(See Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Part 1 here)
Imagine the Christian faith as an iceberg. The majority of an iceberg is under water and only a minority of it is visible. In the case of Christianity, most of what has historically been considered the basis of faith is doctrine or theology; the doctrine of God, the doctrine of humanity, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of Israel and the Church, the doctrine of Revelation, etc. Many of these things are also what make Christianity unique and distinctive, not least of which is the Christian confession about Jesus as God’s Son, the revelation of God, the atonement for sins, and the way of salvation.
If that’s the base of the iceberg, the tip of the iceberg is the many excellent ways that Christianity benefits the faithful. These are important and necessary parts of religion and I do not mean to belittle them. However, I say they are the tip of the iceberg because they “rest on top” of its base. The subjective and experiential benefits of faith rest on the objective reality of faith. There are three specific components of this “visible” part of religion which form the primary set of beliefs for the Moralistic Therapeutic Deist. These are: (1) Religion makes us moral. (2) Religion makes us happy. (3) God helps us when we ask. I’ll go into each of these in greater detail later.
Christianity is Christianity when this balance is maintained, when we understand that the varied and diverse benefits of the faith rest only on the real person and work of God in the world throughout history. MTD arises when the iceberg is overturned. When that happens, the benefits of the faith become primary, and the work of God becomes secondary, a mere means to an end. The inevitable result is that the distinctive and doctrinal elements of the faith are de-emphasized, universalized, or outright rejected. Doctrine is seen as unimportant, unless it can be used to make us happy or moral. Or, ideas are universalized. “The resurrection” of Jesus becomes “a resurrection” each of us can experience. Other doctrinal ideas, especially those which don’t immediately engender happy feelings, like the final judgment, the necessity of repentance, the nature of suffering, a Christian sexual ethic, etc. are outright rejected.
Meanwhile, the benefits of religion are seen as the whole of religion and, in fact, become a new religion with a new creed and a new gospel. MTD continues to use the language of Christianity but lacks the substance. It’s not that the substance is outright rejected (though some of it is), it is just lost and replaced by broad, ambiguous concepts of morality, happiness, and divine assistance. The object of religion ceases to be God and is turned to the Self.
In the world of MTD, evangelism and conversion are either seen as unnecessary or downright destructive. Why is this? Because, with the distinctive elements of Christianity eliminated every religion looks the same. Never mind the fact that the major religions really do have very different teachings about morality, fulfillment, and divine assistance. The perception is that they all teach roughly the same thing. “Whatever works for you.” “Whatever makes you happy.” “Whatever helps you cope with life.” These are the true tasks of religion, says MTD, so whatever works for the individual is what that individual should choose. If you get along just fine in another religion, Christianity has nothing to offer.
This is what happens when the iceberg is flipped.
Next Monday Part 3: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the warping of basic beliefs