Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

After James's comment under Casual Meanness, below, I looked up "therapeutic deism," a term I thought I might have read before.

Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about.  Its full title is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, from Soul Searching a sociological study of the religious beliefs of young people that came out a decade ago. The central characteristics of this religion are
several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. It is this combination of beliefs that they label Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
  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.
Well, not just youth, I'd say.  They didn't invent it out of nowhere.  We have been moving in this direction since my childhood in a Congregational Church.  Many of Garrison Keillor's characters seem to draw from this spring.  I get the sense that people who hold these views do not think this is a description of correct doctrine so much as a bare minimum that any other religious person has to reach in order to be credible. It's not very intellectually rigorous, certainly.  There's a lot of "But what if..." that hasn't been thought out here.

Still, the great majority of people in any time and place haven't put a lot of independent thought into their beliefs.  Dissenters of various stripes do a bit better in thinking, but they usually pretty quickly just fall into some other rut that happens to present itself. As it has ever been. On a FB thread from a minister friend last night was the reply "...he called people to know and follow him, to find the positive of life-of-the-vine that transforms us, not the negative of stop-doing-that-first..." This was by an adult. 

When I went back to get the exact quote just now, I found my comment there had been deleted, BTW.

There are plenty of nominations who to blame for this, but as I see it criticised in Both Lewis's and Chesterton's writing, I don't think the origins are American or recent.  I do think this is the religion that will bring down the Church in the West. It already guides even the believers. Unconfortable truths can always be headed off as hurtful.


Christopher B said...

I'm a bit surprised they didn't come up with what I think is the very prevalent extension of points 2 and 3, that God is offended when we make other people feel bad or unhappy.

james said...

My knowledge of history feels like swiss cheese now and then. When/how did the Puritans devolve into Unitarians?

Earl Wajenberg said...

The poison pill in that little creed is point #4, since that is the point that keeps this semi-religion at an infantile level.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

James, my series on Wyrd and Providence, parts IV and V touch on that. Short form: The Puritans tried to understand God via two books: The Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature.

james said...

Thanks, I went back and had a look. Still puzzled; have to get a feel for what "book of nature" would mean morally.

I notice that if the religious spokesman seems to fit the niceness narrative well enough, those reporting on him will elide anything that contradicts the narrative. The Dali Lama has, as you might expect, some strong beliefs about sexual morality (obviously from a Buddhist rather than Christian/Jewish framework), but nobody mentions those. They're not "nice."

jaed said...

God is offended when we make other people feel bad or unhappy

I think it's in there somewhere as a corollary, but in slightly changed form:

"God is offended at other people who make us feel bad or unhappy."

Unknown said...

Excellent post. has a brilliant four-part series on the history of this phenomenon, called "Restless Heart of Darkness."