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Our Saviour Lutheran 56 Cleveland Dr. Croton on Hudson, NY 10520 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I was introduced to the above statement when I volunteered to help at an ELCA National Youth Gathering. My job was traveling theologian to teach youth workers about this idea. It was created by two sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton when looking at the faith lives of teenagers across faith lines. This was in 2005, so the teenagers then are the adults now.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism was a view of God which goes a little like this-
  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
On the surface, there doesn’t seem much wrong with this view of God. The ideas of goodness and niceness seem, on the surface, wonderful goals to have. Where it begins to break down is around the topics of tragedy and trauma.

What I used to teach is not only does this go against one of the theological tenets of the Lutheran church, namely we find God on the cross in the form of Jesus Christ and therefore we see God working when we experience trauma as well as joy aka Theology of the Cross, but beyond theology how does one look at tragedy through this lens?

The other lesson I taught was this- Jesus wasn’t always nice and often questioned “goodness.” This was the one which stopped people in their tracks. “Didn’t Jesus love everyone?” My answer was always “yes, but.” In that lovingness didn’t always mean niceness as it is a false equivalency.

Take Matthew 23 for example. Jesus is sitting with his disciples and just lambasting the Pharisees and all those who bring people down by focusing on the law rather than love. He repeats the phrase “woe to you...” over and over again while tearing into their actions. Jesus wasn’t always nice, but he was loving.

Here is the tough part about moralist therapeutic deism. It isn’t a new phenomenon. The final teaching I had around this is the youth of 2005 (now adults) were taught this by the adults of their time. This means there have been a number of generations teaching about a God who is distant and far off who is only there when you need it. This God is loving and caring and only expects you to do the same. There is no tragedy in this world. Instead, we teach about God who is intimate and loving, but present in our lives during tragedy and trauma.
Pastor Justin Johnson
Our Saviour Croton on Hudson

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Our Saviour Lutheran Church · 56 Cleveland Dr · Croton on Hudson, NY 10520-2751 · USA

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