“Well, God is almighty, I guess. But I think he’s on vacation right now because of all the [stuff] that’s happening in the world, cause it wasn’t like this back when he was famous.” – 16-year-old Protestant from Texas
In his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith explores what he describes as “the de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” He labels this religion as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” and he states that the creed of this religion is summed up as:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one’s self.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to solve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
In quoting thousands of teens from all kinds of religions, Smith finds the same moral vision and primary goal of well-being to be almost ubiquitous. In this “religion,” serving others and praying and doing good are primarily important because of how good they make us feel about ourselves. Praying is also important to those surveyed because when things are bad, you can pray and God will help, like a genie granting wishes.
The problem with the God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is that it is not the God of the Bible. As Smith writes, “This God is not Trinitarian, he did not speak through the Torah or the prophets of Israel, was never resurrected from the dead, and does not fill and transform people through his Spirit. This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, since his job is just to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, [this] God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist.”
I believe there are two important things to take away from Smith’s book. The first is that this growing idea of God doesn’t begin to even come close to the scale of relationship that God wants to have with each one of us. God is not just a universal factory worker who started the production line and watches the bottles go by, stepping in only when one is upside-down. God wants to be something deeper, something necessary for each one of us every day. God came and died for us and paid the price for our sins because we can’t ever be good enough on our own. God doesn’t just want us to be happy – He wants us to experience true Joy and that only comes through God’s being something more to us than a fairy godmother.
The other thing to note here is that this new “religion” is absolutely not confined to teenagers. Most teens are simply following the examples set for them by their parents. As I look out at the landscape that is the world today, I believe it is common throughout all ages and places and religions or non-religions.
If the description of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism sounds too close to your understanding of God, I would encourage you to look deeper. Join me during this season of Lent in diving a little deeper into the Scriptures, and praying a little harder and longer for God to open your eyes to His truth. Only then might we realize that the world is the way it is, not because God is on vacation, but because humanity has turned away from what was common knowledge back “when He was famous.” God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.