The American Religion: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism (MTD) Part 2

Roger E. Olson | 5/25/2019 | Staff
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If you have not, please read Part 1 of this 3 part series. Here, in Part 2, I describe my understanding of “therapeutic” in “MTD.”

First, however, I want to remind readers about something many seem either not to know or forget.

Deism - Label - Sociologists - Religion - Christian

“Moralistic, therapeutic deism” is the label given by sociologists of religion Christian Smith and Kesa Dean to a relatively new religion common and growing among American Christians—especially younger ones. It is embedded within American churches. As a Christian theologian my “job” is not only to describe it but also to counter it by pointing out how and where it deviates from orthodox Christianity.

“Therapeutic” in MTD points to a solution to the anxiety created by moralism. It means (more or less) that even though we cannot live up to God’s (frowning) expectations he always forgives without consequences. And, taken to an extreme, it means that “God is your biggest fan” regardless of how you live (even if he wishes you lived a better life).

Gospel - Song - Lyrics - Him - Way

Let me illustrate. A now rather old gospel song contained these lyrics: “Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live, He’ll always say ‘I forgive’.” Nothing about repentance. It’s all sunshine and roses after admission that we all always fall short of God’s moral expectations. The proper response to our moral failure is “Don’t Worry; Be Happy.”

Broadening out now to an illustration about the American attitude toward the true function of religion in general…. Years ago I saw a one frame cartoon in The New Yorker that showed a young woman sitting in a chair talking with a therapist. The “balloon” over her head (with words from her mouth) said “What good is an epiphany if it doesn’t make me feel good?”

Extent - NOT - TRUE - UNIVERSALLY - Americans

To too large an extent (again NOT TRUE UNIVERSALLY) Americans regard religion, including evangelical...
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