Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 21 January 2008 06:22
Up working early to plow through an enormous amount of stuff

But wanted to share this challenging article from my alma mater, Fuller, on youth ministry about a phenomena that I somehow missed:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Christian Smith, Associate Chair of the Department of Sociology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that the average youth worker across the country should recognize these statements almost immediately. According to the research he and his colleagues have been doing in partnership with the National Study of Youth and Religion , these are the core religious beliefs of youth aged 13-17 today.

God exists and has created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

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

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

• God does not need to be particularly involved in life except when needed for a problem.

• Good people will go to heaven when they die.

Smith coined the phrase: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe this set of beliefs

Moralistic: This means that youth generally think it is important to be a good person (and that this a major goal of being “religious”).

Therapeutic: Religious experience, indeed religion itself, exists to help us through life’s problems and makes us nicer people. In this approach, religious participation will often be defined around how religious experience has helped someone overcome personal difficulties.

Deism: God exists, had something to do with the creation of the world, but generally isn’t terribly active or demanding of God’s creation, especially in terms of the actual, spiritual experience of youth. It’s an explicit rejection of Christian orthodoxy.

If you can’t tell, this religion (and we should call it a religion) is not particularly grounded in a set of thoughtful traditions. It’s not even particularly theological as much as it is theopersonal , i.e., how God, the Heavenly Divine Butler, benefits the person, the individual.

And our kids are riddled with it. But where do they get it? Where could such a self-centered, consumerist, egocentric remaking of Christianity have come from? Smith says kids learn this behavior from the adults around them, strongly suggesting that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is the pop religion of American families.

While Smith is reflecting upon his experience of American Christian kids as a whole, I must say that this fits what we are encountering as we talk to Catholics adults around the country.

95% of all Catholics I've talked about issues of salvation to are de facto Pelagians, 99% are de facto universalists, and huge numbers are working deists. Even those who are most enthusiastic about evangelization often freeze when asked to contemplate the mere possibility that not everyone is automatically "saved".

You know, given eternal life completely independent of some conscious response to the grace of God in whatever form it has reached us.

Last year I tried to sum up for myself the heart-level assumptions of regular life-long Catholics in ordinary parishes that I've encountered. it went like this:

All of us are saved
And all of us have earned it
but none of us are saints
because that wouldn't be humble.

'Cause most older cradle Catholics still know that they are supposed to be humble.

The upshot: Most of us are humble where what is called for is magnanimity (the aspiration to accomplish great things for God and others) and we are presumptious where we desparately need a dose of humility. (Just how good am I, really, and what does Jesus Christ have to do with any of this?)

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It isn't just for teens anymore.

If we don't get it, how do we expect our children and grandchildren to get it?