Moralistic therapeutic deism

Moralistic therapeutic deism

Moralistic therapeutic deism is a term introduced in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005) by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. The term (abbreviated MTD) is used to describe what they consider to be the common religious beliefs among American youth.[1][2][3] The book is the result of a research project the, "National Study of Youth and Religion," privately funded by the Lilly Endowment.



The authors find that many young people believed in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. It is this combination of beliefs that they label Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

  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.

These points of belief were compiled from interviews with approximately 3,000 teenagers.[4]

Authors' analysis

The authors say the system is "moralistic" because it "is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person."[5] The authors describe the system as being "about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherent" as opposed to being about things like "repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering..."[5] and further as "belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs--especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved."[5]

The remoteness of God in this kind of theism explains the choice of the term "Deism," even though "the Deism here is revised from its classical eighteenth-century version by the therapeutic qualifier, making the distant God selectively available for taking care of needs." It views God as "something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he's always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."[5] It has been pointed out that this use of the term presents a misuse of Deism.[6] An examination of the term reveals that "Deism is belief in God through Reason, Nature, and/or Experience" but that "MTD supporters base their beliefs almost entirely off of what makes them feel good (hence the word "Therapeutic"), not any sort of logical, intellectual reasoning."[6] This presents the first error in using the term "Deism."

The authors believe that "a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."[5] But it is pointed out as well that a second error in the use of "Deism" is that the active deity posited could make this simply another branch of Christianity, but one not recognized by other sects equally amorphous from an original perspective.[6]


Damon Linker suggested in a 2009 blog post that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, while theologically "insipid," is "perfectly suited to serve as the civil religion of the highly differentiated twenty-first century United States,"[7] a contention that was disputed by Collin Hansen, Ross Douthat, and Rod Dreher.[1]


  1. ^ a b Collin, Hansen (20 April 2009). "Death By Deism". Christianity Today. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  2. ^ Veith, Gene Edward (25 June 2005). "A nation of deists". World. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion, Christian Post, 18 April 2005.
  5. ^ a b c d e Smith and Lundquist Denton (2005).[page needed]
  6. ^ a b c Underwood, Drew, Moralistic Therapeutic... Theism?, Springfield Deism Examiner, 2011-09-22;
  7. ^ Linker, Damon (2009-04-07). "The Future of Christian America". The New Republic. Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  • Christian Smith, Melina Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 9780195180954; 2009 reprint ISBN 9780195384772.

See also

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