Only this evening I came across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), in Allan Bevere’s post Jesus Without the Church? Not! The term was apparently coined by Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian (which I have not read). Bevere quotes Ben Gosden‘s summary definition of the beliefs of MTD adherents:
- Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
- Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
- Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.
Dean, Meunier, Gosden and Bevere all suggest that MTD is the typical religion of American churches, at least from their shared perspective in the United Methodist Church. Indeed Meunier writes that
This religion is so deeply embedded into our congregations that digging it out will be fatal to most. Like a cancerous tumor, it has invaded too many vital organs to be safely dug out.
I can’t help wondering if this MTD is in fact just as deeply and fatally embedded into most churches here in the UK, especially but not only in the Church of England. Perhaps the “therapeutic” side is not so strong here. But the deism is probably even stronger: nobody expects God to intervene just because “someone needs an answer to a problem”.
This, it seems to me, is the kind of religion which Prime Minister David Cameron professes, as seen for example in his Easter message, in which he spoke of two roles of faith:
Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions …
And for him “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity” are “values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance”. But there is no mention here of God intervening in anything, except Cameron perhaps implicitly rejects this in his sceptical remarks about the Resurrection, which I discussed in my post Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection.
Nor is there any explicit mention of the “Therapeutic” aspect of MTD, but this is implicit in his remarks about tolerance and in support of gay marriage. Cameron clearly believes that homosexuals have the right to have anything which they think will make them happy, and anyone who seeks to deny this, even with the intention of “strengthening our institutions”, is considered intolerant and beyond the pale. Now he is entitled to his opinion on this matter, but it is one more characteristic of MTD than of true biblical Christianity.
So, what can we do? It looks as if Cameron wants to encourage MTD in this country, at the expense of genuine Christian faith. But when so many of our church leaders are adherents of MTD, what can the rest of us do? Well, I guess we can show MTD to be false when, in response to our prayers, we see God intervene to set our nation to rights. So let us pray!