Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

New-old habits of the postmodern heart: 'When people choose not to believe in God, they do not ... '

New-old habits of the postmodern heart: 'When people choose not to believe in God, they do not ... '

It is without a doubt the most famous quotation that journalist and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton either (a) said, (b) never said, (c) might have said or (d) said in pieces that were latter assembled by someone else into one memorable thought.

I am referring to this statement: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

You can click here for a fascinating investigation into the origins of this statement. The bottom line: There are all kinds of Chesterton statements that may have evolved into this quote. I liked this part:

... Robin Rader of Zambia argued that the epigram can be found divided between two adjacent Father Brown stories:
It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense. [“The Oracle of the Dog” (1923)]
You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief -- of belief in almost anything. [“The Miracle of Moon Crescent” (1924)]

I bring this up because this famous Chesterton semi-quote offers a perfect summary of what I felt recently while walking the streets of Prague, thinking about some recent Pew Research Center survey work about religion in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Czech Republic in particular. That turned into my "On Religion" column this past week, which then served as the hook for this week's Crossroads podcast. Click here to tune that in.

But before we get to that, please do this for me. Read the Chesterton statements again and then read this headline from a recent "Gray Matter" essay in The New York Times: "Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s."

Interesting? Here is a key chunk of this fascinating piece:

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Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Does anyone remember the days, a decade or two ago, when the official boogeyman of religious conservatism was a cultural tsunami called "secular humanism"?

I sure do. That nasty label was being pinned on people all over the place.

The only problem was, when I went out to do my religion-beat reporting work, I never seemed to run into many people whose personal beliefs actually fit under the dictionary definition of "secular," which looks something like this:

secular (adjective)
1. of or relating to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music.

I hardly ever met culture warriors who didn't have religious beliefs of some kind. Oh, there were some atheists and agnostics in these dramas. But what what I kept running into were packs of evolving, progressive, liberal religious believers who rejected the beliefs of traditional religious believers, almost always on issues linked to sexuality and salvation.

Yes, there were also some "spiritual but not religious" folks, but when you talked to them you discovered that they would be perfectly happy in a Unitarian folding chair or an Episcopal pew -- if they wanted to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. And if you probe those Pew Research Center "Nones" numbers, you'll discover that most religiously unaffiliated people are rather spiritual, on their own "Sheilaism" terms. You can toss the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism trend in there, too.

Variations on all of these themes popped up this week when Todd Wilken and recorded the new "Crossroads"podcast (click here to tune that in). We discussed my new "On Religion" column about the recent U.S. Senate hearing showdown between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, the White House nominee to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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5Q: Talking religion, news and the ties that bind with Rod Dreher, author of 'The Benedict Option'

5Q: Talking religion, news and the ties that bind with Rod Dreher, author of 'The Benedict Option'

Longtime GetReligion readers will recognize the name of Rod Dreher as that of an frequently mentioned longtime "friend of this blog."

Many will also recognize Dreher as the author of the much discussed (check out this search) book called "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation," published last week by Sentinel. The basic thesis: orthodox Christians -- small "o" and capital "O" -- need to form tight-knit communities to preserve the values in the face of a post-modern onslaught.

The Atlantic suggests Dreher "writes with resentment." The once-upon-a-time evangelical Rachel Held Evans weighed in, via Twitter to say the book's premise "is based on fantasy."

This post isn't about that. I'll leave GetReligionistas such as tmatt to comment on the book and the surrounding media mentions. We wanted to ask this veteran reporter a few questions about religion news.

Instead, here's what Dreher had to say in response to our noted "5Q+1." However, since he passed over the "do you have anything else to say" query, it's just 5Qs:

(1) Where do you get your news about religion? 

From the Internet. I read websites like First Things, Mere Orthodoxy, Mosaic, Real Clear Religion and The Atlantic, but also mainstream news sites like The New York Times, the Washington Post and others. I find that I'm increasingly dependent on Twitter feeds from key people to pass on news to me. I'm thinking about Mollie Hemingway, Ross Douthat, Michael Brendan Dougherty, Damon Linker, Andrew T. Walker, Russell Moore and Denny Burk. But there are others.

(2) What is the most important religion story the MSM doesn't get?

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What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

A hearty "Amen!" in this corner for the key points in Mark Silk's Religion News Service take down of a really, really strange Time magazine interpretation of a poll on the Bible and religion.

Let's let the man preach:

This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.
OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?

Silk, with justification, notes that this interpretation slants everything away from cultural Catholicism and in the Bible-driven direction of Protestantism and, especially, evangelical Protestantism. That's accurate. However, I would argue that Time missed at least two other crucial points in this tone-deaf piece.

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