Recently I learned a term for something that I already knew existed:
Moralistic therapeutic deism
This term is defined in a 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton.(We will not quibble over whether the term should be ‘deism’ or ‘theism’ as I am likely the only one who would even care.)
MTD (for short) describes a belief that God made the world and wants you to be kind and happy. You don’t need to interact with God unless there is something wrong. If you are good you go to Heaven. While the book focuses on teenagers, who at this point are adults in their 30s, it goes far beyond that age group. I would go so far as to say it goes far beyond just those born in this century, but is in fact and has been the working definition of Christianity in America for most people since at least the 1950s. You could even add something into about “End Times” and have covered just about everything.
So what is the problem? I suspect that many people would basically agree with that.
It is not either Biblical or Historical Christianity.
First, and last, Christianity is about relationship. Relationship with God through Christ first and foremost. This relationship is maintained by constant interaction. I had a cousin who only showed up around the family when he needed something. Everyone dreaded seeing him. There was no relationship there.
Relationship with others comes next. Kindness is a bare minimum of behavior or perhaps one step up from polite, but it is not the behavior that is talked about in the Gospels. Love is the motivation for action in Jesus. Love seeks the good of the other above the self. Holding the door open for someone at the store is Kind, buying their groceries is Love. We are often told “I do not hate my neighbor so I must love them.” Love is not the opposite of hate. Love is the opposite of Apathy.
The goal of these relationships is not happiness, not in this life or the next. Jesus wants us to be like him. To be loving, righteous, and just. Sometimes happiness has to be sacrificed. The very definition of Gospel Love is sacrifice. Jesus speaks very little about “heaven” in terms of the afterlife and a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of Heaven as the standard of God at work in this world.
Christianity is declining in this country and loosing respectability because the approximately 75% of Americans who claim affiliation with Christianity do not know what they are talking about. MTD is garbage. Spider-man movies convey the Gospel better than that. Maybe that is why people rush out to go see Spider-man movies and never show up at church.
Evangelical Christianity has historically said more than MTD, but still falls short because the ultimate emphasis is on going to Heaven. The details are more complicated but the message for the average person is not too different than MTD. Get saved, be good, do as you are told.
If Christianity is not more than telling people to be kind and be happy in a religious framework then it is worthless. If Christianity is not more than telling people to behave so they get a treat when they die it is worthless.
We have to believe that and be able to articulate it. We have to tell and show people that Christianity is worth something. People have figured out that MTD and its variations are worthless.
Can you answer this question?
What do you believe?
* Latin for “You believe”, as opposed to Credo “I believe” the word from which we derive the term “creed”.