“Moralistic therapeutic deism.” That’s the term sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined to describe the religious beliefs of the average North American. Rev. Robert Vinciguerra calls it “egonovism,” a neologism constructed of “ego” and “novo,” new. Rev. Rob claims that most Americans are Egonovists, even though most don’t know it.
Why are they saying such things? Here’s one reason: Something on the order of 80% of Americans claim to be Christian, but 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation and 20% believe in karma, decidedly UN-Christian concepts. Such statistics tell us that Americans have gone way beyond “cafeteria Christianity” in our “spiritual but not religious” zeitgeist.
A Wikipedia article summarizes the beliefs of moralistic therapeutic deism:
1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human
life on earth.
(NB: This point alone disqualifies the system as “deist.” Deists believe there
was a god who was the prime mover at the beginning of the universe,
but that god is now hands-off.)
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.
(Rather a far cry from that old Christian hymn that intoned “such a worm as I.”)
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when
God is needed to resolve a problem.
(Apparently Jesus was confused about that numbering the hairs on the head thing.)
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Which is the first tip-off that something may be wrong here. How likely is it that the same god who smote the Egyptians is cool with whatever . . . and shoveling out favors?
Doesn’t this list sound like wish-fulfillment at its best—an ATM god who awaits our every whim and clearly loves the wealthy more than the poor, underwriting an unjust economic and social system that happens to be handing out bennies to lucky me.
And, while this god is reloading the ATM, I’m free to do as I like . . . as long as I’m nice.
As Rev. Bob’s “ego” in Egonovist points out, this theology has an “I” problem, doesn’t it? Whoever “I” am and whatever I’m doing is just fine with this god.
Past the Smiting
If you have read this far, it’s not likely you are a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist or even a Deistic Moral Relativist. After all, an Egonovist won’t be convinced by logic or reference to theology at all, because an important aspect of Egonovism is that it requires no pondering. No daily devotion. No sacrifice. The Egonovist god merely sits . . . or waits . . . somewhere, ready to dish out bennies to me.
None of that “straight is the gate and narrow is the way” stuff.
Sorry to sound like a Calvinist or something but am I the only one who’d like to see Jesus make himself a “whip made of cords” and do clearing of the temple here?
No, the moneychangers aren’t going to be getting their tables kicked by the Egonovists.
The admission price to Egonovism is self-satisfaction and good ol’ fashion hypocrisy.
How Likely Is That?
Don’t get me wrong: I think the moral theistic deist deity is as likely as any of the other gods human beings have thought up over time. Yet, I’m convinced that the point of religions is—and has always been—to stretch us, to call us to higher purposes than our basic lazy, selfish primate selves. Sure, religions also give teeth to social norms and underwrite whatever taboos a particular society has. Still, I can’t help thinking the various gods who have asked for a little effort have played some positive role in human affairs.
The Egonovist god, no so much.
Makes me glad I’m a humanist!