TikTok’s Viral ‘Heaven’s Receptionist’ Offers Nothing but Moral Therapeutic Deism - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
TikTok’s Viral ‘Heaven’s Receptionist’ Offers Nothing but Moral Therapeutic Deism
Taryn Delanie Smith at the New York Philharmonic gala, October 2022 (lev radin/Shutterstock)

Heaven apparently has a receptionist, and her name is Denise. At least, that’s the premise of a new TikTok series from Taryn Delanie Smith, the current Miss New York. “Everyone’s loving the ‘Heaven’s Receptionist’ videos on TikTok,” writes Motherly’s Cassandra Stone, describing Smith as funny, as well as “warm and gentle.” Smith has even obliged viewers requesting that she perform scenes describing or communicating with “deceased family members,” reports Insider. This is what “heaven is like,” declares columnist Kate Cohen at the Washington Post.

Yet what Miss New York is selling says far less about heaven and the character of God than it does about what sociologist Christian Smith calls “moral therapeutic deism,” the defining religious sensibility for our secular, woke age. What many Americans want, and what Taryn Delanie Smith gives them through her faux religion, is to be told that being a nice person is what matters most, and that God’s biggest concern is our emotional and material “health.”

TikTok’s Nice, Non-Judgmental God

According to Smith (whose TikTok page has 1.2 million followers and whose videos garner millions of views on Twitter), God cares more about being nice to coffee baristas than attending weekly religious services. Being a beautiful, popular celebrity also bodes well for heavenly entry: Jackie Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, and Whitney Houston are all there. Smith’s God doesn’t care about having children out of wedlock. Nor does heaven care about sexual identity. (That’s perhaps unsurprising, given that last October Smith hosted a gala for an LGBTQ “youth shelter” — it’s for those aged 18–25 — on New York City’s Upper West Side.)  “According to Smith’s ethical worldview, extramarital procreation is not immoral, but unkindness is,” writes Cohen.

@taryntino21 Replying to @iiamdeej #receptionist ♬ Jazz masterpiece “As time goes by” covered by a Jazz violinist by profession(962408) – ricca

Though Smith’s TikTok version of God sounds like a blend of religiously themed self-help quackery and Democratic Party talking points, many are lauding her for helping people cope with death. Her followers regularly ask Denise to greet their deceased loved ones. “I can simply imagine how Denise would have greeted my beloved English teacher when she died last month and what heavenly perks might delight Mrs. Stewart,” writes Cohen.

@taryntino21 Replying to @shel_sunshine heaven is filled with gorls girls you know? #receptionist #ghost #margarita ♬ It is a looped file of 3 minutes and 29 seconds.(1066513) – Clar Music

Smith’s moral code, writes Cohen, “is refreshingly positive, ecumenical and uncomplicated.” Smith told the Washington Post that all religions are “kind of saying something very similar, which is treat people well in your life. Do as much as you can, do as much good as you can with whatever you have.” That’s the moral part. In another video, Smith instructs a newcomer to heaven to enjoy, according to Stone, the “bottomless margaritas with Betty White” — that’s the therapeutic part.

TikTok’s Rejection of Natural Order

What is perhaps most sad (and harmful) about “Heaven’s Receptionist” is that her religion amounts to little more than self-projection. Whatever you want heaven to be, it will be, as long as you’re nice. Whoever you want to be in heaven, they’ll be there, as long as they’re nice. It’s a pretty low (and subjective) bar. Though I do wonder: If a person labors to persuade people to change destructive behaviors — say, women who think they should abort their children, or people who have been deceived into thinking they must change their gender — is that “nice”?

Yet self-projection can often be an extension of autolatry, or the worship of the self. For what is demanding God be exactly what we prefer? By projecting onto God the values that matter most to contemporary liberal Americans, we neutralize and domesticate Him, turning Him into an impersonal force of “good vibes” — there’s the deism — that presents no threat to our way of life. We can’t bear to be judged for our bad decisions that hurt ourselves and others, so of course God wouldn’t do that.

Except, we must concede, life (and the natural order) have a way of reminding us of those bad decisions. Having children out of wedlock, to take an example from Smith’s TikTok content, is typically a choice with attendant calamitous consequences. “The policy implications of the increase in out-of-wedlock births are staggering,” admits an analysis by Brookings, noting that children born out of wedlock are far more likely to grow up in poverty and require extensive (taxpayer-funded) welfare services. “Fathers and mothers who are in an intact marriage tend to engage in more involved, affectionate, and consistent parenting than their peers in single- or step-families,” explains University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox.

None of this, as Christians should know, means that mothers who have children out of wedlock are any more sinners than anyone else, or that God is unwilling to forgive men and women who make bad sexual decisions. God is ever merciful, and He can “write straight with crooked lines,” as Pope Benedict XVI liked to say. But it does seem to suggest that perhaps the Bible censures extramarital sexual behavior because God created a natural order that would advantage stable families that include both mothers and fathers and disadvantage those that don’t.

Moreover, though Jesus certainly extended love to all and mercy to those who sought it, He was by no means always “nice.” He urged those who committed adultery to “sin no more” (John 8:11). He labeled the self-righteous a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33). He repeatedly warned sinners of the impending threat of hell (Mark 9:43; Luke 13:3–5; Matthew 7:21–23). I doubt “Heaven’s Receptionist” will be offering those kinds of commands or cautions any time soon.

What, then, is the alternative to believing in a God of our own making? It might start with actually considering the truth claims of various religions. Jesus, for example, rose from the grave after a most ignominious death. That’s a historically verifiable fact substantiated by six independent first-century sources (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians; and Clement’s First Letter to the Corinthians). Thus, whatever Jesus communicates about God and Heaven has a bit more credibility than our subjective, emotivist opinions — or a TikTok celebrity, for that matter. It also might mean that His moral commands have the ability to make us (and society) truly happy in the Aristotelian eudaimonia sense.

“I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I believe in the power of art and the collective imagination. I believe in the power of strangers to console one another,” writes Cohen, a liberal atheist. “I believe in Denise.” If we want to curb America’s further descent into narcissistic autolatry, we will require beliefs about the transcendent with a little more depth than Denise.

Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at the Federalist and an editor and columnist at the New Oxford Review.

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