Last week, as I was talking to another fellow deconstruction survivor, I had a realization. I suddenly understood that what made my falling apart of faith so painful, so overwhelming, was not just the trauma of an unprecedented paradigm shift, but a breaking of myself.
Too often, when our faith falls apart, we break too. Through my journey of doubt I sometimes felt, psychically, as if pressure was being put on a joint in the wrong direction: maddening, roaring pain, and the terror that something fundamental within me is about to break. It wasn’t just something theoretical, external, theological that was about to break. If my faith broke, I broke too.
Now, as I reflect on this, I realize why. Or, at least, why the stakes feel so high for me as I re-evaluate my faith. My faith, my understanding of God, doesn’t just tell me what the world is, it tells me who I am. My God doesn’t just organize the cosmos around me, he organizes the principles that guide my life. I believe in compassion, goodness, and mercy because of God. I believe in not lying and pursing justice and being a man of integrity because of God. In other words, all my principles and guiding forces are outsourced to something outside myself. When that external thing dies, it feels like I die, too. I become lost, blind, with no compass to guide my way.
I’ve come to understand that a shift of faith is inevitably difficult, sometimes even traumatic, but it is made all the more so by the fact that so much of our identity is outsourced to this external, etherial thing called God. When we lose that, or when that God comes up for serious review, the foundation for our guiding principles come up for review as well.
As I’ve mentioned on the podcast and in my articles, I no longer know if God exists, and I can no longer go beyond the magisterium of science when making external truth claims. I dearly hope for a God, and I hope for an afterlife. But regardless of whether there is or is not an afterlife, wether there is or is not a God, I have to stop outsourcing my guiding principle to some external, unstable foundation.
I can choose compassion, mercy, and justice even if there is no God. I can choose truth telling and integrity even if there is no God. I can locate these things in my own being, in my own conscious, without appealing to some higher power. Doing so provides a far more solid foundation: I don’t need to go through life in an existential moral wreck if I doubt God’s existence, and my identity need not feel threatened every time I ask crucial questions about the nature of God.
I am called to be a person of integrity regardless of whether God exists or not, and I find that epiphany deeply comforting as I continue my quest for truth.