans, for varying definitions of the term “love” and with varying requirements for getting it…
- … So he just wants to help people out in life, for various definitions of “help,” and maybe give us a nice place to hang out in after death.
Not one of these assertions finds any support anywhere in reality. Not one. In fact, reality contradicts every one of them on a daily basis. On any Atlanta highway, make that hourly.
Of course, that’s not really a unique problem for Christianity. No religion in the entire known history of religion has ever had any real-world support for its claims. Christianity sure doesn’t break this combo streak.
But out of every single lie that Christians tell, these three might be the worst of all. They are certainly the cruelest. And they are the gateway drug to accepting and embracing more and more lies in life to make those first lies sound more plausible.
Why at least I need to reject lies as the foundation of my beliefs
Over and over again, I’ve noticed something about the lies of Christianity.
It’s not even that they waste believers’ time. I mean, I play an MMORPG, and I’m also possibly the world’s leading expert in one particular, extremely-outdated online text-only game’s object-crafting system. Oh honey, don’t I know about wasting tons of time in the most pointless ways possible! While other folks were earning advanced degrees and building their careers, I was learning to read Matrix-like code to tell someone why their soup-cooking routine wasn’t properly consuming cloves of garlic and tomatoes and creating bowls of tasty tomato soup.
No, it’s that Christian lies lead even the nicest Christians into the worst imaginable situations in life, keep them in intolerable situations, and lead them to blame themselves when their leaders’ roadmaps simply never lead them to their promised destinations. Instead of improving believers’ lives, religion turns into a substitute for cultivating the real skills that would actually do that—and that’s the best-case scenario. In the worst case, religious devotion turns good people into easy prey for the many predators in religious leadership.
As well, religious lies leave people open to buying into more and worse lies. It doesn’t only happen to just me, though I’m particularly prone to it, I think. Once we turn off our critical thinking skills long enough to buy into one set of lies, other lies slide in on the same rails those first lies used. So accepting one lie inevitably means accepting more. The only way to get off that merry-go-round is to refuse to accept any lies at all in one’s belief system. Whatever’s there has to earn its place through reality-based observation and measurement. Then, our beliefs build off of reality rather than supplanting it (or worse, denying it).
When I read accounts of deconstruction that end in expressions of deep relief at having retained one’s faith afterward, it always feels like the Christians going through it are a little scared of confronting the three biggest lies in their religion. Like whatever else happens, they’re going to come out clutching those three lies to their chests, because the alternative—the actual truth of reality—is just too terrifying to contemplate. Like they’re gonna scream riiiiight up to the ledge, but then skid to a stop before it’s too late.
Maybe that’s just me, though. To be sure, if Christians don’t feel like they must embark on a project that almost certainly will lead to rejecting all of their false beliefs, then they might not be as afraid to question any of them. Maybe having more Christians tell them that deconstruction can definitely end with them still having some kind of Christian beliefs isn’t a terrible thing.
It’s just not something that would resonate with someone like me. If Christianity’s claims are not true, then I don’t want any form of it in my belief system. I’ve seen how I deal with having untrue beliefs. I know I’m not able to handle them well.
The newest cottage industry: addressing deconstruction
But those remaining-Christian-afterward accounts are the ones that seem to be getting publishing deals nowadays. Rare indeed are the deconstruction books that end in total rejection of even Christianity’s three biggest lies. Funny, considering I once tangled with an evangelical blogger claiming the opposite.
(Eventually, he got mad at me when he couldn’t come up with a single example of wealthy ex-Christians raking in loads of cash for their published memoirs. Yes. An evangelical got mad at me because he couldn’t support his own assertions. Give Team Jesus a hand, everyone! Unfortunately, they’ll be here all week. Be sure to tip the waitstaff, cuz they sure won’t.)
Indeed, a few years ago, Christian leaders (and aspiring leaders) began to notice deconstruction as a new religious trend. My private suspicion here is that deconversion didn’t threaten their sales too much, so they didn’t seem to care much about the growing numbers of people leaving Christianity entirely. But deconstruction grabs their attention like almost nothing else has in the past twenty years. Maybe it’s because Christians don’t feel like they must go all the way to deconversion to question their beliefs, which isn’t a bad thing. Lots more of them are doing deconstruction than ever did deconversion!
Worse from these leaders’ viewpoint, though, the people undergoing deconstruction tend to remain Christian afterwards, just not the kind these leaders think are valid TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
Apostasy might bug Christian leaders, sure, but heresy tends to put them on the aggressive defensive.
As well, more liberal and progressive Christian leaders want to find new audiences themselves. They want potential followers to know that yes, they can totally deconstruct and still be Christian afterward. Maybe those potential followers need tips and a roadmap to do it, or they’ve already come to the end of that journey and want a new leader who understands where they’ve landed. So yes, these nicer Christians are writing books too.
I thought I’d let them fight it out on the shelf
That’s how I ended up this evening: ordering two Christian books about deconstruction.
Before You Lose Your Faith is written by a bunch of literalist, inerrantist, sola scriptura, hardline culture-warrior Calvinist evangelicals from The Gospel Coalition (TGC). They want deconstruction to end with the person still being just like them.
Before You Lose Your Mind comes to us from a progressive Christian who has himself undergone deconstruction. He wants other people’s deconstruction to end with them becoming more like him.
Once I get both books, I figure I’ll put them together on a shelf. After a week, I’ll check on them. Whatever book is less torn to shreds wins the battle of ThunderBookshelf.
Two books enter. One book leaves.
Sidebar: Competing makes evangelicals cranky
Let me tell you, too, that the evangelical crowd haaaaaates that second book. Here’s one reviewer’s sola stella take on it:
Be careful. This tribe will swoon you in to take any kind of liberty you want with scripture. They’re kind of like a group of frat boys having fun editing and updating their mystics. Only it’s scripture they’re toying with, not frat mystics. They swerve around under the influence of the latest cultural trends – like a drunk driver swerving recklessly over the center line.
The rest of his 500 word essay unfolds along similar lines. Every word of it ignores the fact that his own beliefs are largely a modern invention as well. In fact, modern evangelicalism might be an even more cynically engineered invention than anything any previous Christians have ever believed, and yes, I am including the First Council of Nicea here.
Telling modern evangelicals that they’re the only TRUE CHRISTIANS™ ever might be what they ache to hear, but damn, it’s really hurt the religion as a whole for them to insist it everywhere they go. So overall, deconstruction has been good news for Team Humanity. If nothing else, it really makes evangelicals reveal exactly who they have always been. Very little takes off a terrible person’s mask like anger.
Uncertainty is actually the BEST!—says deconstruction book
I’d long intended to pick up the evangelical book. I just wanted to wait till it hit the used-book market, because I don’t like giving evangelicals my money.
But when I put the title into my Amazon search window, I couldn’t remember exactly what it was called. The progressive book came up first, and I saw the title and went “Huh, your mind. Yeah, that tracks. That’s exactly what a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would think about deconstruction.” After all, my Evil Ex Biff often accused me of having “lost my mind” after he realized I’d deconverted!
In fact, in addition to having two strikingly similar titles, the progressive book came out a mere ten days after the TGC-written one. I’ve no clue if that closeness is intentional. I almost hope it is.
So yes, it took me a hot minute to realize this other book wasn’t from our loving pals at TGC.
Instead of drilling down on manipulation and apologetics to try to PROVE YES PROVE their beliefs are based on reality, the progressive author sells the idea that Christians should strive for a faith that “embrac[es] mystery.” That means becoming okay with complete uncertainty about one’s faith:
This book was created to give you hope for your journey from faith to doubt and back again. To a place where embracing mystery is what true faith is all about.
Because the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s certainty.
Y’all, I usually get along great with progressive Christians. But that blurb made me just a little tetchy!
Mystery, as a thought stopper
In Christianese, mystery means something that makes no logical sense and has absolutely no support from reality, but Christians have to take it as true anyway.
Catholics famously have 20 “mysteries” in their religion: five each of joyful ones, luminous ones, sorrowful ones, and glorious ones. These include exactly how Mary got impregnated by Yahweh, by what mechanisms Jesus rose from the dead and floated away to Heaven, and many others. Pretty much all the major miracles claimed in the Gospels, and more than a few minor ones, can be found in their list. One even describes a very post-first-century belief about Mary’s dead body being “assumed” into Heaven rather than rotting away, which didn’t become official Catholic dogma until 1950, while another mystery describes her coronation in Heaven, a belief which came into vogue in the medieval period.
Protestants have some mysteries in common with Catholics, but not all. They might not call their mysteries by the same name, but they have plenty of things in their belief system that must be taken on faith in exactly the same way. When anyone brings up how strange a Bible verse is, or wonders about the logistics of something like the Rapture, that critic will often be told that they just have to trust Jesus, or told they’ll fully understand the answer once they’re in Heaven, because then, presumably, Jesus will be able to communicate more easily with them and will happily explain everything.
(He’s supposedly a god, remember, but another popular Protestant mystery involves why Jesus can’t do that before someone dies!)
The endlessly unfolding beauty of uncertainty: the claims of a salesperson about his own product
In the blurb for his book Before You Lose Your Mind, Keith Giles stresses that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty. He repeats this line in other book blurbs, like in his June 2022 book Sola Mysterium, whose subtitle continues that line of thought: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything. Here’s its entire Amazon blurb (emphasis theirs):
The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.
We cannot talk about God with any degree of certainty, because God is, by definition, a Being who transcends imagination, expectation and comprehension. What we know is this: there is more of God to know than any of us will ever fully know in this life. So, let’s begin by embracing the mystery of Christ to discover the endlessly unfolding beauty of uncertainty.
It’s like he’s not even listening to himself warble meaningless words.
The reason “God” “transcends imagination, expectation and comprehension” is that he does not exist. He can’t be defined in any way because he is purely imaginary. Any attempt to define him would be, in the mere effort of defining him, creating a claim that could be tested. And any attempt to test any definition of Yahweh/Jesus will fail, because—again—he does not exist.
The “mystery of Christ” is a thought stopper meant to disguise the simple fact that “Christ” doesn’t exist. The “endlessly unfolding beauty of uncertainty” is like getting into an imaginary plane in Alabama, then insisting your first-class flight to Switzerland is magically delicious when you’re not even moving on the tarmac, because, after all, you’re just sitting on your ass on a Southern runway.
In this scenario, Keith Giles is the guy who sold you the plane ticket. He calls his idea “endlessly unfolding beauty.” I call it a nightmare unending as every one of my beliefs smashes against the simple non-stop contradictions offered by reality.
Certainty as the opposite of faith: a deepity for your consideration
Giles isn’t above sprinkling deepities around, either. His beloved line about “the opposite of faith” being “certainty” is also one of those.
A deepity sounds profound on the surface, but it contains a truth that makes the speaker look ignorant or worse. In this case, yes, certainty is the opposite of faith. If Christians could actually PROVE YES PROVE any of their claims, any of them at all, then they wouldn’t need faith to believe in Christianity. They’d know it works, just like we know that any number of things work in the real world: life jackets, seat belts, motorcycle helmets, electricity, cars, computers, cell phones, you name it. We don’t even need to know how any of this stuff works, and yet it does.
But in the Gospels (John 20:24-29), Jesus tells his followers that faith is more important to him than believing based on reality:
Jesus said to him [Thomas], “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So officially, Christians must have that kind of faith rather than looking for any evidence to support their own claims. After all, Jesus wants followers, but he’d prefer to get them based on hearsay, hope, and anecdotes than through evidence! In the same way, Christians denigrate those who insist on believing stuff based on supporting evidence rather than on unsupported claims, because they know they can’t make many sales that way.
Yes, then. Certainty is the opposite of faith.
But what I have now as an ex-Christian is also certainty.
Real certainty is the opposite of faith
And in that sense, yes, I have the opposite of faith in Christianity. Thank goodness for that! I’ve not only gone through deconstruction but also deconversion. I chased the truth to the very end of the ride and found myself sitting on an empty tarmac. And so my beliefs naturally fell away from me like the burial shroud from a resurrected godling.
I am 100% certain, all the way to the marrow of my bones and the nerves behind my eyes, that nothing supernatural described in the Bible is actually true. In fact, I’m equally certain that very little other stuff in the Bible is true, either. Besides a few broad historical strokes and some descriptions of customs, almost all of it is mythic in nature. I am as certain of this as Keith Giles likely is about the sun rising tomorrow, and for the same reasons.
My deconversion certainly led to me having the opposite of Christian faith. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Life makes sense, finally. Finally, I understand why I experienced so many of the things I did in Christianity, why Christians are the way they are, and why the religion never seems to make any positive difference in most Christians’ lives.
At last, I get it. It’s not true, that’s why. Once that puzzle piece fell into place, every single aspect of Christianity and Christendom finally made perfect sense.
But Keith Giles seems to be arguing that this certainty is inferior to his take on uncertainty.
Don’t trust anyone glorifying uncertainty over certainty
Giles’ book blurbs have this tee-hee, finger-to-the-corner-of-the-mouth giggling vibe going on about how ickie certainty is. Eeww, gross! And it really unsettles me. It strikes me as disingenuous at best, and like deceptive salesmanship at worst.
Uncertainty stresses people out and makes it hard to perceive manipulation. It naturally feels unsafe and scary. (Here’s just one paper talking about it.)
Is it wise to cultivate a certain amount of tolerance for certainty? For the unexpected, for things to go pear-shaped? Yes, of course. As a religion, Buddhism seems to specifically address so many people’s all-too-human human tendency to need certainty to the point of messing ourselves up. Really, the more we tighten our grip, the more star systems slip through our fingers.
But I sure don’t advise veering too far in the other direction!
Nobody trustworthy pushes this hard on glorifying uncertainty and trying to suggest it as a formal pursuit for others. I truly caution anybody nodding along with this deepity to pause to consider what uncertainty does to people in Reality-Land. We already have enough to feel uncertain about in real life. Nobody needs to deliberately add more uncertainty to their plate, or deliberately leave room on that plate.
Let the uncertainty be about stuff that could ultimately go in different and unexpected directions, not about stuff that is completely untrue and constantly being disproven by reality. That isn’t uncertainty at all. It’s just endless disappointment and self-persuasion to deny reality. But reality’s gonna keep on doing its thing regardless.
Ultimately, deconstruction is about finding our feet in a world full of self-interested salespeople
I might be a rare duck in this world. I have this weird insistence on believing only that-which-is-objectively-true, on building my beliefs out of the real world’s elements rather than denying reality through false beliefs. Sometimes, I really feel like I’m completely out of step.
And that’s okay.
Lots and lots and lots of people go through something like deconstruction and afterwards land on yep, still Christian. As long as they aren’t harming anybody, asking me to change my own beliefs, or campaigning against human rights, we get along. I care a lot more about what someone does with their beliefs than what the beliefs themselves actually are. In most cases, a person’s formal beliefs are just window-dressing for their deep-down beliefs anyway. They might change the formal name of their beliefs, but they’ll still be the same person afterwards. Jesus sure doesn’t change that truth.
Heck, Keith Giles does the Heretic Happy Hour podcast. Don’t the God Awful Movies folks like those guys? Or am I thinking of How to Heretic? Progressive Christians are usually pretty decent sorts, either way. I doubt that Keith Giles and I differ overmuch in our politics or our approaches to life.
So I’m still looking forward to reading his book. Maybe he’s got a lot more to say, and maybe it’ll make more sense and be less woo-y than this certainty is the opposite of faith, embrace the mysteries of Christianity blahblah.
As for the blahblah itself, I’d rather have reality-based beliefs than be constantly hit with real-world evidence showing that the essential foundation stones of my beliefs aren’t true.
More to the point, I’d rather find constructive ways to deal with life’s real uncertainties than work constantly to persuade myself that my false beliefs are true while also dealing with life’s real uncertainties. Goodness, that just sounds like a lot of unnecessary work!
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