The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 22: Deconstructing Catholic
Well, hey, friends. Today we are addressing a subject that we’ve touched on a little bit already and that is faith deconstruction. By definition, faith deconstruction is the systematic pulling apart of a belief system for examination. And I know, this can sound scary but, hang in there with me friends. Be not afraid. Faith deconstruction can center in on questions from the highly theological to the very practical and simply said, it’s just taking a look at the stuff we’ve been taught about our faith through the Scriptures or the Catechism, but more likely the aspects of our faith that have been emphasized and taught by individual teachers, particularly clergy.
In a journey of deconstruction, there is likely a moment at the beginning that feels like dissonance or like a really uncomfortable vibration – like when you’re listening to a homily and you hear something that you know is antithetical to Jesus or when you hear loud public voices describing the faith in such a way that your spirit stands up and takes notice. Maybe it’s something uncharitable or inhumane. Maybe you hear something that preaches nationalism or fundamentalism, homophobia or mysogny. When this happens, it can lead to questions, doubts, and a good amount of worry. Because wondering about the truth of the teachings that have lived inside of us for decades – well, this can feel like pulling one thread out of a sweater that we love so much, a sweater we’ve worn our whole lives and we fear that in the end, all will be lost, unraveled. I want to assure you friend, that’s not the likely outcome of deconstruction and it’s not even really the goal. When we question or discern, it’s always an invitation to deeper understanding. In the end, our deconstruction will benefit our faith lives. It will make them more holistic and authentic, and it may be the very thing that helps our suffering Church experience the revival it so desperately needs.
Faith deconstruction is a common practice these days among our Protestant brothers and sisters. They’re deconstructing and they’re talking publicly about it, too, many writing books, holding conferences, even. They’re really getting in there. But Catholic deconstruction is a whole other ballgame. Don’t believe me? Google the phrase ‘Catholic deconstruction’. When I did that earlier today, there were exactly two articles about it, then a whole bunch more centering in on evangelical Christian deconstruction. So, are we to believe that Catholics aren’t doubting, questioning and wondering just as much as our Protestant siblings are these days? Hardly. The difference is that if you were born and raised Catholic, you may have received the message that questioning is just not what Catholics do, and you might hear negative talk about those who do question, wrestle, and come to differing conclusions on some teachings. You might hear terms like ‘Cafeteria Catholic’ or ‘lukewarm Catholic’ and you may hear some clergy address these same Catholics as impure or unworthy or unwelcome, and to that I say: this is not of God, it does not show the fruit of the Spirit and also yikes, what a bad look. But the fact that we don’t hear about Catholic deconstruction does not mean Catholics aren’t doubting or questioning or wondering about certain teachings or the current state of the Church. It certainly doesn’t mean that most American Catholics are necessarily on board with much of what they’re hearing or feeling from many of the louder public Catholic voices these days. It’s just that many of us heard the message loud and clear: if you don’t like it, leave, and that means all of it, every teaching as expressed through the lens of a particular clergy member, every stated political priority of the American church, the swing toward traditional practices, all of it. More and more we’re hearing the message that if you won’t ascribe and agree to every bit of it with the exact lens that’s offered to you from a particular voice of authority, you are somehow less than and you are free to go.
And we are. Thousands and thousands of us unable to reconcile the Church as it stands with the faith lives that we so deeply want to be living right now. So, we leave. If you’re listening to this podcast, I am one thousand percent sure that you or someone who love has done just that. Finding no middle ground – no room for disagreement or debate, many Catholics feel like it’s the only choice that remains. And so often the Church unfortunately expresses such little care or concern for those who have left. There’s no follow up, sometimes after decades of regular participation in the faith, they’re just gone. Catholics are like the Project Runway of churchgoers: one day we’re in and the next day we’re out. (Do you get that joke? Gosh I hope so.)
How will the Catholic Church be sustainable in an environment like this one: all or nothing? Short answer: it probably won’t. I believe the Catholic Church is in a time of transition that I hope is pointing toward revival, and I am far from alone in my thinking. I’ll link to many voices in today’s show notes who are out there in the wilderness saying the very same thing. But if you are a Catholic in a season of deconstruction, or this is an idea that’s interesting to you, there’s a few things I’d love for you to know.
The first, of course, is that you are not alone. There are lots of people who are in your same boat and many of them have made wonderful resources that will really be helpful to you on your road. I’d highly recommend finding a spiritual director in this time to help you prayerfully research and hold up ideas, beliefs and teachings to the light of the Holy Spirit so that you can discern the leading of God for yourself. I’ll include some ideas on how to find a spiritual director in the show notes today. Or you can begin the process on your own, through reading, journaling, and praying. Maybe you can visit other churches, ones that are different from yours, to help you to discern your own values and path. I really don’t know where I’d be in my own Catholic faith without the leading of people of many faiths throughout my lifetime. And despite what you may have heard somewhere along the way, people of other faiths are not ‘dangerous’ nor are they ‘less enlightened or ‘less worthy’ as us. They’re walking the road, just like we are. We have so much to learn from each other and a time of deconstruction is the perfect time to listen.
Catholicism is by design, a big tent. As I heard in a homily just this week, the word ‘catholic’ was first used as an adjective to describe the first Christians who were diverse, who came from lots of different places, who had varied cultures and beliefs. What they had in common was Jesus and the word ‘catholic’ – which means universal – it was a descriptor of the wide variety of Christ-followers in the early Church. The tent was big enough to hold them all as they worked together to make a place for souls to find communion with God as revealed through Jesus. And though it may not always seem like it today, the tent is still big enough for us all. Wrestling is just part of faith, my friend. We can and should use our God-given brains and rely on the Holy Spirit within us to help us to move honestly and authentically through any weighty or challenging issue, but today I do have a bit of a hot take for you. I believe there are some issues about which we may never all agree, here in the dysfunctional family of church, and I believe that’s okay. What we can count on is that if we’re listening and open, that the Spirit of God will move us all forward, inch by inch, building His kingdom through and in us. And friend, that’s why we’re here.
Father Richard Rohr said, “People are often very afraid by what looks like deconstruction. You go back to the first 1,300 years of Christianity, and faith is defined as a combination of knowing and not knowing. Of a willingness and readiness by the grace of God to live with a certain degree of unknowing or what the mystics call darkness.” Rohr says that this ‘unknowing’ is the Biblical definition of faith – makes sense, but in modern times it’s our expectation of certainty that’s destroying that basic understanding of the nature of faith itself.
Deconstruction is not destruction, but rather, it’s pointing us to resurrection and renewal which is absolutely of God. Deconstruction can happen inside and outside of church. It takes intent and openness and time, and friend, it’s always worth it. By being open to deconstruction, you may find yourself trading a dusty and misunderstood set of rules for a faith that is alive and much more personal and colorful than you ever knew was possible. So, my advice to you today: open the windows, let the light and the air in. Be not afraid.
Thanks so much for listening to today’s episode. If you liked it, would you please consider sharing it with a friend or giving it a rating or a review. I’d really appreciate that! As I said, there are tons of resources in today’s show notes, but if you’d like to connect with me personally on this topic you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com.
And friend, here’s my prayer for you today:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, help us to know that there is no place that you are not. There is no darkness where you won’t bring light. Help us to know that there’s nothing to fear and that your plans for us are good. Jesus, you have our attention. We are fully yours and we are ready to listen and learn and grow in you.
In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.
Okay friends, thanks again for listening. I’ll see you next time.