As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
Sadly, I see this just about everyday. There are a lot of things that are sad about it. Even as a teen I held strong faith convictions. Teens are able to think critically as well as adults albeit if they are taught how to.
It’s sad because it’s a misunderstanding of historic Christianity. It’s a very massive misunderstanding of faith, God, and spirituality. It’s Postmodernism at its best and hardest form.
It’s sad that teens, and even their parents, can’t hold a theological conversation, clearly define their beliefs, outline the basics of their faith, or have strong convictions.
Right belief leads to right living. And if you are going to profess Christianity, or any religion at that, you should be able to express your convictions, clearly articulate your beliefs, and what not.
Christianity is not Moral Therapeutic Deism; MTD is antithetical to the Christian Faith.
Here are some of my responses to some of the held beliefs of MTD:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
This is only half true. The Incarnation is the direct contradiction of this statement. It’s semi-deist, which holds the belief that God made the world then withdrew from it and watches from a distant. Christ and His incarnation directly contradict this.
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
Again, only half true. There is NOTHING spiritual about being moral and nice and good. Nothing at all. As you know, there are many atheists and agnostics who are good people who have values and principles.
Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live is how my priest puts it. Our problem is not one of morality, but of ontology. Father Stephen writes, “The Orthodox contention is that morality fails to describe the true nature of the Christian life. Rather the world ontological is more proper: it means have to do with the very being of someone – their essence. What we need is not a change in behavior (morality) but a change in who we are (ontology). Christ came to change us, not reform us.
Morality does not use Orthodox means – it’s all in the ‘head.’ It is rules. Ontological change requires that our very being or existence (thus the word existential) be united with Christ, His life becomes our life and thus we live a new life.” This contradicts MTD.
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
This thought is very pagan and hedonistic. God is not your therapist or pal in the sky who solves your problems. It’s bad theology, and it fails to deal seriously with sin and the falling out of communion with God that we have experienced. Of course the goal of our living is “the Good Life”, but I will go on the record to say that that does not mean being happy all the time and feeling great about one’s self. Nor does it mean being gloomy, downplaying the Image within us, and having too low a view of anthropology as the Calvinist would. The Good Life can mean a lot of things, and I do not want to digress too much into said topic.
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
This is again contradictory to Christian teaching and the Incarnation. God is involved in every aspect of our lives.
For more on this I recommend reading Father Stephen’s book, “Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe.” He states the thesis that we have created this false 2 storey universe where God is up there somewhere and should stay there, and that we are all down here with the physical world of secularism, which does not deny there is a god, but that seeks to put Him in His proper place in the second storey where He can mind His own business and we’ll mind ours. It again contradicts the incarnation.
The Kingdom of heaven is here and now and present. There is but one storey in this universe not two. God is here and now. We have tried to push Him out, but it is never going to work. God is very active and moving. St. Luke tells us in Acts that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being”. St. Paul says in Colossians that “all things all together in Him.” I believe our very being, our existence, our very breath is held together by Him. He is alive and active in our hearts. If one is a true believer than one would never say God is there just to solve a problem. The Scriptures make it clear we are the Holy Temple in whom the Spirit dwells.
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
This is false because, again, as Father writes in the blog I linked to earlier, it is not about being “good” or “bad”. It’s about being alive and being in communion with God; it’s about being changed ontologically.
It’s also part of that false dichotomy between heaven and earth. It’s bad eschatology! People are not going to go to heaven. Heaven is coming here. The Scriptures make this very plain. and we will enjoy communion with God.
In summation, these things directly contradict the Orthodox Faith, but the other Christian Traditions as well.
Moral Therapeutic Deism states that all you need is Jesus and a relationship with Him. Not wrong per se, but only half true. It is not “me and Jesus sweet by and by”. This is contradictory to Scripture’s teaching on Church and community.
No man is a Christian on his own nor does one become one on his own. Christianity is a communal faith. It is personal, but not private; it is communal, but not individual.
It is not just you and Jesus and nothing else matters. This is contradictory to Church teaching and to the Scriptures.
When asked, “Why is it sad to you? Why does it bother you that teens and their parents are apathetic to theology? Because you fear they’ll go to hell?” I had this to say:
It is sad because the “me and Jesus” mentality leads to a lack of theological foundation. It neglects orthodoxy. Right belief leads to right living, the Fathers make this very clear. If you are going to be a person of faith you must develop theology. It’s vital to your faith no matter which one you hold. To have faith means you have some sort of belief in a deity; it goes to follow that theology and faith go hand-in-hand.
Having faith means you believe in God, and if you are going to believe in God you should study God, which is what theology means. You should study the Holy writings and writings of those who hold to that faith. It’s sad because people neglect theology in order to hold to MTD. It’s sad because they do not have a solid theological foundation, which is vital to Christianity and render orthopraxy impossible.
It opens the door to people to ignore Church teaching, to create their own opinions about who God is and what not, to ignore morality, and to just seek the Hedonistic life.
It bothers me because it is a simple act of neglect. And it bothers me because it leads to dangerous beliefs. Half truths or not, MTD is still very horrible. It is a watered down version of Chrisitanity nonetheless, and we should reject it at all costs as heretical. We should all be bothered by the fact that Moral Therapeutic Deism is not the Gospel, however, today is presented as just that!