In their 2005 book entitled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton presented the results of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill research project entitled the “National Study of Youth and Religion.” What they “discovered” about the religious views of many teenagers may be summarized as follows:
- “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth,”
- “He wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions,”
- “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself,”
- “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem,”
- “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
Their description for this syndrome was “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Deism because the god of the typical teenager is a far-away, distant and uninvolved god. Therapeutic because this god, although distant, still wants everyone to be happy, and is therefore willing, at times, to get involved when a person is embroiled in an unhappy situation. Moralistic because this far-away god who sometimes gets involved personally wants people to be nice and fair to each other, which teenagers think is the sine qua non of all world religions. In a follow-up article that can be found here, Smith said,
Such a de facto creed is particularly evident among mainline Protestant and Catholic youth but is also more than a little visible among black and conservative Protestants, Jewish teens, other religious types of teenagers, and even many ‘nonreligious’ teenagers in the United States.
This is interesting considering a critique H. Richard Niebuhr made of liberal Protestantism back in 1959, describing its core theology as “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross” (The Kingdom of God in America, p. 193). Thus, the “seeker-friendly” mentality that has now been institutionalized isn’t something new at all. It’s been coursing through the veins of “American Christendom” for some time now, wreaking its havoc on that which rightly calls itself after God—namely, the cross of Christ and everything it represents.