Christianity vs. Moral Therapeutic Deism

Are you a Christian or are you a member of the growing new American religion called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? That’s an important question to ask based on new research by Christian Smith and others at the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina. After conducting 3000 interviews with teenagers, Smith and his team said that most teens’ religion can be reduced to these five convictions: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered 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.”

The title “Moral Therapeutic Deism” captures the spirit of this new religion. It is moral because the new religion inculcates a moralistic approach to life. “It believes that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, and responsible; working on self improvement; taking care of one’s health; and doing one’s best to be successful.”

The new religion is therapeutic because it is all about providing benefits to its adherents. “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, etc…” “Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people. One fifteen-year-old Hispanic conservative Protestant girl from Florida expressed the therapeutic benefits of her faith in these terms: ‘God is like someone who is always there for you. I don’t know, it’s like God is God. He’s just like somebody that’ll always help you go through whatever you’re going through. When I became a Christian I was just praying, and it always made me feel better.'”

Finally the researchers labeled the religion “deism” because its adherents believe that God exists, created the world, and defines the moral order but is not “particularly personally involved in our affairs–especially affairs in which we would prefer not to have God involved.” In other words God doesn’t interfere with one’s personal agenda but is there when you need him to take care of your personal needs. “This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination of a Cosmic Butler and Cosmic Therapist–he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

The study goes on to point out that Moral Therapeutic Deism is not an established denomination and that of course no one would identify themselves with that title. But this new religion is becoming the pervasive way of thinking in our country and has infected every religion and every church.

And this is definitely not a problem confined to teenagers. Teens are simply living out in a purer form what they have seen from their parents and learned in their churches. The hard to escape truth is that teens understand how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches have accommodated themselves to the larger culture. Their world view is the end result of what happens when truth is sacrificed on the altar of individualism and relativism. Teens are only modeling their spiritual leaders pursuit of personal fulfillment above all else.

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