In early February Bethany’s faculty joined some 500 teachers at a conference center just outside Washington, DC, for the Mennonite Educators’ Conference. Keynote speaker Kenda Creasy Dean talked about Christian faith in America today, and she identified a set of ten pedagogical approaches – ways of teaching – that facilitate faith development in young people today. About a decade ago, Dean – who is now on the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary – worked closely with Christian Smith to conduct the National Study of Youth and Religion. This 2005 study was based on a nationwide phone survey of teens and their parents along with in-depth interviews of 250 of the survey respondents.
Somewhat to their surprise, Smith and Dean found that teens are not hostile to religion – rather, they are benignly positive; they just don’t care that much. Forty percent of American youth say religion is important to them, but only 8% practice their faith actively. Further, Smith and Dean concluded that the vast majority of teens mirror their parents’ view of religion to an astonishing degree: as the parents believe, so do the teens.
So, what do American teens and their parents believe? Based on their study, Smith identified five key tenets of this generic American religion, which he named Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or MTD for short. The five tenets are these: God exists, God wants us to be nice and fair, the central goal is to be happy and feel good about oneself, God matters only when I need help and good people go to heaven when they die.
These five guiding principles of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are really the prevailing values of the culture in which we live. Indeed, it is the mark of culture that individuals accept society’s values without consciously or deliberately setting out to do so. These values just seem right because we’ve grown up with them, heard them expressed by our friends and neighbors, and seen them valued in the ads and media.
I don’t know about you, but many of us Mennonite school educators sitting in the hall as Kenda Creasy Dean enunciated the outlines of MTD saw glimpses of ourselves and others as she described its emphasis on looking out for oneself.
- Joshua 24:14 - 28