Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's All Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Damon Linker outlines "moralistic therapeutic deism," which he claims will henceforth be the consensus theology of the USA:

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."
Linker declares this theology "watered-down, anemic, insipid ... repulsive," before concluding that these qualities make it "salutary," by which he means well-suited to wide public acceptance.

Ross Douthat demurs, calling it the sort of milquetoast, putrid sap that flows from those who shrink from a good fight. More sharply, he claims to trace the theology's real-world consequences:
[Y]ou don't have to look terribly hard to see a connection between the kind of self-centered, sentimental, and panglossian religion described above and the spirit of unwarranted optimism and metaphysical self-regard that animated some of Bush's worst hours as President (his second inaugural address could have been subtitled: "Moral Therapeutic Deism Goes to War") and some of his fellow Americans' worst hours as homeowners and investors. In the wake of two consecutive bubble economies, it takes an inordinate fear of culture war, I think, to immerse yourself in the literature of Oprahfied religion - from nominal Christians like Joel Osteen to New Age gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Rhonda Byrne - and come away convinced that this theological turn has been "salutary" for the country overall.
Douthat wants to claim that Catholic dogma -- the kind to which he subscribes, thus the kind he labels as "traditionalist" -- would have fared better, but this is far from clear, and he declines to spell it out. If there are theological stilts that raise presidents above ill-advised wars and people generally above short-term thinking, avarice, and "metaphysical self-regard," they are not to be found in his favorite church or its headquarters. Or were dogmatic Catholics disproportionately shielded from the problems he cites?

Abrahamic theologies, whether associated with widely-despised television personalities or with ancient cults headquartered in their own pretend nation-states, tend to cultivate and reinforce "metaphysical self-regard" by the very act of drawing boundaries between the damned and the saved. All prate for love, peace, harmony, charity, and good will; all prate against lust, greed, war, and excess. In practice, this theology gives us exactly what we have seen since the first identifiably Abrahamic theology appeared.

Any stilt erected on a false foundation fails in the same way.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Excellent post! I have to run or I'd say more about it, but I just wanted to thank you for such a thought provoking piece.