“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” is a phrase that refers to the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary American teenagers in the United States” (Jones 49).The phrase was coined by Christian Smith and fellow researcher Melinda Lundquist Denton under the aegis of the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill when they conducted interviews on youths about their Christian religious beliefs and they found out that the youths lacked concrete beliefs of Christian faith and instead they held onto a form of generic faith that holds that God exists and it is him who created the earth, cares and watches it from a far. Also ,this God wants people to be nice and fair to fellow men as taught in the Bible and that when good people die they go to heaven, and that God wants people to be happy and feel good about themselves, and that this God is somehow aloof and “does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem”(Jones 49).This essay argues that “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” is an accurate reflection of society today.
The present age is post religion where the core teachings of the world’s most leading religions are being watered down and discarded in favor of a simplified, moralistic, humanistic form of religion or worldview that does not regard spirituality and God highly anymore. Even the churches are taking cue from what is happening on the secular front with regard to religion and are simplifying the core ideological teachings regarding certain aspects of how man ought to live with fellow men and especially those teachings that appear “too harsh” and explicitly prohibiting men from doing certain things like sex out of wedlock. These are being watered down through secular philosophical refutations and a substitution with the secular moralistic teachings that are permissive, and even the major religions like Christianity and denominations like the Catholic Church are following suit by simplifying their dogmatic teachings so as to accommodate the dominant secular worldviews. For example, Pope Francis the titular head of the Catholic Church in September 2015 announced newer procedures of marriage annulment in “a move intended to streamline a process long criticized by many Catholics as too cumbersome, complicated and expensive” (Yardley & Porvoledo par.1”). In this way, man is able to do those things prohibited by the core teachings of most religions and justify using the moralistic worldview, which is the moralistic dimension of the modern religion as implied by Smith and Lundquist.
In addition, the traditional standard religious practices for religions like Christianity such as intense prayers, repentance from sin,sacrifice,penance,and keeping the Sabbath are being de-emphasized even by those who claim to be shepherds of souls by simplifying the religious procedures, requirements, doctrines(to make them widely acceptable), and thresholds of a person who ought to be considered a truly religious and Godly man. The emphasis today is on a bastardized form of worship without sacrifice which is both inauthentic and superficial. In other words, the modern version of a truly faithful Christian cannot meet the threshold of a truly faithful Christian as it ought to be in the original doctrines and teachings of God. The society wants a God who will not make them suffer or lessen their pleasure or place huge demands on them, but a God who is out to make them feel nice, prosper and be happy all the times. They want a God who will not exert pain on them through punishment but the one who will always simply understand and forgive for ‘it is human”. This is the aspect of “Therapeutic Deism” abundant in the society today as diagnosed by Christian Smith and Melinda Landquist.The world is today populated with such superficial believers hence the view that “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as exhibited by American teenagers is a reflection of the society today.
The society is today trying to erase the vestiges of “God” and religious teachings from public life terming religion as an individual affair. This is being done through legislations to abolish religious practices like prayers and worship in public places and also through the subjective interpretation of constitutions ostensibly to favor moralistic religious viewpoint and suppress the traditional religious viewpoint when it is deemed to be inconsistent with the secular concept of liberty and personal freedoms of choice and worship. For example, on June 25,1962,the US Supreme Court “made a ruling in Engel v. Vitale that a prayer approved by the New York Board of Regents for use in schools violated the First Amendment by constituting an establishment of religion”(Waggoner par.1).Thus, the institutions set up by man in the society such as the courts, the Senate, the Congress, the media, universities etc, and which can be considered as generally the standard points of reference over important matters in the society, or are the true representative or reflection of a society are at the forefront of propping the secular moral Deism, and keeping God away from man’s activities while remotely acknowledging He exists which is the aspect of “Deism” in Smith and Lundquist’s phrase. If the institutions that can be considered as the true reflection of a society are the ones supporting a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”, then it shows that is how the society is like.
In conclusion, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” is an accurate reflection of society today for this is the post religion age when the original core teachings of the various religions are being watered down in favor of a superficial moralistic form of religious faith, religions are simplifying the traditional religious and adopting a bastardized form of religion and God who only wills happiness of man, and that the society has been trying to kick out religion and God from the public institutions using the established institutions in the society.
Jones, Beth. God the Spirit: Introducing Pneumatology in Wesleyan and Ecumenical
Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014.
Waggoner, Michael. “When The Court Took on Prayer and the Bible in Public Schools.”Religion
& Politics June.2012.Web.
Yardley, Jim and Elisabetta Povoledo. “Pope Francis Announces Changes for Easier Marriage
Annulments.” New York Times 8 September 2015.