Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism


Here's its creed as understood by Smith and Denton and reported in their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

In the end, this is nothing but wishful thinking. It does not answer the perennial human problems of evil, sin and despair. It leads one to have no faith at all, because this is a weak, thin, vague kind of faith, that in the end means nothing. God's love is a costly love - a real love - as one can see from Christ's suffering on the cross. If the point of life is being happy, this is not the kind of happiness Jesus taught. He taught a self-sacrificing life that leads to happiness - to daily take up our cross. This Moralistic therapeutic deism has nothing to say to The Beatitudes, which describes those who have a true and lasting happiness.

1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Are we ready for that kind of happiness? Are we ready to let go of our 'Five steps to a more fulfilling prayer life?' or 'Ten steps to a happier marriage.' Are we willing to say to God, "Be it done to me according to your will?" I say we, not to soften the question, but because as a gen Xer, I have fallen under MTD's sway too often and since it is so much a part of the church culture at large, it is easy for it to seep into my thinking.

Here is a video with short interviews that address the MTD's type of belief in the church.


  1. Are you familiar with how the term Moralist Therapeutic Deism came into being?

  2. The term came from the authors Smith and Denton mentioned above to describe the predominant religious beliefs of teenagers in the U.S. today. Unfortunately, I think this also describes the faith of most adult Americans also.

  3. It was a term invented by the interviewers for the "National Study of Youth and Religion". The results of which were published in the book "Soul Searching".

    The term came about from an observable unity of belief shared by these teens. Most all these teens identify their religous affiliations with the religion of their parents. What seems to be universally lacking is any understanding and ability to articulate the doctrines of that religion, so they filled in the blanks with what they naturally thought Christianity teaches. These beliefs were so uniform that the interviewers were able to quickly recognize them and came up with the term Moralistic etc. to describe them.

    Now this common pool of belief that these youths have been drawing from is quit facinating to me at least. It appears to be heavily media driven. This new religion that is forming on the inside of these teenagers (as they maintain a semblance of the tradition they attend on the outside)draws upon and articulates beliefs it has learned through popular media for youth. Buffy the vampire, Harry Potter etc. You may find the Book "From Angels to Aliens:Teenagers, the Media and the Supernatural" which is referenced in the book "Soul Searching" as one of the studies which picks up on this aspect which is not explored in "Soul Searching".

    I will leave it there as I have noticed two posts above you are a Harry Potter fan and I have not met one that did not become bitterly defensive when they had the notion that the series may very well be harmfull.

    I will note that most Christian teens are not dabbling in the occult why would they need to when it has become perfectly acceptable to believe their is such thing as a good wizard and make it part of their understanding of the faith they practice. When in fact any and all wizardry is a participation in the demonic. At least that is actual Christian teaching when the Truth used to matter and people removed from their lives that which was harmfull to their souls.

  4. Well, I must disagree with you on two points.

    One thing I think is missing from your analysis is that the teens have learned their MTD, not just from the culture, but from the church and their parents. With the increased focus on self and the 'What can God do for me' attitude that permeates many of our churches and Christian books today, is it any wonder that there is no understanding of the true faith?

    The second point is that I do not see Harry Potter is occultic. While not bitterly, but with joy and good will, I will defend the books, because they are greatly maligned, usually by fellow Christians who have not bothered to read them. Have you read them? If so then you must know that they are in the same vein as any great story of good vs. evil, and have very strong themes which indeed point to the 'greatest story ever told', or the 'true myth', as Lewis and Tolkien have explained. If you are open to exploring this idea more, then I suggest you read the book, "Finding God in Harry Potter", by John Granger. I did a lot of research and read these books before I made a decision about them.
    Do you hold the same attitude toward Tolkien and Lewis' work as you do Rowling's?