The Religion of The Bachelorette and Reality TV: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
Bachelorette Emily Maynard chose her man in last night's finale of the popular reality television show. Millions of viewers wanting a beautiful love story watched the season in which 25 eligible men wined, dined, and romanced Maynard who, interestingly, seemed religious.
Though she never referred to herself as a Christian on the show, she wore a cross bracelet, bought a crucifix off the street on a date, frequently claimed to be "blessed," and is planning a missions trip to Africa. Though she was not married when she conceived her daughter, she has said she won't live with anyone before getting married, won't have steamy hot tub scenes, and prayed before agreeing to be The Bachelorette.
Maynard is not the first Christian to appear on the show. In 2010, Methodist Jake Pavelka was nominated by his fellow church members sick of the drinking and sex of previous seasons.
On the first night, contestants were asked, "Do you believe in premarital sex?" and, "What is the most important thing in your life?" Jake answered, "God," and when asked for his definition of love, he quoted Scripture.
But even if contestants indicate faith on the show, it seems to get lost amid all the hair extensions, plastic surgery, and candlelight. Or, perhaps the show itself subtly reveals an alternative faith altogether.
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In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined the term "moralistic therapeutic deism" to describe the faith of many young people—including professing Christians—in the 21st-century West. MTD adherents believe God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, that the central goals of life are to be happy and feel good about oneself, that God doesn't need to be involved in life unless there's a problem, and that good people go to heaven. In other words, they have vague, fuzzy feelings about God that are at odds with the historic teachings of the faith they profess.
This is also how religion on reality television is portrayed: There's vague talk of "blessings," "destiny," and "following your heart" in between hot tub sessions, with little mention of a biblical worldview from the contestants.
Though there were more virtuous options, Jake, "the moral bachelor," chose Vienna Girardi, who had previously been divorced twice at age 23. At the end of the season, host Chris Harrison said, "Rest assured, Jake's choice came from his heart." Jake agreed. "You have to listen to your heart." In other words, Jake took less instruction from the church (which could've warned him about the deception of man's heart and the temporary nature of charm) than the last scene of every romantic film ever made. Their combustible relationship finally ended after way too many arguments on subsequent episodes of The Bachelor Pad.
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