Saturday, June 4, 2016

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I recently finished reading a book by renown Christian author D.A. Carson entitled “The Intolerance of Tolerance” (I have included a link for it in the recommended books section; a very worthy read). The thesis of the author is how the new “tolerance” has become a monster that has swallowed up our society. In the name of tolerance, we have become averse to anything that may even hint of moral absolutes. We can’t judge anyone based on anything anymore because that may make us guilty of the greatest sin that our society believes can be committed today: offending someone. Thus, the relativism of the postmodern world has been injected with a dose of valueless steroids that have taken it to new heights.

Aside from the fact that even its most ardent proponents do not live consistently by the dictums of their own world view (the fact that they make a judgment about all judgements being wrong is, in itself, a fatal flaw of their philosophy), there is also the need for the new relativism to find something it can hang its hat on when it comes to values. After all, it is impossible for a society to be completely valueless. The idea that you can go through life not judging anything or anyone sounds good in principle, but it cannot possibly be carried out in practice. Even at a subconscious level, we’re making judgements about everything on a daily basis. It’s impossible to do otherwise. We decide what school is good and which one is not, we decide what food is better, and we decide what TV show is worth our time. These all sound like trivial choices, and in the grand scheme of things they may be. But they serve to illustrate that we cannot possibly eliminate choices and judgements from our lives. And the truth of the matter is that, when we make a judgement about something we are, by default, making a judgement about the people behind that something.

And that is where Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or MTD for short, comes in. With it, society can create a pattern for behavior that allows it to, as the old saying goes, have its cake and eat it too. You may be wondering how it accomplishes that enviable fact. Let me first of all, list what MTD sees as its five tenets:

1) A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over life on earth.
2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5) Good people go to heaven when they die.

You can see that MTD is just what the doctor ordered for a society steeped in the moral relativism of the postmodern world. Although naturalists would object to the idea that there is a God at all, most people will find this idea appealing simply because it makes no demands of them. After all, we are all taught to be nice, to treat each other with fairness and everything that goes with that. You will seldom find anyone who will teach their children to misbehave or to be obnoxious and rude to others. But what this is missing, obviously, is a final arbiter of good and evil and the judgement that will eternally decide who is rewarded and who is punished. Everyone becomes their own judge as to what is “nice” or “fair” and on and on. God, although he exists, is of no consequence since he is not involved in anyone’s life and is only good when we need him to solve some problem or another.

Although many people, yes even sitting in the pew next to you in church, talk about the existence of God and how he is sovereign over their lives, they live as though that were not the case. The idea of God as a benevolent being who makes it his aim to keep us fat dumb and happy and who will, in the end, make sure that all his creatures go to heaven to be with him has been one that has captivated human thinking for over two centuries. If you were to take a poll of 100 people on the street, how many of them do you think would tell you that they will go to hell when they die? How many would say that their dead relatives were condemned because they did not embrace the salvation that comes only through Christ? And so it goes. Humans are no different than the natural world they live in: they like to follow the path of least resistance, and if that means inventing a God who will give them everything they want, then that’s what they’ll do.

All this brings to the fore a very important issue for those of us who refuse to compromise the truth of the gospel. As society becomes more and more intolerant of intolerance, we will be squeezed ever so subtlety to the margins. There are many in the press and even in positions of power that are already calling for religion to be limited to the private sphere. You can speak of your religious convictions in the church, at home and within your own mind, but you should not be allowed to proclaim them publicly because doing so will show intolerance to others. Thus, in their rush to proclaim tolerance the god of this age, people are becoming more and more intolerant. It cannot be any other way. Someway, somehow, you’re going to have to make judgements about things as I have already mentioned. When you declare that being “intolerant” is wrong, then you had to judge it to be so. And all these seemingly innocuous actions will eventually lead somewhere more insidious. Sooner or later those who today say you can talk of religion in the home will want to silence you even there because they won’t want your children to be “indoctrinated.” (This is one of famous atheist Richard Dawkins’ greatest pet peeves!)

We have an unbeatable advantage over the relativist. We have a standard of morality and values that does not change. Because of that, we can make judgments that are true and that are based on what the God that created us, the God that society denies even as it tries to acknowledge him, has revealed. If God does exist, then the idea that he would reveal his will to his creatures is not only sensible, it’s necessary. A god that would leave us flailing along on our own is not a god who understands human frailty. We will always go our own way if we are left to our own devices. Thanks be to God, however, that he has given us an unfailing and inerrant revelation. In that fact, we can all rejoice!

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