Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron's religion?

Be NiceOnly 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
  3. 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.

John Meunier has given a rather more detailed description of Advanced MTD, to which Kenda Creasy Dean herself gave an appreciative response.

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!

7 thoughts on “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron's religion?

  1. I’ve spent about 11 years of my life in the United Methodist Church (I’m on my third church now in that denomination) and I definitely wouldn’t characterise any of the congregations I’ve belonged to/attended as being MTD.

    I spent a lot of my time growing up in the Bible Belt in the US, and while I don’t know that MTD was necessarily taught from the pulpits, I *do* think that there were quite a few people in the pews who would be accurately described as MTDers. For a lot of people south of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River, going to church is just what you do…regardless of your beliefs. ‘Good people’ go to church.

  2. I like this. It looks like an excellent summary of the nominal so called Christianity held by many – both outside the church visisble and a number within it.

  3. I’ve not encountered this phrase before, but with the possible exception of the therapeutic bit, it does seem to me to describe a sort of sub-christianity that was very prevalent when I was a child and is still found even now. It goes with statements like ‘I’m not that religious but I’m a great believer in the Sermon on the Mount’ – proof if you want it that the person hasn’t read it recently.

    Fundamental to this view is that Christianity’s value is dependent not on whether it is true but on whether it serves the state and is good for society. Rather than us serving God, he is enlisted to serve us.

    I suspect this criticism of ‘our Dave’ has something in it, but I don’t think he’s the only leading politician in recent years who might be guilty of this. As for church leaders, though, which ones have really accommodated themselves to MTD, and which ones go along with some of its manifestations in the hope of by those means in due course saving some? An acid test might be if there are any who have criticised Rowan this Easter for scaring the horses by saying the Resurrection is true and fundamental.

  4. Thank you, Dru. Yes, I suspect the “therapeutic” part is a recent add-on of American origin. Traditional British religion was more of the grin and bear it variety: cold churches, hard pews, and strict standards of morality. But the pendulum is swinging towards the more American idea, that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable human right even in church.

    Indeed Cameron is not alone among politicians in being MTD. I would guess that there is some of it among Church of England clergy, but that it is far more widespread among the laity.

  5. I think a lot of our fellow country-persons find Pelagianism comes much more naturally than orthodox Christianity. Cold baths and prudence just demand effort which is so much less troubling than engaging with God personally.

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