Of Bathwater and Babies

When people begin a process of “deconstruction” or questioning the way that faith was packaged and given to them, a common response by concerned friends or relatives is “Go ahead and ask questions, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

But I think this is an unhelpful imperative, because the discernment of what is “baby” and what is “bathwater” is precisely what is being sought in the process of deconstruction. People undergo deconstruction exactly because they want to keep the baby. If the difference between baby and bathwater were obvious, deconstruction would be unnecessary.

What’s more, often the very reason people find themselves needing to deconstruct is that they have sensed that within their inherited faith construct, there is an already-present conflation of baby and bathwater that is causing problems: the bathwater is never thrown out at all, and so the baby never gets clean, or the bathwater is being treated like the baby, etc. Thus people consent to undergoing the process of deconstruction for the specific purpose of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It’s just that part of figuring that out is asking questions about the definitions of “baby” and “bathwater” that we’ve inherited. And it’s not something you can discern “ahead of time” before you actually begin asking the questions that discernment requires. You can’t just decide to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, because that’s the very distinction you’re seeking to discern. There’s an inherent risk in the process of figuring out what’s baby and what’s bathwater.

Baby playing in the bath

Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

So whether you or someone you love is going through something you might call “deconstruction,” I encourage you to refrain from this anxious injunction. Instead, listen to the questions, empathize with the pain, affirm the goodness of the quest, and trust that those who seek the truth will find what they’re looking for (Matt 7:7-8).

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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