Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Soul Searching part 1: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

By Rich Bordner

In their book Soul Searching, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton write on a national survey of the religious lives of American teenagers. In the course of their research, their team surveyed over 1,200 teens from all over the U.S, and personally interviewed 267 of those surveyed.

What they found was somewhat surprising, somewhat not.

On the surprising front, they found that, contrary to the stereotype, the overwhelming majority of teenagers are not rebellious in their religious beliefs and practices. Rather, they are very conventional when it comes to religion; they are quite content to just go along with what they've been raised to believe.

Encouraging? No, not really, because the authors found that what they are raised to believe is a quite paltry version of Christianity: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

  1. A God exists who created the world and watches over humans.
  2. God wants people to be nice and good.
  3. The purpose of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be very involved in one's life except when He's needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven.

While none of those interviewed explicitly stated this creed (as I'll write about in a later post, most of them couldn't explicitly state any religious beliefs whatever. Some had difficulty with even comprehending the question "what are your religious/spiritual beliefs?"), their feelings on spirituality boiled down to it.

While some teens they interviewed were able to rise above this, and while a select few (very, very few) rejected religion wholesale and preferred instead to think, feel, and talk like Christopher Hitchens disciples, "Christian" Moralistic Therapeutic Deism functioned as the bottom line, unquestioned worldview of a substantial majority of those interviewed to the point where asking them to question those notions was like asking them to question 2+2=4.

M.T.D, obviously, is not Christian, yet, the authors argued, it functions as a parasite on the historic Christian faith. Even many of those raised in "devoted" Christian homes, who are leaders in youth groups, faithfully attending conservative (as opposed to mainline) protestant churches, hold this view.

You might ask, "How could a teen who is raised by devoted Christian parents, who faithfully attends a Bible-believing church, and who is a leader in the youth group, swallow this sham almost wholesale?" The answer is: very easily, given the pervasive, subtle, yet corrosive influence of our culture on the young. With a proliferation of digital media flooding into American homes (TV, iPods, the web, cell phones, etc), plus the nature of public schooling, this is very hard to avoid if adults do not persistently and consistently engage and teach the young....and that is exactly what is NOT happening. Rather than being intentional about teaching them solid biblical truth, many prefer instead to just "expose" teens to Jesus.

The proliferation of this worldview amongst teens is a new phenomenon, something that has popped up on the social and religious scene in the last 30 years or so, and it is a phenomenon that mirrors the young adult and adult world. Therefore, in the next few posts, I will be commenting on it and drawing implications for Christ-followers today.

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