The Christian Century‘s August 10, 2010 cover story, entitled “Our God is Too Nice”, contains a survey conducted by the National Study of Youth and Religion on what today’s Christian American teenagers believe. They created a new term to describe this loosely held set of beliefs, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. Here is a condensed version of the findings:
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 feel good about yourself.
4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.”
Hmm. Here are my thoughts (in no particular order):
Having three teenagers myself, I see their struggle between the adult rising within them, with complex ideas and accompanying responsibilities, and their desire to revert back to simple, more comforting, childlike roles. Teenagers are not quite a grown up, not quite a kid. With that as a backdrop, I can see how some of these notions would fit the age. It is reassuring to believe that someone else is in charge and that someone will take care of us (only if and when we ask them). It is certainly assuages our human fears of death and/or hell. If we are good, if we behave, we will go to heaven.
However, I asked my own children (19, 18, and 16) to respond to the above list of basic concepts of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. My kids are typical American teenagers in many ways, but they are unusually deep and perceptive thinkers. (I know; I’m their mother, so of course I think they’re brilliant; but just indulge me). In addition, they were steeped in church life since infancy and have the privilege of being well-educated. Here are their answers to the above 5 points:
1. “God created the world, yes/ puts in it order, perhaps, but don’t forget about evolution’s role as well/ watches over us (hope so, but more likely is within us and around us in the world, actively participating in our joys and sorrows, not Mr. Fix it).” One stated that “the jury is still out if there really is a God.”
2. A resounding yes, “this is just common sense, what it means to be moral and ethical.” “Sounds overly simplistic though.”
3. A qualified no….being happy is good and feeling good about yourself is important, but they are not the central goal of life. While none of them was sure what the central goal of life was, words like “love, service, growth, and relationships”, were included. “Feeling good about yourself was necessary to be happy, but happiness is a byproduct, not a goal, and what about the people in Darfur and Afghanistan?” “This belief of the goal of life being personal happiness isn’t even Christian.” “This is just our consumerist culture.”
4. “Won’t even answer this, it’s too ridiculous. Who believes that?? It’s like a genie in a bottle. This is the same kind of personal deity who saves some people on a plane (and that proves to them, there’s miracles) while allowing others to die, including babies (and they say that’s God’s will).”
5. (Note: This is what they were all taught as children in the Catholic Faith). Here are their 3 very different answers:
b. “I believe good and bad people go to heaven, all our welcome, a loving God takes everyone.” (My Universal Salvationist).
c.”I don’t know if there is a heaven, I don’t believe in hell, but I’m starting to think they are both just human constructs or metaphors pointing to something else”.
The writer of The Christian Century article, Kenda Creasy Dean, is rightfully discouraged by the wave of “MTD” sweeping the churches. It certainly does reflect how our predominant culture has infiltrated even our views about God and the role of religion in our lives. And she is right, this milquetoast of a faith won’t stand up against the pain and suffering that besets every human life. REAL religion, whatever it is, has to be solid enough to provide a firm foundation and clear enough to utilize in our daily lives. Superficiality and vague platitudes don’t have the substance when it’s time to just hold on. If your faith doesn’t provide spiritual sustenance, perhaps the place to begin is to ask the questions, “What is worship?, “Who is it for?”