John Meunier (and his daughter) have been writing on Dean’s book, Almost Christian. In it Dean relates the real faith of American churches as Moralistic therapeutic deism and John gives 5 characteristics in a recent blog post:
- It makes no pretense about changing lives.
- It is easily boxed off from other aspects of our lives.
- Its primary usefulness is in meeting our needs and helping us be happy.
- Its followers are nice and tolerant.
- Its god is on call when we need it, but otherwise distant and unobtrusive.
John goes on to comment:
If the primary goal of life is to be a well-adjusted and happy member of American society, then there is no reason to follow any faith other than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Its adherents bear the names of more recognizable faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – but their faith is in a god not found in the holy books, prayers, and creeds of those faiths.
Now, all of this is of no concern if our faith really is nothing more than a spiritual teddy bear meant to help us through dark times and give us a warm sense of belonging. If religion exists only to give us “community” and a sense of being loved by the cosmos, then Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is right and most of what Jesus Christ and the apostles suffered and died for was a mistake. If Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is true, then John Wesley was a fool.
This is a stunning critique, and I think John is spot on. He speaks from an American perspective (as does Dean’s book), but I wonder if this can be said of British churches as well. We don’t often look terribly hard at the faith of the people in churches. At synod’s and circuit meetings, we praise the faith of our congregations and start with the assumption that they all have a deep and vibrant faith. Most of our visioning comes from a place that acts like this is true in any case (or that all that is needed is a little fire to jump start).
It’s easy to point the finger at Americans (because, as one I can say we are a bit brash and it’s hard to ignore some of our faults), but I think it could describe British congregations as well (on the whole – I do know some deeply faithful Americans and British Christians). Are we willing to look at the church we have and ask hard questions of the faith of people in British congregations – or even force myself to answer them – rather than assuming that all we need is a little tweak?