Therapeutic Moralistic Deism is not a heresy formally founded by any individual person or church body. MTD doesn’t have an online website with a church locator. But you will find this heresy everywhere in the church…though so very few have ever heard of it.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is precisely what the name suggests. A professor from Notre Dame, Christian Smith, coined the term to describe a set of beliefs he found while researching the religious beliefs of young people. He said it’s the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers,” and outlined the basic tenants of the heresy. You can purchase his book on Amazon by going here.
Among the thousands of teenagers he surveyed, the following core ideas about God and religion are common among all:
- There is a God who created the world and who oversees human life on earth.
- In line with the Bible and most religions, God desires people to be good, nice, and fair to one another.
- The overall goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.
- God is involved in one’s life only to the degree needed to fix problems.
- When they die, good people go to heaven (or whatever heaven they believe in).
As we read through these tenants, we begin to see the “moralistic” nature of the heresy with point number two. Simply put, MTD asserts that all religious systems or “gods” want people to behave, to treat others nicely and fairly, and to tend toward kindness. As Christians, we would say this isn’t necessarily wrong. To be sure, God does call all people to obey the commandments which, if perfectly obeyed, would mean treating others decently, kindly, lovingly, and as God treats us. The problem, of course, is that we cannot keep the commandments perfectly, so trying to moralize people while concluding that such moralizing is what leads to an afterlife is a foolish endeavor, and why this is heresy. Our salvation is in Christ alone who kept the Law perfect for us, because we cannot.
The “therapeutic” aspect is found in point number 3. This is the most insidious part of the heresy. Even many Christians who reject this heresy still believe that the goal of this life is to be happy and to feel good about life and self. This “therapeutic” facet is a purely western idea that permeates our entire culture. We are a society who seeks therapy and good feelings…all the time! If it’s not from counseling, it’s from pills. If not from pills, it’s from sex. If not from sex, it’s from shopping and spending money. If not money, it’s trying to use religion, including Christianity, as a therapeutic.
We raise our children to be “happy” and “successful” and “engaged” with their world. We give them “choices” and “options” and we tell them we “love them” and “support them” no matter what they do. We therapize our children. Then we come to church, and we want a pastor who therapizes, music that therapizes, a therapizing experience. Anything to make us happy, to make us feel good. If it’s not a marginalizing of God’s gift of sex and marriage and using these gifts as He intends, it’s a marginalizing of gender and human sexuality, confusing male and female and giving males who want to be female support and affirming words rather than speaking the truth. It’s as if Christianity and the church has become a great counseling center, pastors are its therapists, and the service is the comfy couch.
Perhaps the most devastating facet of this part of MTD’s heresy is how it strips Christians of their duty to take up their crosses, to suffer even a little bit for the faith, to speak the truth, even if the truth is hard to hear. We can no longer take a stand for what we believe because it might hurt someone else’s feelings…and we consider such a therapy lifestyle godly and Christlike.
Finally, the fourth point exposes the “deistic” nature of the heresy. Deism is a teaching about a generalized “god being” who certainly created all things but has since left the building. He wound the clock and stepped back. This deistic god hardly, if ever, involves himself with humanity, with his creation, and true Deism asserts that their god isn’t involved at all until a future judgment day. But for those who believe as MTD’s, God is hardly involved…unless a holy 9-1-1 call is placed. God comes around in emergency situations in one’s life, but that’s it. God couldn’t care less about how one lives his life, his day to day, how he uses his money, etc. but only shows up in the spiritual ICU.
There is more to say about this heresy, and this only scratches the surface. You can read the full article in the August 2023 edition of Lutheran Witness. You can subscribe online or order the printed subscription. If you already get Lutheran Witness, you’ll find this article on page 10.