by the goodness of people’s faith than dismayed by the cultural challenges we face. However,
an important part of evangelization is to become more acutely aware of what challenges face
us, so that we can love people more effectively into a deeper encounter with Christ.
Despite the snarky tone of what follows, I promise my intent is not to poke fun at anyone or
drum up anger. But sometimes a spade needs to be called a spade. And time and time again
I’m quite dismayed by what I hear coming from the lips of many Catholics. We are indeed
steeped in what Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has termed “Moralistic, Therapeutic
Deism.” He uses this term to denote the prevailing religious beliefs of teens (and in my
experience, not just teens but adults too) in this country. After reaching a frustration point
while teaching high-schoolers a few years ago, I found myself typing out the following “Creed for
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” It strings together phrases and implications of things I hear all
the time from good people who consider themselves Catholics or Christians, in order to provoke
comparison between these common cultural assumptions and the actual Christian gospel. I’ll
leave it to you to ponder how to lovingly lead people espousing such views to the Jesus. Or
come to my workshop (shameless plug) at the Arise Missionary Discipleship Conference to hear
more about where to go from here.
A Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Creed
I believe in one God, the real but distant maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible, and
possibly some invisible things (though any talk of invisible things is futile because science can’t
prove their existence).
I believe in the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, one of many enlightened gurus of
spirituality who basically taught what other great spiritual leaders throughout history have
Through him all things are loved, liked and accepted unconditionally.
For us and for our comfort, he came from Nazareth and lived well, but does not expect people
after him to live quite as well; lowering the bar for the rest of humanity because he knows
they’re obviously imperfect, he wants us to live comfortable and fun lives, not explicitly hurting
other people we see on a daily basis, and avoiding big sins like murder and rape.
He was crucified under Pontius Pilate to inspire empathy for his ideals of niceness; he suffered
death and was buried, but the ideas he stood for did not die with him. Those ideas “rose again”
and reign now with Jesus’ soul in heaven, which is a far-off Kingdom we enter only upon dying.
He will not come again and will not judge, because he told us that judging is bad, and he is not a
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the vague sense that God unconditionally approves of everything I do
and makes no demands on me (as long I’m usually nice and never a murderer), which makes me
feel good about myself.
I believe in the existence of many, unholy churches. It would be arrogant to discuss whether
any of them have more or less accurate pictures of the truth, since all this spiritual stuff is made
up of unverifiable opinions anyway.
I confess one baptism for the cute baby ritual that it is, reminding us that “sin” is a pretty
And I look forward to being in my personal happy place for eternity. Amen.
By Andre Lesperance
Workshop Presenter at the Missionary Disciple Conference