There are many different reasons people wind up deconstructing their beliefs.
Learning new information may cause you to reevaluate your existing beliefs. When I learned about the scientific evidence for evolution, for example, it prompted me to question the way I previously understood the creation story in Genesis. Similarly, being introduced to new perspectives can prompt you to ask different questions about your faith.
Each of us has a worldview—a backpack of stories and ideas that we carry around to help us make sense of the world around us. When you encounter something that challenges your worldview, it can feel like being asked to poke holes through your backpack, or throw some of your favorite things out of it.
Think of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. This man had been adhering to the ten commandments since his youth. And he respected Jesus as a teacher. He really wanted Jesus to guide him—right up until Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give his money to the poor. Shocked, the man went away grieving. He didn’t want to give up his possessions.
Like the rich young man, a lot of people would rather reject ideas that don’t fit with what they believe than risk tearing holes through the way they make sense of life.
Yet sometimes you learn about something that makes too much sense or impacts you too deeply for you to set it aside. So you decide to adapt your worldview to accommodate the new information. But to do that, you have to reevaluate some of the other stories and ideas you’re carrying with you—pull at their loose threads, rearrange them, see if they can be contorted to coexist with your new idea.
In other words, sometimes you have to deconstruct (and reconstruct) the ideas you carry around to make space for new beliefs and experiences in your worldview.
Deconstructing past beliefs to make space for new knowledge may involve growing pains. And there’s not any guarantee you’ll get all the right answers by doing it. But it’s ultimately a type of growth. You have to be willing to change and reconsider what you think if you want to grow. You probably can’t answer all your hardest questions about faith correctly. But you won’t get any closer to answering them without grappling with them.
It’s tempting to stop here and let faith deconstruction sound like it’s simply a healthy exercise in growth and self-improvement. However, that’s not the whole picture; it’s not even the most important part of what leads to deconstruction for Christians to recognize or understand.
Although people deconstruct faith for all kinds of reasons, I think failures of love are why people actually leave the church most often.
Many stories of faith deconstruction emerge out of deeply painful experiences with church and Christians. Doubt enters in through the wounds inflicted by the church’s failure to love; it festers when the church seems to judge or ignore our open wounds instead of helping them to heal. People are hungry to love and be loved, but for all the church’s claims of being a loving home for all, the church often seems to fail miserably at actually loving people.
Personally, I believe there is still deep love to be found in the church. And more importantly, I believe in the profound love and grace Jesus provides. But I can’t be sure love is what someone will find when they walk into any church. I wish I could.