On December 22, 2010, I invited my youth pastor readers to participate in the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Case Study: Teens Telling Us What They Think. This case study consisted of asking 1 Christian student and 1 Atheist student if they agree or disagree with the 5 Moralistic Therapeutic Deism statements. It was my goal to test the Guiding Beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (Almost Christian, pg 14).
Total number of students participated:
15 Christian Students
15 Atheist Students
= 30 Students Responses
Student Responses To the 5 Statements of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
Agreed: 100% of the Christian students and 53% of the Atheist students
Disagreed: 47% of the Atheist students
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught by the Bible and by most world religions.
Agreed: 100% of the Christian students and 46% of the Atheist students
Disagreed: 54% of the Atheist students
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
Agreed: 53% of the Atheist students
Disagreed: 100% of the Christian students and 47% of the Atheist students
4. God is not involved in my life except when I need god to resolve a problem.
Disagreed: 100% of the Christian students and 100% of the Atheist students
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Agreed: 46% of Atheist students
Disagreed : 100% of the Christian students and 54% of Atheist students
– Christian students have a more or less solid understanding of basic Christian theology. Their youth pastors are doing a great job of teaching the students the teachings of God. In hindsight, our students may be in a better theological place than what the research is indicating.
– Atheist students are theologically confused, especially about the after life. Confusion tends to leave a lot of room for them to develop their own moral and spiritual philosophies for how to govern their life. Our students live in a very existential culture, which gives them permission to write their own moral and spiritual code without any accountability or connection to history or tradition. This is why the teachings of the Bible are very difficult for an un-churched student to swallow. The Bible is authoritative and existential students don’t respond nor interact well with authority. Having to believe and trust in an absolute truth is a tough task. I have wrote about the direct implications of existentialism in student culture here.
– Youth pastors need more “service” events that are designed to attract all types of students. Kenda Creasy Dean argues for this missional mindset in her book: Almost Christian. She would like to see more youth ministries become outward focused. This is why I strongly believe in the inside/out youth ministry evangelism approach. I also wrote a post about: 20 Ways Teens Can Be Missionaries. The more inclusive our youth ministry programming becomes, the more possibilities we will have to engage in theological conversations with un-churched teenagers. This notion falls into the ecclesiological belief that “You can belong before you have to believe.” Belonging (before you believe) to a youth group establishes a solid relationship from which students can tackle tough theological topics together. It is so important for our “Christian students” to be interacting with un-churched and non Christian students. I have wrote about the having a proper theology of a high school meeting which will create an experiential space where everyone can belong before they “believe” without feeling judged. The deism data indicated that there was a polarity of how students understand God. This suggests very segregated student social clusters. It appears each student social cluster does not have an influence on one another. Essentially, Christian students only talk to the Christian students and Atheist students only talk to Atheist students. I wonder why there isn’t more of an overlap of conversation happening between Christian students and Atheist students? Clearly they come into contact with one another, but unfortunately there isn’t much dialogue between the groups about theological matters.
– I was surprised to find out that most students believe God is an integral part of their life. All the students believed God is at work in their life regardless of the positive/negative circumstances they find themselves in. The great thing is: students do not necessarily see God as a genie in a bottle who grants them all of their wishes.
Questions For Reflection_______________________
Do you believe there is an inherent segregation between Christian students and Atheist students? Are there opportunities of and for cross-pollination?
Are our Christian students “too” theologically informed and not reaching out enough to other teenagers in order to engage in theological talks?
Have you found that un-churched students are very confused about the afterlife? I have found that some un-churched teenagers don’t know what to believe about the afterlife. The “best” answers they can think to point to involve karma and reincarnation.
Do you think that our Christian students are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists? Or are non Christian/un-churched teenagers more susceptible to catching the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism bug?