As I travel, and experience Christianity around the world what strikes me most is that most of it isn’t Christianity.
There is a modern, false version of Christianity out there which Rod Dreher has described as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.
To unpack that phrase start at the end. Deism is the idea that God is out there somewhere separated from his world. Oh yes, he got the whole thing started, but he is the transcendent God.
Now the whole thing is going he has sat back to watch it all unfold. The God of Deism is sometimes called the Clockmaker God. He made the clock. It’s ticking. Now he’s disengaged. He might also be called the Playwright God. He wrote the play, cast it and raised the curtain, but now it goes on he sits up in his box to watch the show…or maybe he’s actually dozed off.
That’s the God of Deism. He’s Napping.
Deism is the product of rationalism and it’s also the sister of Calvinism. Both rationalism and Calvinism reacted against the incarnate God of Catholicism who is both transcendent and at the same time immanent. The immanent God is alive and active in the world through the Church. The transcendent God of Deism, Rationalism and Calvinism is not.
In both Protestantism and much of contemporary Catholicism, the God of Deism is the God people believe in. Oh sure, he is up there, but he doesn’t have much to do with me and my everyday life. This is not Catholicism, and the clash with real Catholicism is real and vital.
The second word in this phrase is “therapeutic”. Since God is out there on a cloud and doesn’t have much to do with us, we have to get on and make religion practical. So we have reduced the transaction with God to a method of making ourselves happier and making the world a better place through therapeutic methods. So we go on healing retreats and mega churches run parenting courses and seminars on managing your money and prayer sessions on how to become more alive and live the dynamic Christian life…It’s all therapeutic.
This is where the analysis gets complicated because we are supposed to be ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven–but this is the result of a supernatural transaction with God through repentance, faith and the power of the sacraments. It is not meant to be the primary action. Otherwise it is not really much better than secular counseling. Therapy without God is no more than self help. But if God is “out there” and uninvolved, than self help is the best we can offer.
The third word is “moralistic”. In the absence of a God who is involved with us and with his world, religion becomes a list of do’s and don’ts. It becomes a moralistic form of legalism and empty idealism. If God is not integrated with our lives then all we have left is to try to be good people and make the world a better place by getting everyone to behave.
This is what most of Protestantism has been reduced to and which, sadly, most of American Catholicism has also bee reduced to.
No wonder people are leaving this false religion in droves. It is even a stretch to call it a religion because religion has, from the beginning of time, in every age and in every culture, been about an interaction with the divine. In many different ways every form of real religion has been about a meeting between the human and divine, this world and the next, the natural and the supernatural.
And yet despite the fact that more and more people are abandoning this false religion the modernists keep dishing up more of the same. They are like the insane people who, seeing the rise in teen pregnancies, say, “I guess we need MORE sex education at a younger age.” They’re like the socialists who see poverty increasing as a result of their programs and say, “I guess we need MORE socialism.”
The same is true of those who follow this empty parody of religion.
Moralistic, therapeutic Deism? It’s not a cure. It’s a curse.