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American Christianity: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Maybe there was a reason ‘The Mysteries’ were secret, even to catechumens, in the early Church? Why were they so concerned and protective about these matters? Might it have been to guard them from charlatans and other maleficents? ☺

Fr Jerome Bertram points out two errors in prayer: that it’s about getting things, or having an experience. I think he’s right, but for most, what’s left, then?

To the outsider our religion is not seen as being caught in a cosmic battle, but just another comfort blanket. We just choose the Catholic one. Our narrative reinforces this. We seem to be reducing it to a feel-good fairy tale rather than a sermon, a witness. Even ‘traditional’ liturgies, can feel more like visiting a fairytale castle in Disneyland with magical languages, ‘sparkly things’, and incantations no-one wants spoilt by the ‘tasteless’. It seems more driven by aestheticism or disgust than ecstasis. A bubble to escape from the mundane whilst staying firmly within it. More kitsch than Kirk.

We wail around a monstrance like environmentalists wail round a tree stump in a forest and have workshops, ‘discovering’ our spiritual gifts with like minds. But where’s the urgency? The real earthy rawness? The messiness of admitting the People of God is all of us baptised?

The ‘frisson’, rather than awe – filial fear of God – seems to be the primary criterion of judgement these days.

So, to me, if God IS God, our religion ought to have a ‘poo your pants’ quality about it rather than what seems more like a placebo or what one would expect to be found on the ‘Christian’ shelf of an Esoteric New Age bookshop.

 Our religion seems more like a leisure pursuit – ‘I play golf, you go to church’ – than something vital.

If there’s something maleficent, then the opposite isn’t magnificent even, its Glorious, and that’s what we have to communicate.

God deserves worship. It is his due. It’s not about me: at all.

If this analysis is right, and I feel in my bones that it is, then Pope Francis is exactly the pope we need at this time. What does the New Testament say? In the book of James we read “This is true religion: to visit the widows and the fatherless.” Francis’ focus on the poor and needy is not just “social gospel” He is reflecting Our Lord’s own ministry of mercy. It is in ministering to the needy that we roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and make our religion real, and writing a check isn’t good enough. We’re required to get involved and do something about it.

His comments and examples about  wealth and poverty are also more profound than just trying to be another St Francis. It is our wealth which shifts our attention away from the poor and needy and shifts our religion into moralistic, therapeutic deism. It creates deism because we love our money more than God. God therefore is distant from our everyday existence because we have another God who we love more.

Our wealth makes us turn our religion into therapy because, being rich, we also want to be comfortable, well and prosperous. Therapy helps us do that. I’m thinking religion as cosmetic surgery. We need it to look god and feel good.

Finally our wealth turns our religion into rules and regulations because without a vital, living relationship with God what is left of religion but rules and regulations?

Comments and rebuttals are welcome in the combox.