Death By Deism

One of the most widely held worldviews in the U. S. now may be the newly described Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Collin Hansen at Christianity Today does a good job of describing it.  Does this sound familiar?

Though they aren’t journalists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton broke one of the biggest stories in contemporary religion with their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager’s life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

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.

Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD’s appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the “cool parent” teenagers adore.

“God is something like a combination Divine 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,” Smith and Denton write.

I’m pretty sure, though, this view isn’t limited to teenagers.  Seems pretty common among adults too – and in a lot of media.

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2 thoughts on “Death By Deism

  1. I think that one could include this in many Christians lives as well. Myself included, Christians often put God on the back burner unless something problematic comes up and having someone in control of their lives is something that humans don’t like in general.

    It could be that this is people acknowledging sensus divinitatis yet truly not acknowledging God has He is.

    • Hi David,
      Good observations. You’re right, it’s easy for Christians to fall back to that attitude as well. I guess the bright side is that they do believe in God and morality. I think Plantinga is right that we all have a sensus divinitatis, as Paul describes in Romans 1.

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