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I’m okay, you’re okay, God just wants us to be happy, all good people go to heaven…
“Moralistic therapeutic deism” was a term coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers to describe the “I’m okay, you’re okay” departure from historic Christianity and its message of sin and redemption. For moralistic therapeutic deists, the authors explain, God is
“something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he’s always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process” (pg. 165).
When the term is bandied about in Catholic circles, it’s usually in derision, and rightly so: coming into the Beatific Vision and union with God Himself requires a bit more than self-congratulatory religious and moral relativism. It’s why many Catholics are frustrated by milquetoast “God Loves You!” preaching: they see “feel-good” homilies as a reduction of Jesus’ message and promising people an easy way out.
Our faith is one of constant conversion, and it’s good to remind others of it. But before you do: make sure you know who you’re talking to. When some people hear another complain,
“Man, I wish Father would stop harping on how awesome we are and how God loves us and start talking about sin,”
they internalize it as,
“Meditating on the love of God is for lazy Catholics. I don’t want to be lazy. I’ll focus on the hard stuff.”
Want to destroy your faith? Focus exclusively on sin. Never think about God’s love. I guarantee you will fall victim to anxiety, scruples, perfectionism, cold legalism, or some combination thereof. It’s a miserable way to live. Been there, done that, don’t want another t-shirt!
Meditating on God’s love is the only way to be a Christian fully alive. That God loves us is at the foundation of our faith: He created us out of an act of gratuitous love, sustains us out of love, came to earth and died for our salvation out of love, and draws us into communion with Himself out of love. “God is love,” St. John says, “We loved Him because He first loved us.”
We believe in Love Himself. What other reality is there?
As annoying or clichéd or tired as it might sometimes feel, we need to hear, “God loves you.” This is not an either/or situation, but both/and. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” St. Paul says (Romans 5:8). God both accepts us and loves us in our sin and brokenness, and He also loves us too much to let us stay there. God’s love drives His fight for us. He wants to heal our hurts and promises us divine life because He loves us. We need to keep saying, “God loves you,” to ourselves and others with the hope that one day the message will stick.
Meditating on the love of God does not amount to moralistic therapeutic deism. Quite the opposite: it’s what makes a person a saint.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Do you focus on God’s love or your sin?]