What is the dominant worldview in our culture?
If you were to survey those in academia – i.e. college professors and their ilk – you would likely conclude that the dominant worldview is Naturalism or one of its offspring, like Existentialism or Postmodernism. These views tend to have in common that the matter of the universe is all there is – the universe exists as a closed system. There is no God.
But on a popular level, it seems such a worldview has not taken hold (yet).
I believe the dominant worldview in our culture is called “Moral Therapeutic Deism.”
We need to pay attention to this. So let’s dive in.
In doing some research for a class I’m teaching this week, I came upon an article by Al Mohler in 2005 that summarizes and examines this worldview in a very helpful way. Head there (later!) if you want to take a deeper look.
The term “moral therapeutic deism” was coined by a couple of researchers who surveyed the religious views of 3,000 teenagers in the United States. While the work was done a decade or more ago, I think it’s safe to say that this view remains dominant in our culture.
Here are the 5 primary tenets of Moral Therapeutic Deism:
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.
(taken from the Mohler article linked above)
What About God?
At a popular level, people are not quite ready to deal with the full-blown implications of a godless universe. So what we have is a view that maintains a belief in some higher power, but one that doesn’t really have much to say about how we live or what we believe. In this way it resembles the Deism of the 17-18th centuries.
God is more like a kind old grandfather who can dispense winsome advice or help you out of a jam with a bit of magic. He primarily wants you to be self-fulfilled, to pursue your dreams, and to live at peace with others.
In a sense he’s like a kind grandfather who cares about you but usually stays out of your affairs (unless you need help or ask advice). He probably resembles many modern depictions of Santa Claus.
Such a view of God probably helps explain the fascination with and popularity of the Dalai Lama, who seems to embody many of these ideals.
Ethically, we should just try to be nice to each other, do our best, and take care of the earth. Above all, we should be tolerant of people who make different choices or believe different things than we do (unless, of course, those views are too intolerant).
Just be who God made you to be, and be happy with it. And, of course, don’t judge who God made others to be.
Moral Therapeutic Deism and the Church
One of the dangerous things about this dominant worldview is that it can look and sound Christian. Many Christians and church-goers, if asked to articulate their theological and moral beliefs, would probably respond with answers more compatible with moral therapeutic deism than biblical Christianity.
You can probably think of popular Christian preachers who sound this tune as well. There’s no discussion about sin and accountability – only about trusting God’s love and desire for you to have your best life now.
What’s the Antidote?
Many people like to say or argue that we live in a Christian culture. That’s only true if we believe in this neutered, watered-down view of God is allowed to be labeled “Christian.” If we view Jesus more like a new age guru than the incarnation of God, then maybe so. But biblical Christianity makes some bold truth claims that don’t fit this paradigm.
How can church leaders and Christians prevent their people from getting sucked into the dominant worldview of the age? How can parents and youth leaders respond so that kids and teens adopt a biblical worldview instead of moral therapeutic deism?
It’s really pretty simple: Teach them.
We need to articulate the biblical worldview clearly and often. We need to teach what the Bible says about God, creation, sin, Jesus, and the final consummation. We need to teach Christian doctrine, not to divide and not to win a theological argument, but to provide the kind of sturdy foundation that can anchor us to the truth when the tide of culture is pulling us strongly in another direction.
When we don’t do anything we drift. And in our culture the drift will be in the wrong direction. So we have to swim and teach our children to do the same.