The Reasons I Deconstructed / Evolved

The Reasons I Deconstructed / Evolved December 28, 2021

Photo by Jonathan Andrew from PexelsThe natural reaction when someone deters from the prescribed path you have imagined for them is to become dismissive or try to attach a label to them so it make sense.  I do it — we all do it — I did it yesterday watching football.  Typical assignments for those in deconstruction are “they’re on a slippery slope, they hate the church, they just don’t get it, they just need Jesus, they must have some sin in their life, etc.”

My deconstruction started because I kept asking questions (something Jesus did) and like an old sweater, it just continued to unravel.  I now consider it to be an evolution and I am focused on discovery and growth and healing and not on preserving anything from the past.

As briefly as a I can — here are the top reasons I had to keep going with my deconstruction and evolution.

The idol of biblical literalism was wasting my time

Years after events happened in biblical times, people recorded them.  Even after Jesus death, it took 40-50 years for them to record his life (something he didn’t ask them to do).  Then 300 years later, a Roman emperor re-united Christianity with the Empire and sparked the need to compile a holy book.  It’s possibly, like Lewis Black implies, that the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) isn’t even our book.  To make a long story short, I spent most of my time defending the Bible from people who generally had questions.  Like Paul, I think it’s useful (Sermon on the Mount, Fruit of the Spirit, teachings on love, etc.), but it’s just an inspired book written by men.

The toxic doctrine of eternal conscious torment

When I watched the Sophia scene in the movie, The Shack, I could no longer hang on to this doctrine invented by the church.  It doesn’t even work for raising children — only a psychopath would torture anyone for 5 minutes, much less forever.  It’s simply a fear tactic that helps push forward the other agendas of religion.  The typical Christian will say, “But if you don’t believe in Hell (eternal conscious torment), then the rest of it doesn’t make any sense.  Exactly, because we’ve built our religions and and spiritualities on the wrong thing.

Read What My Granddaughter Taught Me About Hell

The toxic doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

Paul’s doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement begins with the wrong assumption (original sin).  The Genesis story begins with original blessing.  To make a long story short, if we are originally good, then we just need to remember who we really are.  The death of Jesus was inevitable because he was good and challenged the empire, but the only thing it put an end to were the human inventions like scapegoating and the need for anything that “redeems” us from ourselves.  His life should have taught us to become more enlightened, but many times we use it to be more retributive.

The Church generally doesn’t heal our trauma

Let’s see if I can make this concise.  People with trauma and woundedness are drawn to religion because it promises to make space for them and help them heal.  But, generally it doesn’t.  Churches and other religious organizations spend most of their time and money putting on the show, paying their leaders and maintaining the facility.  Because they don’t have time for our grief, they often cause more trauma.  It’s a cycle that continues.  I know everyone that lives inside organized religion think they have found an exception, but I challenge them to step outside it for a year and see what they discover.  If they can’t imagine not going to “church” or whatever for a year, ask “Why?”

See this Why Churches Generally Don’t Heal Our Trauma for more details.

The denial of the self and the Kingdom within

Jesus said something pretty simple, “The Kingdom of God / Heaven is within you.”  Aside from this statement almost everything about organized religion pointed me outward away from this reality and taught me to ignore my body, my emotions, and my trauma.  I found true healing from my trauma by focusing inward.  I am becoming more of what I have always been by being still and taking the role of observer.  So many good things have happened since I ignore the traditional wisdom of organized religion and listened to the mystics.  I now trust myself and I cannot be conned into supporting someone else’s man made system — I know who am because I can be where I am.

See this Becoming What We Are for more discussion.

The ineffectiveness and lack of applicability of organized religion

I’m releasing a book this year called “Out Into the Desert” where Laura and I discuss our assessment of organized religion, our experience in ministry, and our current approach to thriving outside it.  In short, organized religion doesn’t solve the problems it promises to solve and it creates unnecessary trauma for many.  In today’s world, it’s almost totally unnecessary.  Everything we do inside walls, we can do outside.  The printing press brought about reformation – the internet may facilitate a natural death of organized religion.  I know people love the church but it’s always that way with idols.

See this The Natural Death of Organized Religion for more discussion.

The continued dedication to systemic racism by many

My origin story is from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  This group organized in 1845 because they disagreed with the anti-slavery sentiments of their Northern counterparts.  Systemic racism has been adequately defined by others, but this denomination routinely resists all opportunities to support helpful conversations or progress in racial endeavors.  Their seminary presidents seem determined to preserve the past at the expense of people of color, queer people and especially women.  Other denominations have varying degrees of this illness.  I thought it necessary to think for myself outside any group.

See Christianity is Not Under Attack for more discussion.

The over focus on things like guns, war, power, politics and nationalism

It’s easy to point the finger at Evangelical Christianity.  The easiest way to lose a friend in that tradition is just to try to discuss the 2nd amendment.  It’s more than an idol to most in those circles.  Add to that American Nationalism, the commitment to violence and war, the need for political power and it’s just literally a hot mess. But progressive politics and the need for power is not without issue.  A couple of years ago, I heard the Battle Hymn of the Republic  (war anthem) sung to rousing applause in a very progressive church.  These idols of guns, war, power, politics and nationalism are things that I had to examine deeply and challenge my long-held assumptions.  I had to evolve.

See Never Forget, Violence is not the Answer for more discussion.

The otherizing of almost everything is not in the spirit of Christ

“Common Enemy Intimacy is counterfeit connection and the opposite of true belonging. If the bond we share with others is simply that we hate the same people, the intimacy we experience is often intense, immediately gratifying, and an easy way to discharge outrage and pain. It is not, however, fuel for real connection.”   ~Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

The most common defense of the local church is that we need it for connection and community.  But as Brown articulates, if we are simply uniting over who we collectively hate (such as the Communists, other political parties, other denominations, the sinners or even the Devil), then it is counterfeit connection at best.  As she states, it may be immediately gratifying and help us temporarily get rid of our pain, but ultimately it’s not the real thing.  Americans, Christians, political parties and other groups are all guilty of this diversion that keeps us from the genuine.   I had to deconstruct all of this and see my views in the singular before evaluating whether they are true without the influence of uniting over the feelings of disliking who I had been taught to hate.

See Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness for this and other discussions.

The lack of concern for the least of these in the pandemic

It’s hard to talk about justice without talking about rights.  The rights of individuals is certainly important.  It’s a valuable thing to pursue.  But, sometimes when we are priveldged, we lose perspective on what we have a a right to.   During the pandemic, this got all mixed up and some began to put their individual assumed rights over the real needs and safety of others.  Our personal comfort is not even close to the highest ideal but it became something people were willing to die for.  Part of my consideration in my deconstruction was a renewed interest in the “least of these.”  For me that means the service industry, Covid-19 victims, people I formerly disagreed with, etc.  I need both personal care and concern for others.  It’s a package deal.

Fear and Control are wrong starting points

Most religions begin with fear as a starting point.  Fear generally helps sell everything from insurance to religion.  If we are afraid, we are more apt to listen to whatever someone wants us to do.  If everything I do inside religion has fear-based motivations, then my natural need is to control the variables.  Since it’s hard to control other people (even our own tribe), it often becomes what some people refer to as a cult.  Most religion is cult-like even in it’s origin mainly because of fear and control.  Deconstruction was necessary so that I could rebuild my beliefs on things like love and compassion instead of what might happen based on my fears.

The things I am discovering are beautiful

I was warned about the slippery slope and all the things I would lose, but I don’t feel I lost anything valuable.  In fact, I feel like everything valuable within me has always been there and I only removed the things that were extraneous  and unhelpful.  It’s almost like a purification where the dross has been burned off and the more pure remains.  For simplicity sake, this is a short list of what I have gained.

  • An appreciation for nature
  • True healing from my trauma
  • A better relationship with my spouse
  • Freedom from oppressive group demands
  • A 10% increase in my financial well being (no tithe / tax)
  • Diverse understanding of different spiritualties and practices
  • More compassion and understanding for racism, LGBTQ+,  and women’s issues
  • A more pure understanding of justice
  • A release from most toxic by-products of religion
  • Beautiful friends that love me without condition
  • The permission to be who I am (authenticity)
  • The understanding and importance of presence
  • New practices that provide self-care, overall health and benefit to others
  • A journey of discovery, instead of a doctrine and denomination

(I could keep going….)

As I continue to evolve and as I uncover and understand things better, there are still things that come unraveled and fall off.  But, the things that remain and the things I discover are so worth any pain that I have to face and any discomfort at losing something I once valued.

Here’s to your evolution in 2022!

Be where you are, be who you are,

Karl Forehand

Order Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authentic

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2 responses to “The Reasons I Deconstructed / Evolved”

  1. I am not a Progressive Christian.

    I reject all the “new” theologies. During the centuries after the death of Jesus, “new” needless theologies were created that “progressed” from the ministry and teachings of Jesus. Those “new” theologies were invented after Jesus and without Jesus. Those “new” theologies were unknown and had no basis in first century Jewish theology, thus they were unknown to Jesus and the Disciples. As non-Jewish and contrarian theologies, Jesus would have considered them repulsive, oppositional, and faithless. Those “new” theologies are post-biblical, non-biblical, abusive, and harmful. They are only vestiges of the Roman Empire (which, when it could not conquer Christianity with armed might, succeeded by appropriating the institutional church), the medieval church that replaced and in some ways perpetuated the Roman Empire, and the worst elements of the Protestant Reformation. Those “new” theologies need not be argued away because they are indefensible. Those “new” theologies are useful only as reminders of what the Christian faith is not, otherwise they are to be abandoned as useless lies. In terms of content and in consideration of how those theologies – if not abandoned – have horribly distorted the Christian faith, they are anti-Christ:

    * Armageddon / a violent militant Jesus [Lindsey, LaHaye, Jenkins, 20th century]
    * Sinner’s Prayer [Franklin, (1918-2018), 20th century]
    * Scofield Bible [1909, 1917, Scofield (1843-1921), 20th century]
    * Rapture and End Time [1830, Darby (1800-1882), 19th century]
    * Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy [post-Protestant Reformation, 17th century]
    * Penal Substitution [post-Protestant Reformation, 16th century]
    * Omnipotence [Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), 13th century]
    * Satisfaction/Sacrifice [Anselm (1033-1109), 11th century]
    * Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedonian Creeds [4th-5th century]
    * Original Sin/Universal Damnation [Augustine, (354-430), 4th century]
    * Ransom [Irenaeus (125-202), Origen, (182-251), 2nd century]

    When all those “new” theologies are eliminated, all that remains for Christians are the fundamental teachings of Jesus and the Jewish theology that is the basis for the teachings of Jesus.

    Being Christian means having no concern for hell as a post-mortal eternal punishment because hell does not exist. Hell as a post-mortal eternal punishment is not mentioned in the Old Testament and it is not mentioned in the Gospels. Consequently, since hell is non-existent, there is also no concern for heaven as a post-mortal eternal reward because there are neither post-mortal punishments nor post-mortal rewards for how we live our earthly lives. Our post-mortal existence is strictly a Divine domain and responsibility and is in no way based on how we live or believe.

    The fictional reason for hell was because we were born deserving it. This awful concept was called “Original Sin” and it was invented 300 years after Jesus. Supposedly, in the foundational mythic narrative of the Garden of Eden, because Adam and Eve made one bad choice, all of humanity would forever be born deserving eternal punishment. By the time of Jesus, Jewish theology was barely considering the idea of life after death. At that time, the idea of eternal punishment was completely unknown in Jewish theology and would have been unknown to Jesus. Additionally, those first narratives in Genesis – the two creation narratives and the Garden of Eden narrative – were the basis for the Jewish theology of “Original Blessing.” In the first creation narrative (Genesis 1:1 – 2:3), at the end of each of the first five days, it is noted “God saw that it was good.” At the end of the sixth day, God sees everything made, “and indeed, it was very good.” This understanding that humankind and all creation are “very good” is still there in the narratives of the second creation (Genesis 2:4 – 25) and the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1 – 24). “Original Blessing” is an ancient Jewish understanding that was known and embraced by Jesus and the Disciples and it is fundamental to Christianity.

    Jesus made it clear that we are to be concerned only with how we live here and now and to be especially concerned with how we live with each other – that we are to live as family and community. Empires require war, hyper-aggressive and selfish rugged individualism, a tranquil law-and-order society created through conquest and assimilation, rituals that are pure and precise, and public piety. By living as Jesus taught: as individuals who fearlessly and graciously live generously, hospitably, and provide wise kind service to others; gathered together as communities of peace, justice, compassion, and liberation; along with non-violent resistance – empires could be dismantled by making them irrelevant and useless and by making the Kingdom of God real and active, here and now. This pro-community, anti-empire way of living and being in loving relationship with each other is fundamental to Christianity.

    Jesus made it clear that God is always for us and always with us, that we do not need either to placate God or to be rescued from God. Jesus asks us to understand and know God as neither interfering nor intervening; as neither violent nor threatening, as neither condemning nor rescuing. Instead, Jesus asks us to think of God as always and pervasively present, always available, and passionately concerned for us. When we discern and relate to and dwell in the presence of God, then God can be influential, comforting, and assuring. God is “immanent” meaning that God is universally and constantly here and now – and – God is more than here and now and more than the universe, God is “transcendent.” This ancient understanding of God as always and only compassionate is fundamental to Christianity.

    While the Bible is considered sacred scripture and a foundational sacramental text for Christianity, it is neither controlling nor obligatory and it is certainly not inerrant, infallible, literal, absolute, or singular. The value and usefulness and sacredness and truth of the Bible occurs when the text is held as being more than literal, more than historical, and more than factual. It provides our faith community with common language, images, narratives, and poetry. It is a means by which we can discern and understand what is sacred and divine – and by which the sacred and divine can speak to us. The Bible, written over the course of more than a millennium, is strictly a human product of multiple ancient authors (some books have more than one author) writing within and influenced by the context and experiences of the history, culture, and personal events which they lived. None of the biblical text was written to be scripture. The sacredness of each “book” (sometimes, just a portion of a book) was decided by others after the authors and their original audience were long gone. The sacredness of each “book” was decided through a lengthy and contentious canon formation process governed by a committee comprised of our faith ancestors – sometimes several committees, sometimes several competing committees. The human authors of the biblical text wrote for themselves and/or for the people of their time. As evidenced by it being written 1800-3000 years ago and written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (not English – which did not exist in those times), the Bible was not written by us, to us, or about us or about our time. Yet, we still find the Bible to be eternally truthful and relevant, a divine revelation unto our lives and our world. This sacramental understanding of the Bible is fundamental to Christianity.

    God is central to Christianity. Jesus leads the way to a better understanding of and a better relationship with God. The path to God and with God that Jesus offers is salvation – and salvation is not a fearful word. Salvation is not about earning either a gold admission ticket to heaven or a prized get-out-of-jail card to avoid hell. Salvation has three biblical meanings: 1) Liberation from bondage – political, economic, and religious; 2) To be returned from exile – to be restored to a new life; and 3) To be rescued from perils and dangers. All three meanings also imply that there will be transformation – both personal and communal. Personal salvation transforms us from woundedness and illness to healing and wholeness, from trapped-in-deathly and hurtful ways of existence to a life transformed and lived graciously, from fear and distrust to fearlessness and trust. Communal salvation transforms our world from war and violence to peace – and transforms from injustice to justice. Justice does not mean exclusion, retribution, condemnation, or punishment. Justice is an act of righteousness, repair, rehabilitation, restoration, reinstatement and – where possible – reconciliation and relationship. This understanding of salvation as an act of Divine compassion made present and active in our world and in our lives is fundamental to Christianity.

    Jesus was born, then lived, and died as a living, breathing, bleeding, mortal human being with whom we could have shaken hands, exchanged hugs, had long question-and-answer conversations, had long walks together, and shared meals with an interesting assortment of dinner guests. Jesus was not perfect. He got angry, told jokes at the expense of other people, would deliberately and dangerously confront and aggravate the Temple and Roman authorities, and occasionally had to learn how to be a better person and to enlarge and enrich his theology. Jesus had no desire for and adamantly rejected any notion of kingship. To say that “Jesus is Lord” is to re-establish the ancient meaning of “believe” – that we not only believe Jesus, we believe in Jesus and that Jesus is beloved. Also, the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is incomplete without the explicit understanding that it means Caesar – every version of Caesar – is not our Lord. There is nothing in the message or personage of Jesus that is nationalistic – Jesus was strictly anti-empire and anti-nationalistic and there is nothing divine about empires or nations, monarchies or ruling elites or wealth concentrated in the hands of a few people. This understanding of the humanity of Jesus is fundamental to Christianity.

    After his state-authorized execution by the Roman Empire, Jesus would be known and can be known only as a divine experience. Knowing and valuing the life and ministry of Jesus is critically essential to our faith and in that way we discern the true value and importance of Jesus. The Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedonian Creeds from the 4th and 5th centuries are – at best – problematic, if not useless because they ignore the life and ministry of Jesus. When we acknowledge and engage with and study the ministry of Jesus, we learn that his main audience was those at the bottom of society – politically, financially, and socially. He joyfully associated with field and manual laborers, with those who provide daily care and protection for livestock, tax collectors, and those who had been declared ritually unclean and outcasts and thus, abandoned. Jesus preached and ministered to these people and – importantly and shockingly – easily shared meals with them, engaged them in personal and meaningful conversations, and related with them as a friend, mentor, and rabbi. The preaching of Jesus was provocative – to us because it was not about our post-mortal existence – and to first century listeners because it inverted their social order and made a shambles of their social protocols, openly called for non-violent resistance to the Roman Empire, and proclaimed the Kingdom of God to be here-and-now and characterized by peace, justice, compassion, and liberation.

    The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11) and the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19) are foundational narratives that compelled ancient Hebrews to abolish and forbid ritual human sacrifice and consider all practices of it by all people to be an abomination. Jesus and the Disciples, as strong adherents of their Jewish faith, would have considered the mere idea of ritual human sacrifice to be beyond repulsive. Just the idea that the valley of Gehenna might have been used for human sacrifices rendered the location to be something much worse than offensive, as a place to earnestly, even religiously avoid. The execution of Jesus was neither a ritual sacrifice nor a penal substitution, neither a ransom nor a blood payment. The execution of Jesus was a final proof to all empires that life as one of their citizens was not and is not worth living. The sacrificial aspects of the death of Jesus are more closely in line with a soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade – or – the willingness of New York fire fighters to enter the World Trade Center towers with the clear understanding that they probably would not return.

    Which brings us to Easter. Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary capricious God whose affection and mercy are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased with torture and death. Easter is not useless promises about a future eternal post-mortal utopian ethereal existence. Easter is not about the sharing of the Good News being used as a form of conquest. Easter is not about one culture being forcibly imposed upon another culture. Easter is not about hate or self-loathing or a permanent consumptive sense of guilt.

    Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples – that is, all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being – here and now – the Kingdom of God, on Earth as it is in heaven. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News – news that is good, joyous, celebrated, expansively inclusive, liberating, epiphanic, and transformational.

    What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

    To the message of Jesus – that what is Divine is personal and present and immanent and transcendent and immediate and available and characterized by unrestrained boundless love and unconditional limitless grace – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

    Something did happen on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as mysterious unassembled upside-down jigsaw pieces with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle or even how to begin to put it together.

    What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first – a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

    In the Roman Empire, the intent of crucifixion was oblivion. The crucified person was to be erased from memory, from history, even from conversation. It was not that a crucified person was dead and gone; after their execution, it was to be as if that person had never existed. Whatever happened that first Easter, the life and ministry and lessons and path of Jesus escaped or transcended oblivion. Regardless of whether a body was in the tomb, Jesus was not there. Jesus was resurrected – Jesus was loose in the world: in gardens, in locked rooms, walking dusty roads, sharing meals, still listening and teaching. That is possible only if Jesus is transformed into a discernable recognizable presence that is familiar, personal, and both transcendent and tangible.

    It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive, walking with us, conversing with us, blessing and sharing a meal with us. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross and was not buried in a tomb. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak. For each person who is touched by the wounds of crucifixion and is touched by the power of resurrection; for that person, Jesus returns and Jesus continues to live.

    In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were immediately transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominion theology was replaced by the dual realization:

    * that the character of the Divine is not in any way earthly or mortal or human. The character of the Divine is unrestrained boundless love and unconditional limitless grace, and thus the Divine is in no way a threat to us. We do not need to be rescued from the Divine and we do not need to be protected from the Divine. The Truth: the Divine is always and passionately for us and is always with us and is always available to us.

    * that life does not require participation in an empire – not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, not its imperial civic theology, not its militaristic attitudes and activities, and not its greedy and isolating economics that disproportionately benefits only a few.

    This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today as Jesus returns again and again and again and…

    This understanding of the life and death, message and path of Jesus is fundamental to Christianity.

    For fourteen years, I worked for a state agency that was responsible for regulating coal mining in the state and for reclaiming abandoned coal mines. That job experience leads me to rethink the Reformation. Every October 31, we note the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It is commonly suggested that – after 500 years – it is time for another Reformation. A better suggestion is that we need a Reclamation.

    For too long, those “new” theologies have been titled as “Fundamentalism” and “Fundamentalist.” They are useless and harsh theologies that were invented after Jesus and without Jesus – those theologies falsely claim to have “progressed” from the teachings and path of Jesus. Those “new” theologies are properly labelled as “Progressive.” For centuries, those “new” theologies have distorted and suppressed the teachings and path of Jesus and have been treated as though they are the sole expression of our Christian faith. No more! For those of us who adhere to the original and ancient and fundamental teachings and path of Jesus, we are reclaiming those titles and the voice of the faith.

    Let the Reclamation begin! We are Fundamentalists! Amen.

  2. If you take your name off of the story, and you have told mine to 90% accuracy. These are reasons I deconstructed over the last decade and realized that there is no basis for belief in any gods or their stories. More people are going to read this and say “Yes, this is my story too.”

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