Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we checked out the illustrious career of George Barna. He makes a good living by telling Christians whatever makes them open their wallets for him. And what works best to open wallets? Inducing fear and dread in his target audience. Now, let’s check out how George Barna used his style of marketing most recently. He’s doing his best to make his TRUE CHRISTIAN™ marks pony up the bills by making them scared that a new fake kind of Christianity is taking over America. Today, let’s see how he does it — and if it’ll work.
George Barna Offers An “Unnerving Poll.”
The other day, I was looking for any evangelicals anywhere who were reacting to that new PRRI survey. I’d finally worked my way from the major Christian-news sites down to the obvious fake-news right-wing sites. And of that list, I’d finally worked my way down to WND.
Even though this WND headline wasn’t even vaguely what I needed, it still caught my eye in a major way:
Unnerving poll: Americans have ditched biblical worldview for ‘fake Christianity’
Reading into the article, I discovered that George Barna works as the “director of research” at a private, control-freaky, ultra-right-wing evangelical college called Arizona Christian University. I guess his Metaformation leadership seminars and whatnot don’t pay his bills like Barna Group did.
(He’s definitely not shelling out for a competent webmaster. I can tell you that for sure.)
And recently, George Barna gave WND a dire pronouncement for the state of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ dominance over America.
Basically, it’s doomed.
George Barna Thinks “Fake Christianity” Has Seduced America’s TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
The WND writer begins with quite a catchy pronouncement as well:
American Christianity has fallen. Thanks to cultural corrosion and a lack of biblical literacy, a new “fake Christianity” has raked the dry ground of the American church.
There’s a lot of snarl words following, including that tired old chestnut “moralistic therapeutic deism” (which the writer abbreviates as “MTD,” so I might as well do the same). I doubt most evangelicals even understand what that is, any more than they understand what Marxism is, how feminism actually works, or what Nietzsche really thought about religion.
But oh boy: they hates MTD, they hates it forever!
MTD gets called “counterfeit religion” by the WND writer. Then, for good measure, George Barna himself calls it “watered-down, feel-good, fake Christianity.” And it’s overtaken his preferred flavor of Christianity, which he thinks is the only flavor that is TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
Why are you still sitting there reading?
Don’t you realize the sky has totally fallen?
Why George Barna Feels So Glum Lately.
And why oh why are these two evangelicals so upset?
Well, George Barna works for that private Christian university, as I mentioned earlier. As part of his role as the Lord High Marshall of Evangelical Research World, he conducts some sort of survey of incoming students and other folks regarding what they think about proper Christianity. He calls the broader survey the “American Worldview Inventory 2021.” (Uh huh, and I’m sure his methodology is exactly as rigorous as the surveys he did at Barna Group.) Here’s their writeup of it.
And y’all, he was downright freaked out to discover that his survey respondents have largely rejected his cruel, evil ideology and his crazymaking imaginary friend, the Mad Blood God of the Desert (MBGD). Instead, his respondents seemed to prefer a worldview that is far more loving, compassionate, fair, and just. He calls this preferred worldview “MTD,” since he has no idea what that really means. As he puts it in his writeup:
The most common worldview among Americans is Syncretism, which isn’t a true worldview but rather a collection of disparate worldview elements blended into a customized philosophy of life.
And the latest insight from the nation’s largest, ongoing worldview research project  reveals that the worldview Americans are most likely to draw from is unknown to the people who turn to it—a relatively new and obscure philosophy of life known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—or MTD.
MTD, That “Relatively New and Obscure Philosophy of Life.”
Y’all, I’m not (just) poking fun at George Barna. I really don’t think he knows what MTD is.
Just, he’s found a new snarl word. Here, he’s pushing this newly-acquired vocabulary to strange new levels. Clearly, his goal is getting his tribe of conspiracy-theory-addled TRUE CHRISTIANS™ panicked about their fading dominance.
So first, let’s talk about MTD.
Back in 2005, a Christian researcher published a book about the spiritual lives of American teenagers. He used the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” to describe their thoughts about religion. He didn’t capitalize it, and it’s clear he doesn’t mean that it rose to the level of an actual ideology.
However, there’s nothing a dedicated TRUE CHRISTIAN™ huckster can’t weaponize.
George Barna Wrecks Everything.
Here’s what MTD entails, according to La Wiki:
- A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die. [Source: La Wiki]
For a good laugh, head over to Barna’s writeup of his survey [relink] to see how he warps all of those points to make MTD sound like the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). It’s just so dishonest-seeming to me.
One powerful criticism of MTD is that literally no teenagers — heck, no humans — have ever used, would ever use, or will ever use this phrase to describe their worldview. In my opinion, it also doesn’t really accurately describe deism. Nor can it be used as a defining label, since its characteristics could be found in so many other ideologies. I mean, it is just not useful.
At 15 years old, it’s not really “relatively new,” either. Also, it’s not obscure at all, except insofar as it doesn’t really work as a label or a set of qualifiers.
All in all, MTD as a concept seems to exist only as a strawman for TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to attack and demolish.
In that way, at least, it works perfectly for George Barna and his purposes.
The Product George Barna Sells.
Throughout his career, George Barna has sold evangelicals a supremely tribalistic, authoritarian worldview. He offers them simple, sugary solutions for thorny, difficult, systemic issues. And he tells them that if they don’t buy his product, things will get really awful for TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like themselves.
In short, he sells evangelicals a vision of their potential future. If they open their wallets to him, they can have it.
Here, in his press release attacking MTD, Barna seeks to make his tribemates see themselves as the superior tribe who possess the real-deal Christianity. It’s downright hilarious to see the snarling he does about flavors that offer adherents way more than his flavor of evangelicalism ever could:
- Barna calls his flavor “biblical,” which implies that his enemy flavors aren’t.
- MTD becomes “fake Christianity,” implying his is the true kind.
- It’s “a softer, twisted version of genuine Christianity,” while he calls his own flavor “authentic Christianity.”
- MTD isn’t “real faith.” It places “the emphasis. . . on self rather than God, and on emotion rather than truth.” His preferred flavor of Christianity obviously does the total opposite.
- Barna’s preferred flavor totally isn’t “defined and driven by current culture” — like MTD obvs is.
Again, remember always, please, that MTD is not actually an ideology. Severe criticisms have been leveled at it. The only people who seem to think it’s even a real thing are the right-wing Christians — like George Barna — who have adopted it as a boogeyman and tribal enemy.
Oops, Some Self-Interest Is Showing There.
So, let’s just say that MTD really is totally a real problem for TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Gosh, what oh what can they do about it?
Don’t worry! Our favorite huckster du jour has some suggestions along those lines.
But Barna also offered some guidance for repairing the damage. “The findings show us that we can help the people attracted to MTD to gain a better understanding of the basics of the Christian faith.”
Barna said such relearning should focus on developing a deeper understanding of the reliability  and personal value of the Bible ; embracing the view that absolute moral truths do exist , and are valuable for them personally ; developing a true understanding of the love  and engagement of God ; and recognizing that our behavioral choices can reflect more authentic ways of ”being good”  and ”doing right” .
Coincidentally, y’all, George Barna writes books and offers seminars that he says can do all of that. And he works for a Christian university that could probably use more students to indoctrinate.
Gosh, what are the odds that a Christian huckster could possibly have identified a problem that his products alone can totally fix?
Natch, none of his products can help their purchasers if all those MTD-believin’ human fix-it projects don’t want the input of these self-appointed TRUE CHRISTIANS™. However, that is not his problem — once the purchase is made.
As Christians leave these exhibits, they always exit through the gift shop.
Forget It. George Barna Is Rollin’.
In one scene in the classic 1978 comedy Animal House, Bluto rouses his frat brothers to action after a crushing defeat.
In his quest, Bluto issues a clarion call to action:
Bluto: Hey! What’s all this laying around [stuff]?
Stork: What the [heckburgers] are we s’posta do, ya [big ol’ silly]?
D-Day (to Bluto): War’s over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.
Bluto: What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? [Heckin’ no]!
Otter (to Boon): “Germans?”
Boon (to Otter): Forget it, he’s rolling.
And that’s really what George Barna reminds me of:
He’s like Bluto getting significant details incorrect, but bless his cotton socks, his heart’s in his sales pitch.
Let’s face it, though, George Barna would be completely on the side of the villainous Omega Theta Pi frat. He would.
Shrieking Into the Wind.
However, I haven’t seen many more-reputable evangelical sites picking up George Barna’s dire predictions. In a lot of ways, he shrieked into the wind with this one.
His survey didn’t make much of a splash, not even at Church Leaders with a writer trying hard to make MTD seem like it’d destroy the very fabric of America itself.
(Not like QAnon-addled fundagelicals staging insurrections, wanting to destroy the basis of our entire government through vote suppression, and screeching nonstop about revolution, oh no! Nothing like that! Them’re proper patriots, donchaknow! /s)
Who knows? Perhaps the flocks are still a bit too QAnon-addled to buy the only product George Barna has ever known how to sell to them. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if he got himself lapped by QAnon just like his fellow hucksters have, after he spent his entire career cultivating this particular post-truth mindset in evangelical minds?
NEXT UP: 1st-Century Friday! We’ll be covering Philo Judaeus. Then, for the weekend I’ve got the SBC 2021 Annual Report slated, unless something wacky happens. See you tomorrow!
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Mr. Captain: The CSWWSW! It’s like an old friend returned for the day.