Wendy and I spent most of the day on Saturday at an event that featured author and psychologist Richard Beck. He shared several insights with us that really inspired me to reconsider my approach to the process of Spiritual/Religious Deconstruction.
As co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast, I’ve talked to dozens of people – like Richard Rohr, Bart Ehrman, Derek Webb, Benjamin Corey, Brad Jersak, Bishop Carlton Pearson and David Bentley Hart – about their process of deconstructing their Christianity and finding new ways to believe in God and how to reject dogma without letting go of Jesus.
Usually, the conversations we’ve had about deconstruction involve questioning some Bible verses, re-examining doctrines, and re-thinking what it means to follow Christ.
For some, the deconstruction dismantles the entire framework and they are left with nothing to hold onto. For others, they can deconstruct their beliefs that are built on fear and control and come out the other side with a more Christlike view of God that sets them free from empty religion, [and without the desire to be proven right about everything].
For still others, the process is still ongoing and they are not quite sure yet just where they are now, or where they might end up when it comes to faith in God or in Christ.
But, over the weekend, Richard Beck said something that challenged all of this for me.
He was telling us about a conversation he had recently with one of his students who was asking him why God allowed suffering in the world. [BTW: This, if you don’t already know it, is one of the very first threads that most people begin to pull on in their deconstruction journey. Some of the other questions deal with eternal suffering, or the differences between God in the Old and the New Testament, or about why Jesus was tortured by God so that we could be loved and forgiven.]
Richard’s response is what really surprised me. Instead of saying, “Go read this book,” or “It’s because of freewill,” or any of the usual answers we typically give for the question of suffering, he instead asked the young man this question: “Do you want to live a beautiful life?”
The question surprised this student, so at first he didn’t answer, but eventually he said, “Sure, I do. Of course.”
Then Richard said, “How would you measure that beautiful life? I mean, you’d need to compare your life to something or someone else so you’d know if your life was really beautiful, right? You’d need a standard to measure beauty by, wouldn’t you?”
The young man thought about it and nodded. “Yeah, that would make sense.”
So Richard said, “I want to live a more beautiful life, too. So, for me, my example is Jesus. I think Jesus lived the most beautiful life of all. So, I try to live the way Jesus lived and put his words into practice as a way of living a more beautiful life.”
In short, Richard went on to explain to this young man that he would always have these sorts of intellectual puzzles to solve. Trying to answer those philosophical questions can be worthwhile, but they can also distract us from something more essential: living a life that is beautiful; that brings joy and meaning to oneself and others around us.
In other words: What good is it to spend our lives trying to answer these deep philosophical and theological questions if, at the end of our lives, we are still just as empty as when we started?
If we take the next 20 years of our life and try to understand the problem of evil, or the nature of God, what will the end result of that be?
But, if we take the next 20 years of our lives and try to live like Christ – loving more, forgiving more, serving more, giving more, humbling ourselves more, becoming more compassionate and self-less – then what will the end result of that life be?
His point, of course, is that it’s more important to live a beautiful life than to become a theologian. On that, I can agree.
Now, I do need to point out that this response probably works better for younger people than for older people. Most of those I meet who are deep into their deconstruction process are my age or older. We are the generation that still needs to wrestle with the scriptures, and to re-think those doctrines, and to sort out those theological arguments before we can start to focus on living a more beautiful life.
However, those who are younger than me, on average, are less caught up in what the Bible says about this or that, and are more concerned with what it means to live out their faith in the real world.
That’s why I really loved Richard’s response to this young man. I think it’s a great reminder for all of us – no matter how old we are – that some things are more essential than others.
Maybe it would help some of us who are still wrestling with those theological questions to consider something much more practical to our faith: “Do you want to live a more beautiful life?”
If so, then taking Jesus as our example and starting down the road with Christ is how we get there.
One day at a time. One kindness at a time. One forgiveness at a time. One enemy loved at a time.
The world needs more people who are devoted to living a more beautiful life like this.
Are you in?
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean.
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