Revelation, Civil Religion, and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I am assisting my pastor in a series of sermons on the messages to the churches in Revelation in connection with the lectionary reading from Mark for the day. So far it’s been a fascinating intertextual experience!

Last Sunday I preached on the message to the church in Smyrna:

8“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.


My main point was that in order to be ready to suffer faithfully, this church had escaped the temptations of the two cousins Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and Civil Religion. The former was documented as the religion of most American teens (and, I would suggest, adults) by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Of course I had to show how a form of this disease already existed in the first century in the sacrificial systems meant to keep the gods blessing us with fertility, prosperity etc. As for civil religion, that was the imperial cult.

In any event, the sermon was a sermon, not a lecture. But I think I was successful in helping people see the the gods and narratives that these ultimately non-Christian “spiritualities” depend on and embody:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
There is a god who created the world, looks down on us from heaven with a smile, wants to bless us, wants us to be good to ourselves and kind to others, is there for us when we are in a jam, and promises us a place in heaven if we are good.

Civil Religion
There is a god who created the world, looks down on our country (fill in the blank) with a big smile, has blessed us more than any other nation, thinks our values are his values, wants to expand our influence around the world, wants us to be good to our friends but helps us defeat our enemies, and expects us to love our country as a way of loving God.

Revelation is a manifesto against TMD and Civil Religion.

5 Responses to “Revelation, Civil Religion, and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”

  1. Craig Beard says:

    Michael,

    Are your sermons available to download?

    Thanks,
    Craig

  2. MJG says:

    Not generally, but I’ll check the church web site.

  3. A.J. Swoboda says:

    Brilliant, Dr. Gorman. What a fascinating reading of the text. I appreciate most the attempt to deal with the idolatry that can become American spirituality. Great work. Keep it up.

  4. MJG says:

    Thanks, A.J. I am currently reading a book called One Nation, Many Gods: Confronting the Idols of American Empire (http://www.amazon.com/One-Nation-Many-Gods-Confronting/dp/0976389282), by Harry Kiely and the late Ira Zepp. It’s not a highly sophisticated treatment, but it’s good and provocative.

  5. Clifton Manago says:

    Spiritual life is quite unique because it embodies a life that is free from being to materialistic. .*’`”

    With appreciation
    http://www.healthmedicinelab.com“>

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