Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I’m grateful to Theoblogy for posting on this fascinating piece of research by Christian Smith. It’s work done in the U.S and involved a significant survey of 13-17 year olds and their religious attitudes and is published in a book caled, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teens.”
The survey showed up a greater than expected religious attitude BUT that the teens were theologically illiterate, their faith so watered down that God is relegated to more of a “private butler” role. Their understanding of Christianity really doesn’t go beyond “being good people” and “making good choices
Christian Smith has come up with what I think a very apt descriptor, he refers to their religion as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
I’m very interested in this piece of research and although the data is exclusively American I can see much to be learnt in the British (and others) context too of the Western, Materialistic Culture.
I believe that these are some of the “shapers” that can lead to this outcome and present a challenge/opportunity to us as the Church.
1. An emphasis on “Teaching” in it’s narrowest sense without the opportunity to do and see faith working outside of the Church context.
2. Where there is little discernable difference between the consumerism outside the church and for those within (where we seem just as obesessed with “stuff” even if not in our words, certainly by the stuff we own)
3. Where our examples and illustrations are not dealing with the messy and complicated realities of living out faith in our everyday lives.
4. Where Parents have never been really discipled by the church so young people see an emphasis on being good and conforming rather than a radical and all-week applied faith.

This is no way an attempt to slam the Church, it’s my reflections that I am presenting to myself as a challenge as well as to blogdom for discussion. This research has really challenged me and left me wondering if we are cultivating a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”
(I would also add that I see much in Youth Ministry that is bucking this trend and involves radical lifestyle, social justice and committed discipleship)
I seem to recall a paper by Dawkins in the mid 1990’s on Epidemiology and the spread of religion where he explored the view that religion was spread in the way a virus might. (I think it was quite negative and really felt that if you were too exposed (by nature of a religious family etc) you would “suffer” the same misguided beliefs).
However I’m left pondering this as an example and whether a series of embibed cultural ‘anti-biotics’ have left a very weakened strain of Christianity with which people come into contact?

4 Replies to “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”

  1. Be interesting to see similar research in UK.
    I’d expect lower levels of religious attitude in the population at large, but (hopefully) higher knowledge among committed church youth. But that could be miles out!

  2. problem is that it is so easy to water down faith in the hope of being “acceptable”. Think Campolo alluded to this when he said we are rearing teens not to say “s***”. WE have given them no reason to own a faith and as Creasy Dean says, it is no longer a faith worth dying for. Think that is what so encouraged me about todays post at militantmonkeys.

  3. You might be interested to know that there is a guy called Phil Rankin who is doing a fellowship on Young people and spirituality based a Sarum College in Salisbury. he is due to complete the report by June this year so watch this space

  4. I especially liked point 1. I think I can see that alot, that we teach but do not show that people also live like that. Or that we teach and do not live like we teach.

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