Friday, January 04, 2013

The Triumph of the Therapeutic in Western Culture

Linda, on the beach

I am a big fan of U of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. I read Soul Searching years ago and discovered, to my horror and recognition, the religion of today's American adolescent: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. (MTD)

The main premises of MTD are:
1. “A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

God, on MTD, is a Cosmic Homeboy who is there, like Dr. Seuss's birthday bird, just for you, and to satisfy your desires.

When Smith explained MTD, I thought: I have seen this in my college classes, all over the place.

Before Smith explained this to us, psychologist and philosopher Philip Rieff prophesied it in his The Triumph of the Therapeutic: The Uses of Faith after Freud. "In place of a secularized Christianity building the kingdom of God on earth, Rieff foresaw an age of therapy, in which the pursuit of well-being would replace the quest for either justice or salvation." (Ross Douthat, Bad Religion, Kindle Locations 4614-4615)

Rieff was correct, and thus was born the likes of Ulrich Leonard Tolle, who disturbingly changed his name to "Eckhart" Tolle. What arrogance, I thought, because I have studied the metaphysically challenging, deep Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, who is the only "Eckhart" anyone ever need attend to. Tolle's The Power of Now (which I read in one sitting) is Rieff's predicted therapeutic mentality dressed up in religious-spiritual terminology. Shame on anyone who takes such stuff seriously. Yet many do. If you do, you should not boast of this.

We now have a spirituality of "niceness," minus active compassion (minus praxis). Smith observes and records the growing narcissism among American adolescents, with their non-commitment to serving others as a core human value. (See Douthat, K4740, passim) Douthat writes:

"[T]he triumph of the therapeutic has steadily undercut American religion’s ability to serve as a corrective or a critique. For all their claims to ancient wisdom, there’s nothing remotely countercultural about the Tolles and Winfreys and Chopras. They’re telling an affluent, appetitive society exactly what it wants to hear: that all of its deepest desires are really God’s desires, and that He wouldn’t dream of judging." (Kindle Locations 4732-4735)

In America, fluff and bunnies rule.