WHI-1260 | Consumerism, Pragmatism, & The Triumph of the Therapeutic

Sunday, 31 May 2015

This week on the White Horse Inn we had the opportunity to talk with Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. He is the author of several books including Soul Searching and Souls in Transition. In his research Smith coined the phrase “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the faith of most religious teens, and the religion he fears of their parents as well due to the failings of church leaders and parents to catechize and teach the doctrine of life in Christ.

Many churches in our day attempt to make their services relevant and entertaining in order to attract people in the marketplace of competing options. The focus often centers on practical lessons designed to help us cope with life’s problems. But what are the social and historic roots of this particular approach to ministry? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss consumerism, pragmatism, and the therapeutic within the church.

“I think that the historical, cultural, and philosophical roots of moralistic therapeutic deism go way back, but I think for evangelicalism part of what it means to be an evangelical in the United States since WWII is not to be a fundamentalist. Yet, part of one’s identity in not being a fundamentalist is, you’re always pushing towards the ‘We’re not rigid. We’re not doctrinaire. We’re not closed minded.’ Which is good, but every good thing can be pushed in a problematic direction.
“In evangelicalism this has been pushed too far… in the direction of ‘We can be cool Christians and participate in the culture, just like everybody else, and it’s just fine.’ The ‘make Jesus cool kind of thing’… craving the affection of the American public. It’s almost a pathetic impulse to be respectable and to be relevant.”
– Christian Smith
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 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.”
That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”
(R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism–the New American Religion,” The Christian Post, 18 April 2005. Read the entire article here.)

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