Talking to Students about M.T.D.

As I said in my last post, I’m in Vancouver BC this week…teaching a course on Adolescent Development and Family Systems.  It is all good…good class…good bunch of students.  I’m having a good time.  One of the snapshots of reality that we hang on for a while was noted in Christian Smith’s book, Soul Searching.  After a multi-year analysis of American (Western) teens (the National Study of Youth and Religion), Christian came to the conclusion that most students are in reality not "doctrinally" sound or even "orthodox" Christians.  Most are what he calls, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deists".  This is a very important study and a very provocative conclusion especially when one considers the fact that students LEARN this brand of theology from somewhere…in other words, this belief system doesn’t just "appear" out of a vacuum.  It is something that is "learned" from observation and participation in what most of them are exposed to in not only the culture at large but the Christian sub-culture in specific. 

Here is a sum of M.T.D. from the book:

Despite what the scriptures teach about God (for example, the  word “Lord” (adonia, YHWH in Hebrew , kurios in Greek – the word for Lord used 6604 times in entire bible, 186 times in gospels alone), that being that God is supreme in authority, beyond definition, so holy other that the Jews didn’t even say or write the name of God…God has become more of our mascot in our culture and less Lord – God has become domesticated, tamed, spiritualized and trivialized.  Most students would say that "Jesus is my best friend and buddy"…adults sometimes refer to God as superficial “the man upstairs”. 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – has become the “Operational Theology” of life:

  • Religion operates in the background of life
  • Religious living in a substantially socially weak position
  • Pragmatic view of spirituality – “if it makes me a better person”
  • Individualistic, instinctively autonomous and self-directed
  • Morality – very minimal – “just don’t be a jerk”
  • OK to be moderately religious as long as you are NOT a fanatic
  • One student was quoted to say, “I’ll get serious about religion before I die…now I’m just trying to get laid”
  • Most students are inarticulate about faith and are very “compartmentalized” in practicing their faith if they practice it at all
  • “God doesn’t require much of you…if you want to follow him, that’s OK…if you blow it, he’ll forgive you”
  • the MTD Creed – “God exists and watches over the world; he wants people to be good, nice and fair; the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself; God doesn’t need to be involved in your life unless you need him to solve a problem; good people go to heaven when they die”
  • Moralist – be a good person, nice, kind, respectful, responsible, successful, fulfill your potential, a person others like, take care of your health, don’t be disruptive, “just don’t be an a**ho**”
  • Therapeutic – feel good, happy, at peace, very subjective, don’t concentrate on sin or anything bad, get along with others
  • Deist – distant God, not involved in daily life, designs life and leaves us alone, cannot be demanding, Cosmic Butler, worst thing God can do is NOT provide his blessings to us, the reason things are going bad in the world is that God is not as famous as he once was…he’s on vacation, “he believes in forgiving people and what not”
  • Religion provides feelings of mental and psychological security, helps you with a positive attitude toward life, helps you through problems, helps you be more successful, “whatever makes you feel good about you”

I commend this book, the new dvd as well as this assessment to you…take it seriously.  It is something that every leader needs to take seriously…in other words, what is the net result of our teaching and leadership in the home and in local churches?  Are students understanding the truth about God or are they becoming, in reality, syncretists…blending religious systems for their own convenience?  There are great questions that surface from within Smith’s excellent work…I would start asking them and discussing them if I were you!  More to come…it’s getting late and I need to get some sleep!

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