Monday, April 04, 2005

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

The current online issue of The Revealer contains a review of the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, the product of the largest sociological study of adolescent religious beliefs and practices ever conducted.
According to authors Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, the majority of American teens believe in God and the majority of them are Christians. That may sound like good news but don't start shouting just yet. It seems that the theological beliefs held by America's youth are pretty much the same across religious divides. The authors refer to the common set of assumptions as "moralistic therapeutic deism" (MTD). The reviewer, Scott Korb describes the major tenets of MTD as follows:
Personal experience is what shapes our notions of truth, and truth is found nowhere else but in happiness and positive self-esteem. In religious terms, according to teenagers, God cares that each teenager is happy and that each teenager has high self-esteem. Morality has nothing to do with authority, mutual obligations, or sacrifice. In a sense, God wants little more for us than to be good, happy capitalists. Smith and Denton elaborate: "Therapeutic individualism's ethos perfectly serves the needs and interests of U.S. mass-consumer capitalist economy by constituting people as self-fulfillment-oriented consumers subject to advertising's influence on their subjective feelings." And to be good, happy capitalists, we should be good, unless if being good prevents us from being happy.
Korb reports that according to the authors, MTD is not just a teenage affliction:
What Smith and Denton call a parasitic creed affects religious American adults, as well. Though subtle, Smith and Denton's insistence that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree becomes a sharp indictment of America's religious grown-ups who may well speak, understand and think as adults , but cannot bear the thought of putting away their childish beliefs.

The authors conclude that American Christianity is "either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or actively being colonized by a quite different religious faith." When asked to articulate their faith, not one of their interviewees mentioned self-discipline, working for social justice, justification or sanctification, and 112 of them described the purpose of religion in terms of "personally feeling, being, getting, or being made happy" (using the "specific phrase to 'feel happy' well more than 2,000 times").

1 comment:

Dennis said...

Great post Keith. Caught the link from a blogging friend. Glad to see you in the sphere. I jumped in a bit ago myself but am not prolific enough yet. Hope things are well...goodness I forgot...we did a field ed together while I was at Piper together.