14 July, 2024

A New Religion—’Enlightenized Inclusified Guruism’

by | 1 July, 2024 | 0 comments

By Tyler McKenzie 

In 2005, sociologist Christian Smith coined the term moralistic therapeutic deism. It went viral before viral was a thing. The term summarized his extensive research on the core religious beliefs of American teenagers.  

  • MoralisticGod wants me to be kind and good. 
  • TherapeuticGod’s will is for me to feel happy. 
  • DeismGod isn’t really necessary until I face problems. 

He found that while many teens claimed to be Christian, their beliefs weren’t. In 2005, I was 19 and his summation felt true. Fast-forward 19 years, we are now the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings rising to leadership, parenting the kids, and exercising influence. How have we changed? Well, it’s complicated. Many of Smith’s conclusions hold true, but a lot has changed. I have come up with my own updated term for how our religious perspectives have evolved—I call it enlightenized inclusified guruism (or EIG).  

Are these real words? No. But topics like this need a little levity. Let me explain. Statistics show that in Western nations there is a considerable slide out of orthodox Christianity, especially among young people. What are we sliding into? Enlightenized inclusified guruism. It seems to be the final destination of the deconstruction script young adults are following. I have loads of empathy for the deconstructors out there. (I’ve written about this previously in Christian Standard; see “Wrestling with Deconstruction and Doubt” from January/February 2022.) I, too, have gone through painful seasons of working through every tenet of orthodox faith. I preface my argument in this way because what I say next may feel critical, but I assure you my heart is filled with compassion. 

The Deconstruction Script 

I think the “deconstruction” phenomenon into an EIG faith is a cultural script. It’s a coming-of-age script where young adults doubt the dusty and closed-minded faith they inherited in childhood and then grow beyond it. It gives youth a sense of independence from—we might even call it superiority over—their parents as they come through the identity formation season of young adulthood. I call it a coming-of-age script because it has become trendy and young people are following it without questioning it. It is made to feel edgy, but it’s everywhere. It isn’t authentic, it’s culturally conditioned.  

There are lots of scripts out there that people subconsciously absorb. Let’s illustrate this with something uncontroversial.  

When I was a kid, women wore high-waisted jeans and men wore cargo pants. They were cool. I had some cargo pants. They had like seven pockets, including the signature buckets on the legs that you could store tools, water bottles, and other fun activities in.  

Then . . . all the sudden . . . they weren’t cool anymore. The shock! SNL was doing sketches on “mom jeans” and my cargos went into the Goodwill pile. What happened? I’m not sure who decided. The illuminati? Jay-Z? Young Taylor Swift? Either way, they were ridiculed ruthlessly.  

Then . . . fast-forward 10 years to the 2020s, and guess what . . . they are cool again! Youths, I love you, but I feel like y’all think you discovered something. You didn’t discover nothing! You followed a fashion script that your momma and daddy wrote years ago! 

Deconstruction is a script too. I recently read an essay articulating the common characteristics of deconstruction-to-deconversion announcements. They come from young adults via Instagram. The photograph is usually a self-portrait gazing in the distance or a shot from behind as the person stares into nature. The caption is a long self-narrative beginning with phrases like “I never thought I would be saying this . . .” or “It’s terrifying to post this . . .” They proceed to describe their faith using words like evolving, journey, authentic, and free.  

Then there are a set of specific beliefs that these people take issue with. They cite them as the reasons why they are leaving the faith or the beliefs they have decided to move beyond. I’ve put them in two categories: 

1. “I’m too smart to believe in” . . . the Bible’s trustworthiness, miracles, the divinity of Christ (“he’s just a really nice teacher of love”), a literal resurrection, or really anything supernatural. 

    2. “I’m too kind to believe in” . . . hell, biblical sex ethics and gender codes, atonement theory, or the exclusivity of Jesus (“he’s not the only way to God”). 

      There are hundreds of Christian teachings to choose from, but these are the ones targeted in our cultural moment. Finally, the post ends with the same core conclusion, “While I may be leaving the church, I’m not leaving Jesus. I’m just going to follow him.” 

      Let me try and pull all this back together. 

      • EnlightenizedWe are now too smart to believe in the supernatural and superstitious stuff our parents do. 
      • InclusifiedWe are way too kind to believe in the judgmental and oppressive stuff our parents do.  
      • GuruismWe just follow Jesus, a great teacher of love.  

      A New Religion 

      Think about the specific beliefs listed above. When you deconstruct them out of your worldview, you don’t just lose your faith. You also lose three vital resources of orthodox Christianity.  

      The first is wise boundaries. When you deny the trustworthiness of the Bible and trade its timeless teachings out (forgiveness for cancel-culture vengeance, self-sacrifice for self-assertion, generosity for greed, communal shalom for personal rights, sexual holiness for sexual gratification), people suffer, families fail, communities disintegrate, and we get what we got politically. 

      The second thing we lose is spiritual power. When you erase key aspects of atonement theory, the literal resurrection, or the divinity of Jesus, sins don’t get dealt with. People don’t get set free. It’s not even Christianity anymore. Without spiritual power to draw on, we must come up with other techniques to deal with our brokenness. We convince ourselves that our sins aren’t that bad. We medicate the frustration. Modern people place an enormous weight on therapy. While therapy is usually good, it can’t do for you what God did on that great Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  

      The last thing we lose is eternal urgency. When you erase the belief that Jesus is the only way to God or that there will be an eternal judgment day where evil will face final justice (no matter what you think hell looks like), then our mission to spread the gospel in word and deed dissipates. Humans will find adventure! We must have urgency in life! But when you deconstruct evangelism and eternity out, you must thrust that life-or-death urgency onto something else. In his book The Thrill of Orthodoxy, Trevin Wax warns that when we lower the stakes of eternal truth, we will raise the stakes of earthly matters. 

      When you lose eternal perspective:  

      • Every election becomes “the most important ever.”  

      • There’s no final justice, so increasingly violent activism is the only hope.  

      • “Making America Great Again” becomes more important than the global kingdom of God.  

      • Getting money and leaving a legacy is everything.  

      • You believe that your neighbors are the enemy rather than the spiritual powers behind what’s dividing us.  

      • The approval of others (usually via social media) determines your emotional well-being.  

      • Faith becomes private.  

      When we do what we’re told and run the EIG script, the cost is greater than we ever could have anticipated. Perhaps we shouldn’t even call it a cultural script. It feels like an understatement. Maybe we should call it what it is . . . a new religion. It’s a new religion that plays to some of our strongest feelings but not our deepest needs. 

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