Christianity's Bastard Child

There’s been much made over a recent Newsweek article about the end of Christian America. There’s lots that’s been said about this, but one of the more compelling questions is, what would replace Christianity as a sort of public civic religion for the United States? Damon Linker is postulating that it might be something called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” Linker explains:

What will provide the theological content of the nation’s civil religion now that the “mere orthodoxy” of the evangelical-Catholic alliance has proven unsuitable for a pluralistic nation of 300 million people? To my mind, the most likely and salutary option is moralistic therapeutic deism. Here is the core of its (Rousseauian) catechism, in the words of sociologist Christian Smith:

1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”

2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by 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.”

Theologically speaking, this watered-down, anemic, insipid form of Judeo-Christianity is pretty repulsive. But politically speaking, it’s perfect: thoroughly anodyne, inoffensive, tolerant. And that makes it perfectly suited to serve as the civil religion of the highly differentiated twenty-first century United States.

It is not overly difficult to see the roots of this religion having first infested some of the more sentimental strains of Christianity. These Christians who suffer from an affection for the precursors of moralistic therapeutic deism maybe mainline liberal protestants or they may be conservative evangelicals – this crap is so theologically neutered, it can appeal to anyone. The problem with opposing such maudlin business is that it is usually embraced by the elderly, Sunday school teachers, Ned Flanders, and teenage girls. In other words, by people who you might not want to tell off, because you would look like a bully. In fact, many people will defend obvious prosperity gospel hucksters (see points three and four above) because their elderly relatives believed in these thieves and they are hesitant to besmirch the beliefs of these cherished family members.