Deconstructing (Christian) Culture

I love me a good deconstruction.

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I was first introduced to deconstruction in college in as part of my rhetoric degree, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Plus, studying Jacques Derrida (the French philosopher credited with most fully framing the idea of deconstruction) was a great excuse as an undergrad to hang out with cute grad students (Houck: how ’bout that postmodern name tag?)

What, pray tell, is deconstruction? Deconstruction (severely reduced for our current purposes), is a philosophical or literary method of critically examining a text (a written document, a piece of art, a social movement, a religious doctrine, an idea, etc.) in order to understand it better, mainly by whacking away at its limitations. Good deconstruction breaks the text down into its formative, usually deeply hidden assumptions; excellent deconstruction creates new space for the text to be rebuilt in a more transparent way so that the assumptions that inform it are visible and therefore something people can engage with a shared vocabulary.

It is high time Christian culture — or better yet, The Christian Worldview — gets thoroughly deconstructed. Christians like me need to acknowledge just how much of our faith is really tradition — which on its own is neither good nor bad — and seeing it as such becomes a starting point for more fully understanding the faith we proclaim.

This can be painful and frightening work, particularly for evangelicals who have been raised on the idea of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is an illusion, or, maybe an ideal, rather, that none of us attains. So, while the centrality of Scripture must be maintained as we discuss the Christian cultures that have developed around the Scriptures, we must take great pains not to confuse our particular tradition with sacred writ. Deconstruction helps us avoid this trap.

Professing Christians need to be at the forefront of this effort for two very good reasons:

1.  the secular cultures we interact with are very good at deconstructing Christian culture and in order to participate with integrity in the public square we have to know our stuff, and

2.  growing in faith depends on it. Faith is smothered by dogma; it thrives alongside doubt.

Fortunately, the available topics for immediate deconstruction are legion. Here are just a smattering off the top of my head:

  • christian marriage
  • christian parenting
  • Side A and Side B LGBQ debates
  • biblical interpretation
  • Calvin (yes, that one)
  • eschatology and all things Kirk Cameron
  • gender roles

Rather than wax didactic on deconstruction, let me give you two examples to ponder.

This first instance, illustrated by our friend above in red stilettos, is not about deconstructing Christian culture per se but it shows deconstruction in action. It ran a few months ago on the Huffington Post and, well, click at your own risk, but prepare to laugh in a pained sort of way.

It goes without saying that what makes these photos funny in a grimace-producing way is to see men contorted into traditional “sexy female” poses and clothing. But the work it does is far more subversive. It challenges our assumptions about women, men, sexiness, objectification, and probably motorcycles too, but we shouldn’t go there. It invites us to reconsider all sorts of beliefs simply by putting male bodies into clothing and postures typically assigned to female bodies.

Here is a less risque but equally challenging deconstruction, this one launching a shot directly across the bow of christian culture, from a very honest and smart blogger, Micah Murray. He blogs at http://redemptionpictures.com/

In this case, the topic at hand is the typically Christian belief that feminism is bad for men, and its underlying assumption that feminism is anti-biblical. The deconstruction in this piece is done off-stage, so that Micah gives his readers the result of his deconstruction efforts. He exposes the assumptions that prop up the anti-feminism discourse, attempting to show how ridiculous it really is to describe feminism as bad for men. Importantly, I believe the goal of this piece is not to tell people what to think but rather to challenge them to think beyond what Christian culture tends to dictate.

And by the way, all cultures and subcultures operate with unexamined assumptions that fuels their praxis — this applies to the atheist as well as the believer, so none of us have the right to go all superior on everyone else. In fact, if I could sit Richard Dawkins down for 5 minutes, this is what I’d try to get him to understand: his credibility is lacking because he seemingly can’t deconstruct his own worldview. But I digress.

As long as I’m blogging, we’ll deconstruct stuff here because, well, its fun!  And more importantly, it is useful for growth — spiritual and intellectual.

So, anyone have a favorite topic we ought to deconstruct?

About karen d

Thinker, Dreamer, Traveler. Recovering Pharisee.