Deconstructing and How to Change in Front of Your Kids

"Early Onset Agnosticism" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Early Onset Agnosticism” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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Someone who liked my cartoon yesterday, love trumps belief: when your partner believes differently, asked about how to do this with children. I promised to do that today. This is a letter I wrote for the members of The Lasting Supper last year (you are invited to join us). I hope you find it helpful.

Here’s the letter (slightly edited):

I’d been looking forward to working on this letter and sending it to you today. Many people have been asking me to write about this issue. Obviously it is an important one that occupies many of our minds and evokes concern in our hearts.

It’s about our children. How do we deconstruct with our kids?

(***NOTE: This doesn’t just apply to our kids. You can apply these principles to any loved one… a partner, a family member or a friend. One thing I’ve learned: The way you do one thing is the way you do everything. The way you treat anybody is the way you treat everybody.)

I’m going to talk about how to deconstruct with your children. As parents we like to appear that we are in control of our lives and by inference the lives of our kids. We like to be responsible. So when we experience the death-throes of the deconstruction of our faith and beliefs and experience confusion, how do we take care of the spiritual lives of our own children? How do we oversee the spiritual development of our kids when we can’t even oversee our own?

Here are a few suggestions that are more about themes than advice.


Many people grow up in very tightly controlled homes where their spirituality is assigned. When I became a father I wanted to do it differently and help my children find their own selves and their own paths. We relinquished control. At the same time, we saw ourselves as gentle guides… like spiritual sherpas… showing our kids where the possible pitfalls and the safest pathways were, what foods were good and what wasn’t, and who and what to trust or not.

When Lisa and I left the church our children were already in their older teens, so they were already well on their way. We could hold adult conversations with mature themes. When Lisa and I were talking about this topic the other day, she said our kids were already deconstructing before we were because we allowed them to question from an early age. They had the ability, without our baggage, to be honest about what was real, authentic and true, and the strength to reject what didn’t pass that test. They were far more sensitive to control and nonsense than we were because they were raised differently than we were. So when we started deconstructing, they were already prepped for it.

We had obviously raised our kids in the Christian faith. We still have a collection of children’s bible story books that we used read from them every night. They grew up in the church so they knew the stories, the traditions and what church means. But we never required them to believe this or that. Like the sower with the seeds, we cast the seeds everywhere, knowing that what was good would stick and what wasn’t wouldn’t because it depended on what kind of soil their own hearts were. They’d develop their own spirituality and therefore find the special food that needed to feed it.

In 2002 Lisa’s father had come to live with us because he was dying of cancer. This was when we were in New Hampshire planting a church for a ministry. The day before Christmas, Lisa’s father died. Our approach to it was to try to understand it theologically, and we had our long-held world-views and the ministry people to bolster this attempt. Not our kids! They loved their papa, and when they watched him die in our house despite all the prayers and promises, they immediately questioned what all those prayers and promises claimed to be. So they not only questioned that, but they went to the source: God! They realized that the idea of God everyone talked about and what actually is are completely different things. The ministry fired me the next day and the church I planted and all the staff ignored us. We never saw them again. This, for my kids, was inexcusable. So they saw the church for what it was: just another collection of disappointing human beings. Not to say that they don’t think people and our groups can’t be good, but that the church has no divine right to claim that it is good by default. If you say you’re good, you have to walk the talk.

So we continued relinquishing control but kept our responsibility by allowing them to process this trauma in their own way. When our kids, who were very attached to papa, cried “I don’t believe in God anymore!”, we didn’t try to correct or balance them or even affirm their developing belief. We just let them say it and deal with it in their own way. As a result, years later, they have their own spirituality that is uniquely theirs. It isn’t the same as ours, and this is as it ought to be. We saw that they required a spirituality free of smoke and mirrors, magical thinking, and horse-and-pony shows.


When our children asked hard questions we found it very tempting to give easy answers. Sometimes we’re just too exhausted to explain everything. Sometimes we’re just too confused. Sometimes we’re afraid and just want them to believe the magical thinking that religion is so good at nurturing. Sometimes we just couldn’t care.

Lisa and I sometimes fought. We decided when they were young that we wouldn’t pretend that our marriage was out of Disney, but the struggling union of two, real flesh and blood people. Lisa and I have been married 35 years. So our kids have seen us fight. Our strategy was to let them see us argue, but also let them see us resolve it. If I offended Lisa and the kids saw it, we would also let them watch me apologize and see us reconcile (yes, it was honestly usually my fault).

So when we went through our own deconstructions, we let our kids watch. When our kids questioned the existence of the rescuing God that our Christianity promoted, this affected us. We didn’t interpret it as a rebellion, backsliding or foolishness. We recognized the fear that their questions invoked in us. It’s terrible to think your children are forsaking your path and taking their own instead. But we had to believe that they, like us, would find their way. We would continue to point out dangers and make suggestions, but primarily we trusted that if their intelligence had integrity, they would make it.

I always recommend the incredibly helpful book on marriage and relationships, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. Relationships are formed and transformed in a crucible. When one person changes, it forces the other to change. Otherwise the relationship will fail. It’s the same with the relationship with our kids. If they change, it forces us to change. If we change, it forces them to change. It’s a perpetual dance. So when our kids changed direction theologically, we had to in some ways go their way while at the same time not forsaking our own. When we changed, if they wanted to remain in relationship with us, they had to adjust their steps as well without forsaking their integrity. Unlike the homes many people grow up in, it wasn’t “My way or the highway!” It was an intersection of our own highways weaving in and out of each other. As a result, we hopefully fostered a respect for their journeys and in them a respect for ours. That still holds.


Our children formed opinions that differed from ours. So in our house their was the fascinating interplay of five different opinions. This isn’t to say that the five world views blended together to become one syncretistic stew called Haywardism. Instead, our different beliefs were uniquely our own in a home that fostered a mutual respect for the other. And when I say different, this could even mean contradictory. It is like a United Nations of Spirituality. But Lisa and I learned early in our relationship that it wasn’t compatibility of beliefs that held us together. It was a love that respected the other no matter where they were. Lisa and I believe very differently, but we love each other. That’s the glue that binds us.

There have been difficult times when our differences created sparks that could have possibly turned into a raging fire that might have incinerated us. But I guess we learned how to negotiate those heated moments in ways that enabled us to put the fire out, divert it, or let it burn off the dross and change us.

Without a doubt, our kids learned from us. Without a doubt, we learned from them. Perhaps our kids learned from us how to be persistent, steadfast and faithful through difficult times. Perhaps we learned from our kids how to be honest, independent and outspoken through times of pressure to conform. While we taught our kids to think for themselves and believe what they believe with integrity, they also forced us to do the same. We told them our version. They’ve told us theirs. We’ve told them our stories. They’ve told us theirs. We pollinated them. They pollinated us. Like a hardy apple that has developed over the years through cross-pollination, we have fed off each other and developed traits that hopefully help us to survive even in the harshest of conditions.


I don’t want to give the impression that we are a perfect family. We are not perfect!We have our issues and problems as individuals and collectively. But there is a love and mutual respect that keep us together. There have been moments and seasons of unbelievable stress and confusion. There have been terrors and tensions. There have been separations and reconciliations. But so far we have survived them.

I was tempted at first to give maybe a 10 point list of advice for parents going through deconstruction in front of their kids… things like let them see the books you read and answer their curiosities about them; teach your kids how to think, not how to believe; tell them everything you’re going through and let them deal with what it means for them; ask them what they believe and listen objectively and engage in conversation about it; openly share your struggles with what you’re going through with the church and let them process it themselves, and so on. Rather, I thought I would give the three points above as sturdy blocks that help build an authentic, honest and thoughtful life.

I hope you find this helpful.

Have a great day, and peace on your path and the path of your kids!


Come join The Lasting Supper! I write a letter like this every week.



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23 Responses

  1. Ducatihero says:

    I appreciate your sharing this today David – I dunno maybe something is in the ether today as after watching a video of your son deconstruction which then inspired me to buy a copy of your Sophia book, I then went to look gain at Derrida in greater detail.

    In his classic approach to deconstruction he talks of the destruction of the tower of Babel. So Babel being constructed as the proper noun with Ba meaning father and Bel meaning God – so holy city. However after being destroyed the noun being synonymous with confusion. And so for Derrida the proper name God signifies confusion also with the “war” first being in his name indicating being “divided bifid, ambivalent, polysemic”, the “he war”.

    One problem with Derrida’s deconstruction is that his idea about God lends itself to be deconstructed, built as it is on the assumption that God is divided and ambivalent. Another is that his deconstruction resolve confusion or enable reconstruction.

    It is however a useful tool to refer to and take precedence from as you have beautifully illustrated with your experience of human tradition in church that was no longer working to be replaced with “love that respected the other no matter where they were”.

    For me, I was done with church a few years ago but I wasn’t done with Jesus. Barely functioning, I went to my doctor who then sent me to see a psychologist who diagnosed me borderline ill with depression and anxiety, not ill as such but as she described it “going through difficulties like a lot of people do”. What I like about being here is seeing someone else comment similarly about Christians not seeing Jesus in church and being “done”. I met Jesus through 6 sessions of compassion therapy and mindfulness meditation, and then moving on to Christian meditation where the practice is sitting in silence with the simple prayer “come Lord”. This works for me and has been my reconstruction. I also
    received some good counsel about being creative and finding belonging in creative environments which has come to fruition. The experience hasn’t killed my love of the church and I do feel naturally defensive when it is attacked, however, my idea of church has changed to a gathering where Jesus is present and Lord which the visible church may or may not represent in varying degrees.

    I love your sharing about being “honest about what was real, authentic and true” and “thoughtful life” and appreciate the encouragement that offers to also be sharing an building genuine community.

    Not so sure about your Haywardism and United Nations of Spirituality though, that might need a bit of work *wink*.

  2. Sabio Lantz says:

    My kids are going through BIG changes now. I’ve always told them that I don’t care what religion, political philosophy or sexual preferences they embrace. Control, as you said David, is an illusion. We do the best we can. If we succeed we can go back and tell people pointers on how to do it, even though it still may have just been damn lucky. The temptation to believe in control is huge, eh? We even let ourselves believe others are in control so we can read their self-help books. Because, heck, if they succeeded, we could be in control just like them and succeed.

  3. Lydia says:

    “So they not only questioned that, but they went to the source: God! They realized that the idea of God everyone talked about and what actually is are completely different things. The ministry fired me the next day and the church I planted and all the staff ignored us. We never saw them again. This, for my kids, was inexcusable. So they saw the church for what it was: just another collection of disappointing human beings. Not to say that they don’t think people and our groups can’t be good, but that the church has no divine right to claim that it is good by default. If you say you’re good, you have to walk the talk.”

    Oh yes. I can relate to that sort of experience with insitutional Christians. All that happening at the same time. What a sad, bizarre and horrible experience. I can relate to the kids questions, though!! Yes, folks have to walk the talk and institutionalization often hinders just that because it becomes about the institution and what all that entails.

    I was just having a deconstruction convo with my teens last night. They have been in private Christian school and are transitioning to public next year. I think they have been horribly shortchanged in science. We talked about it a lot last night and have made some summer plans to get up to speed after having the YEC position mostly taught…. not in a dogmatic way…. but still. I was very proud of the 14 year old who told a friend that the age of the earth has nothing to do with Jesus but everything to do with how some read the bible. :o)

  4. Ducatihero says:

    Can I ask how you helped the kids with their impression about disappointing human beings?

    There was something that came host to roost with me recently with listening to a speaker talk about encountering pain due to God’s discipline because “you and I are sinners”. When I watched one of your videos David this thing about being taught you are a sinner came up.

    I walked around with a heaviness for a couple of days until it dawned on me that pain isn’t always an indication of me having sinned and it being the result of God’s discipline, could also be sin that has been done to me and pain coming to the surface that was previously held in the subconscious for God to apply a healing balm towards.

    So sometimes pain showing something has needed attention, it being as a result received discipline, just as it was when my father disciplined me when I was growing up or indicating need for compassion. When I was being raised mum’s cooking usually did the trick with seeing to that.

    So I guess I have a few questions. Firstly is it helpful or not to use terms like God. sin discipline and healing here? Then I wonder that you have found has worked for helping with disappointment over people stuff?

  5. Sabio Lantz says:

    I seems hugely perverse to imagine a big powerful invisible spirit that disciplines people by using pain or punishing with pain due to breaking its rules.

    To think about pain and suffering as alway cause by us, is a huge mistake.

  6. Ducatihero says:

    I disagree Sabio.

    I needed discipline growing up by my father growing up. It was painful at the time but it was loving of him to do so.

    So not perverse to think of a heavenly father to do the same. What would perverse would be to despise such discipline.

    Of course humanity could be left alone to it’s own devices without any alternative, any newspaper shows where that leads to as does disappointment with human beings mentioned.

  7. Sabio Lantz says:

    Well, there are several things that make that analogy problematic:

    (1) Your father was not invisible

    (2) You knew exactly what you did wrong when you got punished. He didn’t make you guess at it in endless self-doubt and torture.

    (3) He didn’t give you cancer, depression, disasters and more to teach you a lesson.

    All that, and your Dad was a mortal, weak, ignorant man (as I am with my kids), and it still appears he did a much better job that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving invisible spirit.

    See what I mean?

  8. Ducatihero says:

    You have made it clear what you mean.

    Unfortunately your comments are self contradictory. All loving means leaving humanity to dissappoint as mentiond not force being loving but to leave it as a choice to love or no. In your list, you missed out abuse, war, addictions, oppression, the list goes on. You are right that your father let you know what you did wrong. There is something given to let you know where you go wrong, it’s called a conscience. When it is not listened to and acted on it results in endless self doubt and torture not the joy and healing.

    It appears to you that my dad disciplined me better than what you call an invisible spirit and I call God. I disagree. My father disciplined as he saw fit. Sometimes I was punished for something that was not my fault.

  9. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Ducatihero

    An all-powerful, all-loving being could still leave humanity to learn from their mistakes, grow and build wisdom and yet stop volcanos, hurricanes, epidemic disease and all that. He could also let us live with our abuse, war and addictions to teach us a lesson, but he shouldn’t let innocents suffer from the sins of others.

    Why doesn’t he stop these things? Because their ain’t no such thing as that sort of god/spirit. Of course, one could fall back on the garden of eden story (or some such myth) and just say we deserve it for eating the apple. But then I’d know you and I have no common ground for meaningful furthering of this dialogue. We can be agnostic about certain kinds of gods, but that sort of classic theistic god has way too much counter-evidence to seriously pretend to be agnostic — yet alone believe without great feats of mental gymnastic compromises.

    Hope my comments were not “self-contradictory” again.

  10. Ducatihero says:


    I agree that an all-powerful, all-loving being could leave humanity to learn from their mistakes, grow and build wisdom and also let us live with our abuse, war and addictions. I also agree that we need a common ground for meaningful dialogue.

    It seems that you are OK with a discussion about such a being and that you don’t mind calling this being he. I agree, an all powerful being could prevent innocents suffering from the sins of others. It would be your will for that to happen. However imposing such will would involve the removal of freedom of choice or in other words, grace. I’ll leave you to decide for yourself if removing freedom of choice is self- contradictory with being all-loving.

    Your faith says that an all-loving all-powerful being does not exist. Therefore I agree, a discussion about a “myth” such as the garden of Eden would have no meaning for you and therefore that we would have no common ground on this or any other biblical narrative.

    For you God does not exist and the idea of God is one that is evil as he causes the innocent to suffer, cancer etc. So for me to talk of God being loving perfectly seen in discipline seems to you to be “hugely perverse” and whatever I say is not going to convince you to consider thinking differently. Conversely whatever you argue about God not existing or any being removing the possibility for humanity to sin being appropriate is not going to convince me that God does not exist or that removing the possibility of sinning is a loving thing to do. So you are absolutely right, without common ground we don’t have a basis for meaningful dialogue.

    It seems to me that in our different perspectives the best that can be achieved is a mutual respect for where both of us are coming from and a peaceful coexistence with our differences.

    Of course it still does leave us with the problem of disappointing human beings as mentioned. No human movement is ever going to provide real security and even the most loving of us are not without sin.

  11. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Ducatihero,

    (1) “He”
    When my daughter was young and had an imaginary friends, I graced them with “he”, “she” pronouns too. Sure, I was “OK with a discussion about such a being”. So that should help you weigh my use of that pronoun.

    (2) Freedom of Choice
    Imagine your spirit stops a stray bullet from killing a 3 year-old on a porch and instead directs it into a wall. Who’s “free will” does that interfere with? No self-contradiction, I’m afraid — nice try.

    [BTW, I was the medical provider for the 17 year-old who accidentally killed that 3 year-old — he had a life sentence.]

    (3) Faith
    I have no “faith” in your imaginary being, just like I don’t have no “faith” in my daughters invisible goose or the tooth fairy. Just huge lack of evidence and worse, in the case of your invisible spirit — lots of contrary evidence. So “faith” is not involved. You are the one with faith that is counter the evidence.

    If you are interested, you can see my two posts on the word “faith”:

    You might like my graphic.

    (4) Evil God
    I don’t imagine an evil god — well, Yahweh was pretty evil at times according to the stories.

    (5) Evangelical
    I am a former Evangelical and then later a mystical Christian. So I may understand far more about your position and feeling than you can imagine.

    (6) God Movements
    No human movement has provided real security — I agree. And certainly no God movement (religions) has provided real security either. They are all created by people, not by any god(s).

    (7) Common Ground
    Yes, as long as we talk about gods punishing us for sins, we don’t have common ground.

  12. Ducatihero says:


    You are right to have pointed out differences with regard to common ground.

    I disagree with you that faith is not involved and I think that your faith is stronger than mine. Clearly likening Christian faith to a belief in an “imaginary friend” is mocking of such faith with contempt, a common approach among the more militant of atheists. I have no interest in further discussion where disrespect is shown. I’ve no interest in trading insults with you and/or descending in to polemical adversity. You rightly talk of meaningful discussion being limited and I think this is where it has reached it’s conclusion.

    Of course this still leaves the question of what to do with disappointing human behaviour – the “abuse, “war and addictions… [and that] innocents suffer from the sins of others” as you have put it.

    I hope that is not too “problematic”.

  13. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Ducatihero,

    You started the polemics by accusing me of self-contradiction.

    “Imaginary Friend” is exactly what a Christian god must be if there is no god. So there is no contempt — no more contempt than I had for my daughter for her imaginary friend. I know how comforting an imaginary friend can be — I had one too. It is not contempt, it is honesty. Wouldn’t you agree that imaginary friends can be very comforting and useful.

    We are not left with any question. People must correct people. No god(s) to do it. We must work on our own and other’s “disappoint human behavior”, no spirits, ghosts, devils, demons, ghouls or other entities are involved. Nasty fact, perhaps, but that is what we got. I am sorry that is so “problematic” for you.

    BTW, see David’s next post where he sees the Jesus stories as fiction that was perhaps useful. Maybe you can teach him to get out of his mistaken “faith”.

  14. Ducatihero says:


    When I “accused” you of self-contradiction it was not disrespecting your beliefs. Clearly what you would will in the prevention of sins being committed is contrary to freedom of choice, and therefore contradictory to being all-loving. You did say that this should happen didn’t you? With all due respect, the contradiction is a self evident flaw in an argument.

    I agree with you about people correcting people I disagree with you about God not correcting people. However I understand that your faith is that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist. Therefore I understand your belief while seeing things differently to you. Not being left with any question is you opinion. Opinion is open to ll and everything. Facts must not be established by opinion but what is true.

    Than you for your concern for your “fact” being problematic for me but I never have been more secure and at peace with established truths than now. As David has mentioned in his video here, he is an “unashamed Christian”. I can identify with that and I am not ashamed to adhere to this. None of what David has commented on in his recent post affirms the faith you have that Christian belief in God is akin to belief in an imaginary friend.

    I am glad you do recognise that the innocent suffer for the sins of others. the truth is that none of us are perfect, or without sin, others suffer when we sin and we sin at the hands of others. Any idea that humanity can somehow correct itself from its disappointing human behaviour doesn’t hold up to reality philosophically, socially or historically.

    I suggest that ultimately this can be met by God, just as a parent disciplines their child. I would like please for that suggestion to be respected, and Christian faith to be respected by you Sabio. If you feel you cannot or are not willing to afford that, then it would seem that the only alternative for us to polemical adversity and circular arguments is to not talk about such things.

    I’ll make this my last comment to you on this thread and leave you to say the last word to me if that is what you choose.

    Don’t hold back!

  15. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Ducatihero

    You asked a question, so I will answer:

    You did not read carefully. There was no interference of free will — the person fires the gun (not stopped), but the bullet does not hit target. The volcano does not erupt. You conveniently ignored these obvious cases.

    Your “FREE WILL!” argument is classic and has been destroyed by philosophers over the centuries.

    David identifies as a “Christian” but it is just a word, just a flag. He is highly invested in the word because of his upbringing, his whole life work and the audience he can reach now to continue making money. Plus, it allows him to keep helping folks. But his views clearly are different from yours in important ways. To bank on the word “Christian” meaning you are close in thinking is probably a mistake.

    Sure, humans are unable to completely correct themselves — we agree there. You just think some spirit can do it. But we have absolutely no evidence of that either.

    “Respecting” an opinion is nonsense. I don’t respect people who believe that the poor should not be helped or that God will stop hurricanes so that evacuation is not necessary. Or that God punishes sinners. Or that sickness is a lesson from God.

    Opinions do not deserve respect.

    I have lots of Christian friends, I can like them as people and treat them very well. But if their flavor of Christianity has wacky ideas, I have no problem showing that I have no respect for it. Christianity which looks down on homosexual gets NO respect from me, for instance. Religious folks love to play the “respect me” ticket — but it won’t fly with me for obvious reasons.

    Packaging something as a religious package and demanding respect is manipulative, deceptive and dangerous.

    I hope I did not hold back.

  16. Sabio… This has me doing a lot of thinking right now: “He is highly invested in the word because of his upbringing, his whole life work and the audience he can reach now to continue making money. Plus, it allows him to keep helping folks.”

  17. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ David
    That would be a great cartoon : Playing the “RESPECT MY RELIGION” card

  18. Yes Ducatihero… “christian”… although I don’t use that label… others do for me… I also get atheist (i might get that more so after today’s post)… we wouldn’t be on the same page I’m sure… but that doesn’t bother me… i still believe in the unity of all things… that at the deepest and most fundamental level we are connected, one, and that ideas only seem to divide or separate us.

  19. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ David,
    Well, let me know where the thinking takes you.
    Staying “Christian” for all those reasons is not a bad thing at all.
    Staying “Republican” can be useful too — to change that world from the inside, for instance.
    People stay “Hindu”, “Jew” and others for similar reasons.
    Holding an identity lightly is important — and I know you do that.

  20. I guess it’s about perception: is that the first thing that is thought of me being still connected to Christianity? That it’s so I can continue making me. It’s got me thinking.

  21. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ David ,

    Yeah, extricating oneself from a faith of youth and a faith of ones’ surrounding culture is a big step. It is always easier just to redefine terms so you can still use similar terms, stories and head-nods to the cultural values. So most people deconstruct and don’t abandon.

    As you said, staying inside can be helpful to working with oneself, but sometimes it can just be a trap and fear of facing all the other losses with no possible gain in sight.

    I think the choices come down to personality types, not so much a matter of will. But everyone wants to think they willed their own choice, of course.

    If you were born Jew, you’d have stayed Jew, or if Muslim, you might have stayed Muslim in the same way. So if you agree with that, then calling yourself “Christian” is very odd in many ways, eh? But then, most of my casual Christian friends are cultural Christians and thank goodness are not real believers.

    I think it is cool to still be a “Christian”, of course (well, only certain types) — hell, I don’t identify as an Atheist — it is an epiphenom for me (see this post) and I too am viewed differently by many — see my picture I drew here.

  22. Ducatihero says:

    Forgive me David but have you not described yourself as unashamedly Christian in spite of what you say about not using that label?

    I know it has a lot of negative connotations connected to it, partly earned I must say, but I wouldn’t deny allegiance to Christ. If that puts us on different pages then so be it.

    Not sure if I would see things the same way as you with connection or not. I certainly do believe connection and unity is possible. However when I look at the world, I see instances of connection, disconnection, unity and disunity and all shades in between.