Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Sometimes there are advantages to my advanced age. The World magazine article here from a few years ago was part of a major rumpus concerning something called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that most of our adolescents, including many in evangelical churches, actually believe. Big deal, I thought. It bore a great resemblance to what everyone around me believed in the Eisenhower administration. I never really personally met people of a different view (except for a few conservative Catholics) until I ran into Jesus Movement people in college after 1970. The one difference is that I would call the Eisenhower era version of this Moralistic Stoic Deism. It was the established religion behind the Protestant-Catholic-Jew establishment of that era. I think it was more ‘stoic’ than ‘therapeutic’ because memories of the Depression were green, and because many people had served in the military (a more stoic than therapeutic institution, by its very nature) because of the recent unpleasantness in Europe and the Pacific (i.e., WWII). It differed from today’s MTD in some of its ethical beliefs, particularly about sexuality – conflicts between MSD and evangelicalism tended to focus on drinking, smoking, and dancing, and other not very Biblical issues. But theologically, MSD and MTD hardly differ at all. C. S. Lewis refers to a similar phenomenon in his essay from God in the Dock, “The Decline of Religion” in England even earlier. I think it was the God of MSD that was put in the flag salute and on our coins in the early 50s, and it is the God of MSD and MTD that was prayed to in public schools before ‘prayer’ was removed from public schools, and that would return if “prayer in public schools” were ever restored. I have taken Religious Right stances about some social issues, but as a Reformed Evangelical, I have never been enthusiastic about that particular one. Now, prayer FOR public schools, maybe. That sounds like a good idea!

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