What does faith look like? The fundamentalist will tell you it’s when you place every ounce of faith in the saving power of **insert religious godhead** to the point any perceived risk of being wrong is destroyed. The only downside is living with the fear of every conflicting belief or fact. For the atheist, it’s when you let all of your fears annihilate any faith there is something to believe in. The New Ager will have faith that our suffering is an illusion and attempt to fearfully bypass lower vibrations to attain higher levels of consciousness. Deconstructing Christians will put any remnants of faith in the absence of all beliefs, preventing us from having to do this deconstruction shit ever again.
Just kidding….most people would never admit to any of that.
The conservative Baptist church I was raised in routinely taught faith required us to build our lives on the solid rock of Christ. Meanwhile, between the shame, hell, and scary Easter pageants reenacting Jesus’ (aka media minister’s) crucifixion, the helpful bricks of love, trust, sacrifice, and generosity ended up being cemented together by fear. Fear of evolution, differences, punishment, death, purposelessness, and discomfort. Almost as if the lesson “perfect love casts out fear” was diluted or blocked from reaching the shadows of our mental constructs. This fear made it impossible to love our neighbor as ourselves when our neighbor didn’t believe, live, look, talk, identify or have sex like us. It also barred us from loving ourselves when secretly we knew our internal thoughts, ideas, and feelings didn’t match up to anything close to the “Christian example.”
For those who have left their religion of origin, the detrimental hypocrisy and painful cognitive dissonance reach their breaking point when the fear of staying the same becomes more threatening than the fear of questioning theology. I have described the process of deconstruction in many different ways; flood, bomb, wrecking ball, the mighty hand of an evolving God concept thrusting me out of religion and off of a cliff. Metaphors based on a feeling that deconstruction is just pain and destruction instead of an invitation to die to the self and be reborn.
After obliterating my beliefs and swapping out most of the labels I identified with, I realized fear was still the cement building the new “progressive” construct of my reality. I retreated into my logical mind for a while, where science is king and anything rooted in spirituality instead of peer-reviewed evidence was garbage. I looked at my Bible every morning, wondering if I would ever pick it up again or burn it as a release ritual. Instead of my usual devotions, I became obsessed with reading its history and the evolution of the language held within it. All for the proof that could decimate their theology. The conflicting claims, bloody history, and clearly flawed humanity all disillusioned me towards Christianity, the Bible, and all spirituality. Yet, no matter how much information I found or how valid my deconstruction felt, I didn’t actually feel any better. On the contrary, I was angrier, more confused, and less connected to the people in my life. I had swapped out Fundamentalist Christianity for Fundamentalist Atheism.
My “saving grace” was a few supernatural experiences that tugged at the back of my mind. Things science and its research articles couldn’t explain away. Surrendering to not having all the answers- I made peace with a happy medium. Looking back at the last few years spent healing from my childhood, I could clearly see a slow transformation towards a healthier love. A process that has required compassion, truth, accountability, and forgiveness. All the concepts taught in church, but this time without shame and judgment screwing up the application. Once I started deconstructing fear, I realized the death grip it had on my personality, perspective, and beliefs. Without fear, I was able to allow the nuance and wisdom of spirituality to re-enter my worldview. A shift that thrust me into a balancing act between the mystery of existence and the practical knowledge for a life spent grounded in the here and now.
So is this what faith without fear looks like? Uncertain, evolving, and awestruck? To be honest, I am currently elbow-deep, chiseling all the fear out of my foundation. Still, without a lot of the extra cement, I am learning to value some newly freed bricks in different ways. I am releasing the need for specific answers and letting go of the labels I thought must define me. I am finding a deeper, more holistic appreciation for Christ.
Most importantly, I am learning how to trust in myself, humanity, and the universe. Surrendering to the flow of life, keeping an open heart, and fostering a generous spirit have all been positive consequences in learning to actually forgive. For the first time in my Christian walk, I understand what Jesus meant when he said to lose your life is to find it. I only had to let perfect love cast out all fear of losing my religion, allowing faith to bloom instead.