Why Our Society’s New “Religion” Fails: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Since I’m on the college campus quite often, I intentionally try to interact with students on worldview and religion. The average student seems to be religious, but in a strange way. Their religion seems to be a hodgepodge of worldviews. For example, a guy once told me the universe and all of life was created by God. However, he also said that the universe and life came through undirected natural processes. Sure, God could have used process like abiogenesis and neo-Darwinism to get us here, but these are grounded on unguided processes. So now we are talking about a God who did not create at all. This obviously did not make sense to me so I asked for clarification. Confused himself, he had no answer. I assume he walked away scratching his head. It seemed he liked the idea of God existing, but he also wanted God to do nothing.

So many people call themselves Christian, but their inconsistent beliefs and lives are wobbly and rubbery, it’s hard to pin down what they really believe. Besides being inconsistent, there seems to be a strong sense of self, I am the authority of my life. There is an assumption of the “me factor,” my rights, my freedom, my morality, my truth and my body. Then there is relativism, some things are true for me, but not for you. I think God exists, so he exists for me. Abortion is wrong, I would not do it, but others should have choice. Really, who am I to judge?

American sociologists, Christian Smith, studied the “religion” of today’s youth. I think his findings confirm my anecdotal observations. In his book, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers”, he gives this “new religion” a name: “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD). Here are the five main points of MTD along with my thoughts.

1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

From my experience, many in the west assume the existence of some sort of higher power. It seems that many think this deity is a little like a “cosmic grandpa” with a long white beard who just “sits up in heaven” watching out for us. Now, of course, many of such people identify as some “Christian,” even though this is not even close to the Christian God. This sounds more like a big dose of a god they thought up with an admixture of a skewed view of the biblical concept of God.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

This point illustrates the predominate pluralist mindset; the idea that all religions are essentially the same. Superficially, this may seem to be true, but in the particulars this is not the case. When fundamentals and critical points of each religion are examined, different and contradictory claims appear. Sure, some moral teachings do seem to overlap at times, but often religions teach different things for goodness, niceness and fairness. Which is right, Christianity, Islam or Hinduism? Christianity says love your enemy, Islam says murder them and Hinduism says make a cast system. People who say such things don’t seem to even know what these religions even teach.

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Another notable difference is the Jesus taught in Islam versus Christianity. Islam claims Jesus was just a prophet, was not God and he did not raise from the dead. Christianity teaches Jesus of Nazareth was more than just a prophet, he was God in the flesh and he rose from the dead. It would be one thing if these were just superficial differences, but they are rather foundational to both religions! Either Islam is true and Christianity is false, or Christianity is true and Islam is false. Sure, both could be false, maybe Jesus never existed, but both surly can’t be true.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

As I said above, it seems that “me” is the most important thing in our world. I think it has become a god to us! One can’t help but hear society as a whole say “follow your heart,” “you have rights,” “others should accept you for who you are,” “follow your truth” and “you need more self esteem.” Sure, at one level, freedom and rights, liberty and personal autonomy are essential human rights. But there also seems to be a point where these break down. For example, I do not always have the right desires, I should not expect people to approve of my bad behaviors, I should not always follow my “truth” nor should I always be full of self esteem.

Anyone who has lived a thoughtful and observant life will tell you that being human is full of problems and pain, sadness and sickness, disease and death. In addition, our personal happiness ought be throttled by our responsibilities to our families and neighbors. There is only one of me, but billions of others. The center of the world does not run down my spine.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

While some type of God does exist, the view is that this God is somewhat standoffish, maybe like a cosmic butler who is summoned at my bidding. If I need resolution to a problem, our cosmic butler can be called for a quick response to the solution. But again, it seems the focus is “me.”

The problem lies in the fact that in reality the focus is not “me”, rather God. If God really did create everything, he is the one who is at the center, not me. In addition, it is a false view of God. God is not only all powerful, but he is also all knowing. He is a personal being who makes personal decisions. Simply put, God acts on his own time scale and in his own way. He does not need to capitulate to my demands or my requests. God can say yes, later or no.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This sounds nice and fine, but my observation is that most don’t really quite know what being good actually is. Maybe it is just being nice? If so, can’t bad people be nice too? What about fair? Maybe kind?

Our culture shouts that being LGBT is good, rape is bad, abortion is bad for me but fine for others, vulgarity is fine, blasphemy is fine, smoking is bad, racism is bad, masculinity is bad, femininity is good, socialism is good, big families are bad, sex out of marriage is good (as long it’s consensual), transgenderism is good, capital punishment is bad, war is bad, environmentalism is good and animal abuse is bad. I could go on and on. But as I look at this typical list, I don’t really see a pattern. It looks like a hodgepodge of PC “good” and “bad” things. It is scary to see that some of the things that are called bad are actually good and some things that are called good are actually bad!

In addition, it seems most are blindly basing their morality upon what they hear from pop-stars, pop-media, their friends and their own opinion. Thus, everyone thinks themselves as good people, because they did the ultimate deciding.

When people think culture decides or I decide morality, there is a problem, cultures and people have different ideas and standards. Unless there is an absolute standard, whose right? How can you punish someone for wrong if his or her culture says it it right, like Hitler? What if I think what I am doing is good, but someone else thinks its bad, who is right?

The Answer

That’s where Christianity comes into play, besides being the largest religion on earth, it also is the most unique. It is so different from the other religions that it doesn’t really seem to fit the religion mold.

What other world religion makes testable and public claims? What other world religion better explains the origin of the universe and life on earth? What other world religion finds its claims consistently validated through the scientific enterprise? What other world religion has such testable public claims? What other world religion does a better job at promoting reason and science, responsible and rights, life and liberty, progress and personal worth?  What other world religion has done more good for the world? What other world religion or worldview best matches reality? What other world religion better address why we are rational, creative and moral beings? What other world religion gives better answers to our deepest needs and problems? What other world religion rightly identifies our moral condition and humanity’s problem?

Here’s the identification of our problem, we all have done wrong, been bad, broke the law and we deserve punishment. If one does not think this, a few cold cut questions remedy this denial. Who has never lied? Who has never taken something that was not theirs? Who has never hated another person? Who has never lusted? Who has never blasphemed God and his name? We all know deep down that each of these things are bad. Now, I may not have done one or two of this things, but just doing one of them puts me in the “bad camp” of people.

Christianity not only identifies our condition, but also provides the remedy. Jesus, the universal religious figure, sits right at the center of this remedy. Jesus is the answer, taking our place for punishment, reconciling us to the Father, removing our debt of sin and redeeming us from the powers of  Satan.

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Paul TrelcJohnEd VaessenJohn JaegerAstrid Agterberg Recent comment authors
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Astrid Agterberg
Astrid Agterberg

Why do most Christian’s need the blood of Jesus ,
When Jesus said “t is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life./John 6/63

Why do we need that worthless body at the cross ?Why do we have to eat that body and drink the blood ,when the flesh profiteth nothing ?

John Jaeger

Is there a father worthy of that title who would not give his life to save that of his own child? The very question answers itself. The Lord is our Heavenly Father and in a like manner, gave His life for us. No man made this up. It’s far too complicated and incredible to be the product of human imagination. As the author gives in his answer, the evidence and effects of Christianity are extremely compelling. That is why Christianity is the most popular organization in human history. It’s compelling. It works. It gives us hope, and guidelines, and joy.

Ed Vaessen
Ed Vaessen

“What other world religion makes testable and public claims? What other world religion better explains the origin of the universe and life on earth? What other world religion finds its claims consistently validated through the scientific enterprise? ”
Well, it depends on the claims, doesn’t it?
If Christianity says that less than 10,000 years ago there existed an Adam&Eve who had no parents and that we all descended from then, then it is quite wrong.

Ed Vaessen
Ed Vaessen

“Christianity not only identifies our condition, but also provides the remedy. Jesus, the universal religious figure, sits right at the center of this remedy. Jesus is the answer, taking our place for punishment, reconciling us to the Father, removing our debt of sin and redeeming us from the powers of  Satan.” There seems few need for Jesus to take the punishment for a variety of reasons. What is the justification for punishment? Of course, in our society, punishment is one of the vital tools we have to help us to keep society together. Just like reward is. Social beings as… Read more »


Thank you for this article, really enjoyed reading the truth in it is important for our selfreflection in God’s light. Keep this blessed work up.

Paul Trelc
Paul Trelc

Great article, Daniel!


“Thus, everyone thinks themselves as good people, because they did the ultimate deciding.”

This is the essence of sin and the very temptation of Satan, that is, deciding for ourselves what is good and evil.

We must preach what God has already declared.