In 2009, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith published Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. Smith researched teens and young adults about their faith lives. What do young Americans believe? Does God affect their lives? From his data, Smith establishes that the faith lives of young Americans can be described as "moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD)." These are the tenets of this understanding:
First, a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on Earth. Second, God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. Third, the central goal in life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. Fourth, God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. Fifth, good people go to heaven when they die.
What Smith has found is that spirituality for young people comes down to moralism. Whether the youth is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever, life, they believe, is about being a good, moral person. And the reason to be a good person is so that they can feel good about themselves. God is available for people whenever they need him, but otherwise he is not really in the picture in everyday matters.
There are several issues with MTD. For starters, it eliminates the personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Secondly, MTD settles for mediocrity. The lack of Jesus Christ means we cannot grow and actually better ourselves. There is no room for grace. We are stuck with whomever we are. Finally, MTD is selfish. The motivation for everything is to feel good. Service and reaching heaven is about oneself.
MTD is better than nothing, but our teens deserve more. Catholicism is the way!