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moralistic, therapeutic deism

In 2009 researchers at Notre Dame, Patricia Snell and Christian Smith, summarized their data-mining of millennials’ attitude toward religion. Regardless of religious upbringing, the vast majority of young Americans believe in an up-and-coming de facto cultural religion: moralistic, therapeutic deism. The basic tenants can be easily summarized …
  1. A God exists (perhaps a personal being, perhaps a force) who created and orders the world and watches over human life.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, and take care of the planet; as taught by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of human life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God need not be particularly involved in one’s life, except when needed to resolve a problem.
  5. All good people go to heaven when they die.

When asked what makes something right or wrong, there’s an all too-typical response: “For me, I guess, what makes something right or wrong is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and what’s wrong for them.”

This soft-core morality is the dark side of non-judgmental relativism. It explains the sexual-exploitation now inundating most every college campus. It also explains why a small minority of students can block campus free speech—they strongly feel certain speech ought not be heard.

In 1967, 86% of incoming college freshmen said their aim was to develop a philosophy of life. Fifty years later that same percentage now say their goal is to be financially successful. The minority of today’s students with any external sense of right-and-wrong must often defend their morality in and out of the classroom, as moral absolutes are opposed by peers and professors alike.

From millennials to baby-boomers our culture exhibits a widespread inability to think through moral problems—or even recognize them. Our unwillingness to make ourselves accountable to others explains why the only God we will countenance is a God hesitant to judge anyone.

Getting Religion, the author sums up his forty years covering American religion for Newsweek magazine. “We cannot control what may happen to us. Nothing lasts forever. We must die. These hold true for believer and nonbeliever alike. They are the existential facts of life that all religions in different ways address. In reply, Christians like myself are called to abide in Faith, Hope, and Love. What matters is that God’s grace is everywhere.” ~

Dan Nygaard