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Religious Deconstruction: Background information when reading The Wings Upon Her Back

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The Wings Upon Her Back

by Samantha Mills

The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills X
The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills
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    Apr 2024, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sara Fiore
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Religious Deconstruction

This article relates to The Wings Upon Her Back

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The heart of the story in The Wings Upon Her Back lies in Zenya's hard-fought battle with her faith. Indoctrinated into the service of the mecha god in her youth, she has only ever known faith without question. The deconstruction of that faith and the rebuilding of her identity as a freethinking woman with agency isn't entirely assured by the book's end, but she has taken her first steps toward a worldview based on her own choices and ideas.

Part of what makes Zenya's deconstruction so difficult is her firm belief that anything, be it thought or written word, that even suggests a lack of faith in the mecha god is heresy and therefore dooms her to be cast away from the light of her deity. Deconstructing, or taking apart and examining one's beliefs, can be a lifelong and incredibly difficult process.

The concept of faith deconstruction, which often refers to the particular complications and challenges of leaving American evangelical Christianity, is one that has been gaining traction in recent years as more and more people move away from practicing organized religions. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-profit that conducts research into the intersection between religion, culture, and public policy, the proportion of Americans who were religiously "unaffiliated" rose from 16% in 2006 to 27% in 2023. For those who left a faith, whether to switch to another religion or become unaffiliated, some reasons cited for leaving are the religion's negative views on LGBTQ+ people and concerns that the religion was becoming too involved in political matters. However, the majority, 56%, said they had simply stopped believing in their religion.

It is difficult to find unbiased sources on the deconstruction movement, which has many detractors in more fundamentalist and evangelical corners. Articles with titles suggesting problems or dangers with deconstructing faith are the first ones you are likely to find when searching "religious deconstruction" on Google. Ironically, it is the very view that anything deviating from a religion's belief system is "dangerous" or a "problem" that seems to be the driving force behind the exodus. Those seeking firsthand accounts will have better luck in places like Reddit, where people from almost every faith imaginable can find subreddits dedicated to leaving it, or at the very least, examining it with a much closer lens. There is also TikTok, where ex-evangelicals like Abraham Piper, the son of Baptist theologian John Piper, post minute-long monologues discussing their personal journeys leaving the faith they were raised in. The main takeaway from both platforms is that a happy and fulfilling life is possible after leaving a religious institution.

Fortunately, leaving a religious organization or deconstructing a belief system in our world does not come with the threat of divine retribution Zenya, later Winged Zemolai, is tortured with, but deconstructing can often mean coming into conflict with friends and loved ones. It can also signify the beginning of a much longer journey, like Zemolai's, to finding a purpose and sense of self beyond a restricted world. Deconstruction also does not have to mean a total abandonment of cultural traditions or even stopping all participation in religion. What you learn from a faith, such as lessons in how to live a good life, treat people with kindness, etc., can be carried with you even if some of your beliefs change. A relationship with any higher power is a lifelong journey, as our experiences in the larger world change how we view ourselves and in turn influence what we believe and how we express that belief.

Leaving a faith or looking at it more critically can be a lonely road, and while you may not have a group of plucky rebels to hold you up as you go, there are others out there on the same journey if you know where to look.

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Sara Fiore

This article relates to The Wings Upon Her Back. It first ran in the June 5, 2024 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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