Facts, Faith, Feelings, and Rhett & Link’s Deconversion
(Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.)
As I listened to Rhett’s Spiritual Deconstruction, it became abundantly clear that logic played a central role. One section of Rhett’s story is particular insightful in this regard:
“I had placed a lot of faith, not just in God, but in these people who helped me understand why I believed what I believed from an intellectual standpoint, right. I had a very real emotional, personal, spiritual relationship with God that I was practicing. But there was this intellectual foundation that whenever I had a doubt I would kinda retreat to this intellectual foundation and all of the sudden those people I had been trusting in I began to doubt that I had been shown or told the truth about other things” (Rhett’s Spiritual Deconstruction, YouTube 32:08-32:39).
This notion that Rhett had a relationship with God somehow separate from intellect is particularly troubling.
Faith shouldn’t be built separate from logic and reasoning. One thing that helped to undermine Rhett’s belief is that he was metaphorically grasping a relationship with God (feelings) and faith in one hand while holding logic separately in the other hand, rather than bringing the two together.
Both Rhett and Link’s stories are illuminated by their decade-long involvement with the annual regional Cru Christmas Conference. Like many conferences or retreats, Christmas Conferences can all too easily become a place of emotional experience. Attendees are in a new place where there are epic speakers, music, lights, and other forms of spectacle that can evoke a response. The response that Cru is targeting is spiritual, but it can end up simply being emotional.
When Rhett would doubt, instead of going to God and outlining his struggle logically in prayer, Rhett would go read Christian books addressing the topic, an experience he likens to plastering over his doubt (R.S.D., 14:39). While these types of books may be helpful, they are no substitute for prayerfully using our own brains and grinding away at problems until we understand.
All of this was accentuated by the way the church around Rhett didn’t tackle tough issues like archeology versus the Bible, creation versus theistic evolution versus traditional evolution, and science versus the Bible.
Instead of facing these issues head on, the church failed Rhett by simply generalizing these issues away, oversampling and dismissing them, or flat out lying about them (knowingly or not).
The old Christian slogan goes: Facts! Faith! Feelings! The idea being that our relationship with God should be first based in facts, which should be followed by faith, which in turn should be followed by feelings.
Rhett basically switched the order: He had a relationship based on feelings, followed by faith, and struggled to connect the facts.
Then shortly before his deconversion became complete, he decided to rely solely on faith in the absence of facts and feelings, which was the metaphorical death rattle.
Rhett describes the period shortly after this saying, “[T]he major shift for me occurred when I asked a question I’d never asked—I’d been very, very afraid to ask this question—and that was, ‘What if I’m wrong?” (R.S.D., 1:00:20-1:00:33).
This drives home just how separate Rhett kept logic from faith and feelings.
Rhett says that he is a cynical, doubtful kind of person, which I can relate to having grown up as a missionary kid, but how can a self-described cynic go so long without considering the possibility that he is wrong?
I frequently find myself going to God and saying, “I have questions. I have doubts. Help me understand this.” The question, “What if I’m wrong” or some variant has circulated in my mind on and off for decades. Yet, I have always felt immense freedom to direct that doubt to God, whether general or specific.
And I have always found that God provides answers.
Sometimes he speaks quickly, in the quiet of my soul. Other times he waits until I care enough to start researching, and then I find the answer is right there. God has always been big enough to handle my unbelief and limited perspective.
Let me offer one word of advice and caution about the manner in which we approach God with our doubts (logical or otherwise).
The attitude with which we approach God is paramount. When my children don’t understand my words and instructions, they tend to approach me in one of two ways: (1) They can approach me with humility and a genuine desire to understand, or (2) they can approach with defiance and aggression.
How I respond as a parent changes based on the attitude.
If my three year old son says, “Daddy, why can’t I have another cookie?” I stop and explain. Mind you, I may not delve into dental hygiene or juvenile diabetes—topics far beyond his grasp—but I will explain why. If, however, my son approaches with clenched fists and spits, “Why don’t you ever let me have enough cookies?” I will probably say, “Because I’m the parent, and I said so.”
It’s similar to what is written in James,
“You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives….” (4:2b-3a).
There’s this tension in the Bible about questioning or testing God. Sometimes God honors it; other times God treats it with great disdain.
The difference in response comes back to attitude—ours.
To see more from Luke, visit his website https://postjadedmk.com.