You Have Migrated Into the Minimalist Corner


The Miserable Minimalist Corner

Paula opened our eyes once again when she showed us that, if you look through the lens of story, you can see something most of you Christians seem to have missed…


So many of you Christians in America have migrated into  the dangerous minimalist corner.


Robert McKee can help you to see this, because he developed a brilliant concept called ‘The Story Triangle.’

Here is the short video where McKee introduces it…


 Robert McKee’s Story Seminar – Story Design


And this should catch your attention…


At the top of the story triangle are the principles that constitute Classical Design. These principles are “classical” in the truest sense: timeless and transcultural, fundamental to every earthly society, civilized and primitive, reaching back through millennia of oral storytelling into the shadows of time.

Robert McKee, Story

And here is a quote from a story about McKee in The New Yorker, which sums up the concept…


“I’m not here to teach you how to write a Hollywood movie,” McKee said, the scorn in his voice sending a wave of reassurance through his well-educated audience. But then he drew a triangle on an overhead projector slide: at the top was “Classical Design” (stories with causality, closed endings, linear time, an external conflict, a single, active protagonist); in the other corners he wrote “Minimalism” (open endings, passive protagonists) and “Anti-Structure” (coincidence, nonlinear time). “This course is about the top, about classical design,” he said, pointing at the triangle. “Why? For your careers. As you move down the triangle, your audience shrinks. Why does it shrink?

Because people see themselves as protagonists of their own lives. Classical design is a mirror of the human mind. It’s how we see the world.”

McKee is a subversive who teaches tradition. He urges students to earn a living doing something intelligent near the top of the triangle….

The Real McKee, by Ian Parker, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003

And here is the minimalist corner…


The Archplot, however, is not the limit of storytelling shapes. In the left corner, I place all examples of minimalism. As the word suggests, minimalism means that the writer begins with the elements of Classical Design but then reduces them —shrinking or compressing, trimming or truncating the prominent features of the Archplot. I call this set of minimalist variations Miniplot.

Robert McKee, Story

And all that shrinking, compressing, trimming and truncating leaves you with a view of a passive protagonist…

The protagonist of a Miniplot design, although not inert, is relatively reactive and passive. …. A PASSIVE PROTAGONIST is outwardly inactive while pursuing desire inwardly, in conflict with aspects of his or her own nature.

Robert McKee, Story

And McKee says that when you move down the story triangle from the archplot at the top, you end up with a story people aren’t all that interested in.

But, as we said before, you Christians have an archplot. Seriously, we discovered that the story in the Bible is an Archplot.

So, look again at this description of the archplot from Shawn Coyne…



Arch-plot is human life Story, the one we all use to evaluate and direct our own lives. This is why Arch-plot has the greatest potential for the largest possible audience. Every person on the planet is a potential reader/viewer. 

….

We love Arch-plots because they mirror the way we choose to privately examine ourselves. There is nothing more powerful in a Story than having a lead character desperately pursuing something. The reader or viewer cannot help but attach himself to that character because he has objects of desire too. If the lead character in a Story gets what he wants, our brains are wired to believe that we can too. Stories fuel our courage and offer the cautions that we believe will help guide our own paths. 

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

So, if Christianity is the story we are in, then God the Great Storyteller has given humanity the very kind of story which people — across both time and culture — deeply desire.

But you walked away from it.

And the evidence is there every Sunday from your pulpits across America.

So, we’d love to know how you would answer the simple, but astonishingly powerful story question…


What do you really want, here in the story?


Because unless you make an exodus out of that minimalist corner, we don’t think you are going to make an effort to reopen the conversation in America and try to persuade.

Instead, you will continue to fight like you have been fighting, and as a result the story of America may come to its end much sooner than you think.

So, we are wondering whether this is somehow relevant…


There are days, when you wonder, what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How precisely are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here, and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking cruel white majority that you are here. I am terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters.

James Baldwin, in I Am Not Your Negro

And this also…


Many theorists of modern democracy have argued that passive acceptance of a democratic creed is not enough to make such a system work. Democracies require certain positive virtues on the part of citizens as well. Alexis de Tocqueville in particular warned of the temptation of people in democratic societies to turn inward and preoccupy themselves with their own welfare and that of their families exclusively. Successful democracy, according to him, requires citizens who are patriotic, informed, active, public-spirited, and willing to participate in political matters.

Francis Fukuyama, Identity

And does this give you a sense of the impact you have had on American society by migrating into the minimalist corner?


Mobs and tribes have always been with us, as the Founders well understood. But Haidt and Lukianoff suggest a variety of specific reasons for the sudden upsurge in toxicity. There is a serious disconnect between the winners and losers of globalization, and this has been exploited by demagogues. Social media has given massive virtual crowds instant mobilization, constant inflammation, and — above all — anonymity. Give a street mob masks, Haidt and Lukianoff note, so they can hide their identity and their capacity for violent and aggressive conduct suddenly soars.

Haidt and Lukianoff are particularly acute about how the generational shift has intensified the trend. Their hypothesis is that the members of the iGen generation (those born in the mid- to late 1990s) have been raised (unwittingly and with good intentions) in such a way to maximize tribal identities rather than dilute them.

They have been told, in Haidt’s and Lukianoff’s view, that safety is far more important than exposure to the unknown, that they should always trust their feelings, and that life is a struggle between good people and evil people. This infantilizes them, emotionalizes them, and tribalizes them. These kids have been denied freedom, have little experience of confronting danger and overcoming it themselves, have been kept monitored to all times. They tend to have older parents and fewer siblings. There is a reason the safest generation in history is also the most anxious, the most depressed, and the most suicidal. It is not that it’s all in their heads — prejudice and discrimination exist — but that they do not have the skills to put any of this in perspective. And so rather than rebel against their authorities, as students used to do, they cling to them like safety blankets, begging them to protect them just as their parents did.

America, Land of Brutal Binaries, By Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Intelligencer, September 21, 2018

Your MTD Disease

One of the best indications that so many of the America’s Christians occupy the Minimalist Corner of the Story Triangle, is something called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

We first learned about it from an American writer named Rod Dreher. Heis a senior editor at a magazine called the American Conservative and author of the book, The Benedict Option, which you’ll run across multiple times in this report. We had previously come across him in our research related to the power of story…


Argument has its place, but story is what truly moves the hearts and minds of men. The power of myth—which is to say, of storytelling—is the power to form and enlighten the moral imagination, which is how we learn right from wrong, the proper ordering of our souls, and what it means to be human. …. Through the stories we tell, we come to understand who we are and what we are to do. This is true for both individuals and communities.

Story Lines, Not Party Lines, by Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, July 10, 2013

And here’s what your Dreher guy had to say about MTD…


According to the tenets of moralistic therapeutic deism, which emphasizes personal happiness and well-being, there is no reason why Christianity should object to same-sex marriage. The summum bonum of our American civil religion is maximizing the opportunities for ­individuals to express and satisfy their desires—a belief that orthodox Christianity by nature opposes but that Christian moralistic therapeutic deism embraces and baptizes. As Smith told an audience at Princeton Theological Seminary, it is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

Some of us will live to see the day when orthodox Christians will be considered exotic antiques at best—I think of the benign indifference with which many Europeans regard Christianity today—and threats to decency at worst, potentially harmful individuals who must be driven out of public life. In either case, Hanby is correct: The civic project of American Christianity has come to an end, for how can we produce Christian civic life when we are not producing authentic Christians?

….

Put bluntly, given the dynamics of our rapidly changing culture, I believe it will be increasingly difficult to be a good Christian and a good American.

CHRISTIAN AND COUNTERCULTURAL: A RESPONSE TO MICHAEL HANBY, by Rod Dreher, First Things, February 2015

Here is a short video introduction to it from Christian Smith, the Smith Dreher refers to above, who popularized the idea: MTD


And it caught our attention that this Christian with the last name Smith understands the Bible as an archplot…


The Bible is not about offering things like a biblical view of dating—but rather about how God the Father offered his Son, Jesus Christ, to death to redeem a rebellious world from the slavery and damnation of sin. The Bible is not about conveying divine principles for starting and managing a Christian business—but is instead about Christ on the cross triumph­ing over all principalities and powers and so radically transforming everything we consider to be our business. Scripture, this view helps us to see, is not about guiding Christian emotions management and conquering our anger problems—but is rather about Jesus Christ being guided by his unity with the Father to absorb the wrath of God against sin in his death and conquering the power of sin in his resurrection. Scripture then ceases to be about teaching about biblical manhood and womanhood or biblical motherhood and fatherhood—and becomes instead the story of how a covenant-making and promise-keeping God took on full human personhood in Jesus Christ in order to reconcile this alienated and wrecked world to the eternally gracious Father.

Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible

And here is an explanation from the Mohler Man…


This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism–the New American Religion, by Albert Mohler, AlbertMohler.com, April 11, 2005

So now… and I know this is so boring… so if you want to just ignore it, please do — but just in case your curiosity is flaring for a moment, let me explain how all this fits with the minimalist corner of the story triangle.

Consider first how the Deism part relates to the element of the classical design of story in which God is the active protagonist…


As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism–the New American Religion, by Albert Mohler, AlbertMohler.com, April 11, 2005

And look at this, from a biblical scholar named John Sailhamer:


In the precritical world, it went without saying that God was active in human affairs. The world of things does not play itself out alone. All things are providentially ordered and governed by a sovereign God. In the Bible, God is at work in many, if not all, ordinary events. What gave a meaningful cohesion to God’s many acts in the Bible and in history was the basic similarity of the two activities. God’s acts, as recorded in the Bible, were like his actions in historical events. The Bible and the events of the real world were the same. By learning to see God at work in biblical events, one came to see God’s work also in the world outside the Bible. 

….

Divine providence is a notion that Deism could not abide. In order to make rational sense of the world, the deist was obliged to rule out divine providence. Though divine providence was essential for making sense of the biblical world, in Deism (and the modern mind in general) it was virtually the only biblical notion that could not be accommodated to the modern world. Deism, in order to ground itself securely in human reason, could not allow for divine acts in the real world. 

….

As understood by orthodox theologians, the biblical God was above and beyond the laws of nature. In classical orthodoxy, the biblical God was not bound by his own natural laws, and if necessary, they could be suspended and miracles allowed to happen. But to the deist, laws of nature, if they were truly laws, could not be suspended…. 

John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation

See how that works? Deism is the wallpaper in the minimalist corner of the story triangle.

Now let’s look at how the “therapeutic culture” in America fits with the minimalist corner of the story triangle…


There is, in the end, not a dime’s worth of difference between the nihilism of the therapeutic culture and the nihilism of a Nietzsche—except that the therapeutic culture lacks Nietzsche’s sense of the tragic nature of life. The twentieth century has seen many attacks on Christianity, but the frontal attacks of militant atheists, Marxists, and Nazis have not resulted in as much lost ground for Christians as the more insidious attacks of the therapeutic culture. The sense of guilt, the sense of sin, the sense of the sacred, the sense that there is another order of authority by which we are judged—these have not disappeared entirely from Christian culture, but they have been eroded. If this is difficult to see, it is because of the fog that the culture of therapy emits—an empathic fog which surrounds us and confuses us and prevents us from seeing life clearly. We wander around in this fog thinking our enemy is our friend because he is so exquisitely concerned with our health. The only thing powerful enough to cut through this fog is the light of revelation. Revelation reminds us that physical and emotional health is not the Alpha and Omega of existence. …. Psychology has very little to say to the majority of suffering people in this world, and absolutely nothing to say to the fact that all of us must one day die. The therapeutic culture’s well-adjusted person, for all his serene sense of self, has one overwhelming problem: he is blinded to the beatific vision.

Faith & Therapy, by William Kilpatrick, First Things, February 1999

And this…


In the therapeutic universe, the goal of human life is not virtue or grace but sanity and self–esteem. Therapy displaces the moral categories of good and evil, the philosophical categories of truth and falsehood, and the spiritual categories of reverence and faith. ….

For while postmodernists may celebrate the great divorce of the self from ultimate criteria, the ineradicable fact of suffering and death and the inherent human longing for meaningful order and social attachment dictate that some moral vocabulary will fill the void. Man cannot stand alone in the face of eternity: he needs the comfort of purpose, the peace of forgiveness, and the confidence of truth. The therapeutic ethic has attempted to fill the void by, as Anthony Giddens puts it, “dispensing with the great riddles of life in exchange for a modest and durable well–being.” It attempts to build an anesthetized Garden of Eden, redefining both sadness (now called “depression”) and sinfulness (now called “mental illness” or “addiction”) as chemical or psychological pathologies, thus recasting the cause of the primordial fall as a psychiatric disorder. ….

In the most sympathetic interpretation, the therapeutic ethic is a humanitarian, well–meaning effort to restore meaning and purpose to people’s lives by establishing the self as the “ultimate object of allegiance.” …. Individuals turn inward, define themselves entirely by their subjective emotions, and become responsible only to themselves.

To Wonder Again, by Eric S. Cohen, First Things, May 2000

And this…


The wildly popular book, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, encourages the reader to listen to “the god within.” Ross Douthat argues that “the god within” isn’t a divine voice at all, but an amplified human voice that caters to our self-love.

This dovetails with what sociologist of religion, Robert Bellah, found over three decades ago in his research in Habits of the Heart, and, especially, in a famous interview he did with a woman named Sheila. Sheila said, “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.”

In short, the subjectivism of the therapeutic self devours the objective truth of the divine metanarrative deposited in divine texts, sacred traditions, and the teaching authority of the Church. In his seminal work, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Philip Rieff complemented Toynbee’s thesis in seeing the West’s religious foundations being replaced by a therapeutic substructure.

Why the Left Is So Seductive, By JONATHAN B. COE, Crisis Magazine, MAY 4, 2018

The more you American Christians become deistically oriented as you occupy the minimalist corner, the more passive you will become in life.

So we thought you might be interested in reading the following three articles which one of our team members came across…


Fighting The Noonday Devil, by R. R. Reno, First Things, August 2003

When We Turn Inward, by David T. Koyzis, First Things, February 4, 2015

The American Church Needs to Get Serious about Religious Liberty, Now, By David French, National Review, June 30, 2016


And here is a taste from each…


Acedia is a word of Greek origin that means, literally, “without care.” In the Latin tradition of the seven deadly sins, it comes down to us as tristitia or otiositas, sadness or idleness. But citing synonyms and translations will not do. For the monastic tradition, acedia or sloth is a complex spiritual state that defies simple definition. It describes a lassitude and despair that overwhelms spiritual striving. Sloth is not mere idleness or laziness; it involves a torpor animi, a dullness of the soul that can stem from restlessness just as easily as from indolence. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of a sterilitas animae, a sterility, dryness, and barrenness of his soul that makes the sweet honey of Psalm-singing seem tasteless and turns vigils into empty trials. Medieval English writers often speak of acedia as wanhope, a waning of confidence in the efficacy and importance of prayer. For Dante, on the fourth ledge of purgatory, those afflicted by acedia are described as suffering from lento amore, a slow love that cannot motivate and uplift, leaving the soul stagnant, unable to move under the heavy burden of sin.

Across these different descriptions, a common picture emerges. The noonday devil tempts us into a state of spiritual despair and sadness that drains us of our Christian hope. It makes the life of prayer and charity seem pointless and futile. In the heat of midday, as the monk tires and begins to feel that the commitment to desert solitude was a terrible miscalculation, the demon of acedia whispers despairing and exculpatory thoughts. “Did God intend for human beings to reach for the heavens?” “Does God really care whether we pray?” “Is it not unnatural to seek solitude and chastity?” According to another ancient writer in the Evagrian tradition, the noonday demon “stirs the monk also to long for different places in which he can find easily what is necessary for his life and can carry on a much less toilsome and more expedient profession.

Fighting The Noonday Devil, by R. R. Reno, First Things, August 2003

A religious community focused only on its own survival in a hostile environment may already have lost the battle, and this is where the efforts of Kuyper’s followers perhaps fell short. If we genuinely believe that the redemptive story contained in the Bible is not just our story but the world’s story, then we have reason, not to keep it to ourselves, but to proclaim that news with urgency and enthusiasm and to live accordingly. A political ceasefire may serve the proximate good of intercommunal peace, but it can never be a substitute for the biblical command to preach the Gospel to the world, whose salvation ultimately depends on it. Different confessional groups may agree to disagree for the present, but the followers of Jesus Christ must manifest a confidence that the truth that sets us free is everyone’s truth, and not just a subjective truth peculiar to our own community. We should, in short, not be content to turn inward defensively but ought always to reach out to the larger world. If we lose confidence in the transforming power of the Gospel, we run the risk of losing ground in a conflict we may forget is still being waged, even under formal conditions of a political ceasefire.

When We Turn Inward, by David T. Koyzis, First Things, February 4, 2015

America’s Evangelicals are passive, timid, and afraid to defend their own liberties.

….

This is exactly the time when the Evangelical church needs to lay down a marker, to signal that it will not go quietly. But to do that it needs to do something that it rarely does: ask its members to take a stand. Oh, the church is good at asking them to do things that the world likes, such as volunteering at homeless shelters or digging wells in poor villages overseas. It’s good at helping repair broken homes and broken lives. It’s decent at transmitting the truths of the faith to the next generation. It’s terrible, however, at defending its own essential liberties.

Just ask virtually any Christian individual or group caught up in a major legal dispute. Yes, some Christians will express support online, a few will offer to pray, and fewer still will write the checks that support pro bono legal defense. But rare is the incident that will stir any greater action. An actual protest? Heaven forbid — that’s divisive. The result is that the few Christians who do stick their heads above the foxhole often feel terribly alone, isolated even from their peers.

….

If the church surrenders the culture without putting up a true fight — without fully exercising its right and obligation to defend its constitutional freedoms — then it will richly deserve its legal and political fate. A spirit of timidity does not come from God, but timidity grips the church. If we don’t grow bold today, we’ll only have ourselves to blame tomorrow.

The American Church Needs to Get Serious about Religious Liberty, Now, By David French, National Review, June 30, 2016

And this caught our attention…


This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism–the New American Religion, by Albert Mohler, AlbertMohler.com, April 11, 2005

So now we are wondering something else.

Is it possible that your migration into the minimalist corner has played a role in creating an idolatry problem for you? …


It is our wealth which shifts our attention away from the poor and needy and shifts our religion into moralistic, therapeutic deism. It creates deism because we love our money more than God. God therefore is distant from our everyday existence because we have another God who we love more.

Our wealth makes us turn our religion into therapy because, being rich, we also want to be comfortable, well and prosperous. Therapy helps us do that. I’m thinking religion as cosmetic surgery. We need it to look god and feel good.

Finally our wealth turns our religion into rules and regulations because without a vital, living relationship with God what is left of religion but rules and regulations?

American Christianity: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?, by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Patheos, August 6, 2014

The American Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher, in his best-selling book “The Benedict Option,” opines that “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” today is the closest thing Americans have to established religion. It, in some ways, parallels the former appeal and influence of Christian Science in its heyday, with less rigor. Its tenets, he writes, include: “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.”

Anything standing in the way of “feeling good about one’s self” gets culturally ostracized today, especially in terms of orthodox Christian anthropology of sex, condemned as hate. What’s missing in America’s penchant for “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” Dreher argues, is dedication to the enduring cross of traditional Christian faith, as people identify more with secular success than faith.

How Christian Science Became A Dying Religion, By Alfred Siewers, The Federalist, April 11, 2019

And by the way, it looks like MTD may have also been around for quite some time in the story of America. Look what we found about your famous founder, Benjamin Franklin…


Franklin adhered to a religion that we might call doctrineless, moralized Christianity. This kind of faith suggests that what we believe about God is not as important as living a life of love and significance.

….

In pioneering this doctrineless, moralized Christianity, Franklin was helping to develop one of the most common forms of spirituality in modern America. Adherence to specific beliefs and congregations is slipping in many sectors of America today, but Americans remain an overwhelmingly theistic people. Self-help celebrities and writers from Oprah Winfrey to Steven Covey reach audiences in the hundreds of millions with their quasi-religious messages about living a life of maximal goodness and significance. Even popular preachers like Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen downplay doctrine in favor of practical sermons and books on living “your best life now.”

Franklin’s Christian friends and relatives were always worried that the great printer, scientist and diplomat might be gaining the world but losing his soul. Traditional Christians today would likewise argue that authentic faith is based upon true beliefs about God, Jesus and the Bible. But the “deist” Franklin was convinced that in crafting a doctrineless, moralized Christianity, he was redeeming the best of traditional religion by channeling it toward the ideals of love and charity.

How Benjamin Franklin, a deist, became the founding father of a unique kind of American faith, By Thomas S. Kidd, Washington Post, June 28, 2017

MTD, Franklin.