But that's just the problem. Many religious teens do not hold to an orthodox Christian belief concerning goodness and salvation. Barna noted from his research: "Amazingly, even though they have personally prayed to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, half of all born-again teenagers believe that a person can earn his or her way into heaven."

Smith and Denton said, "Viewed in terms of the absolute historical centrality of the Protestant conviction about salvation by God's grace alone, through faith alone and not by any human good works, many believe professions by Protestant teens, including numerous conservative Protestant teens, in effect discard that essential Protestant gospel."

If religion is important only to help people live good lives, might it not also be true that the definition of a "good" life would differ from individual to individual?

In fact, that is what the majority of youth believe. "In this context ... the very idea of religious truth is attenuated," Soul Searching said, "shifted from older realist and universalist notions of convictions about objective Truth to more personalized and relative versions of 'truth for me' and 'truth for you.'"

This rigidly individualistic view of religion "is not a contested orthodoxy for teenagers," the book said. "It is an invisible and pervasive doxa, that is, an unrecognized, unquestioned, invisible premise or presupposition."

Having completely digested the doctrine of inclusivity and diversity, it is no surprise that typical responses in the Smith and Denton interviews were statements like, "Who am I to judge?," "If that's what they choose, whatever," "Each person decides for himself," and "If it works for them, fine."

With a view of religion that is so intertwined with individualism and which rejects any transcendent truth, it is also not surprising that the majority of teenagers reject the very idea that religion is necessary at all.

Most American teenagers "do not view religion as necessary for anyone being good because they see many means to being good and many good non-religious people. Hence, most U.S. teenagers conclude that religion is a non-necessary condition for achieving one of [religion's] primary functions. In other words, the thing religion specializes in does not actually require religion to achieve. Consequently, many U.S. teenagers construct religion in non-essential terms, as an optional individual lifestyle choice that does indeed help many people but is certainly not itself ultimately necessary."

'Religion Helps Me Feel Happy'
The second facet of Smith and Denton's portrait of dominant religion in America is that it is therapeutic. That is, faith is meant to make a person happy, and help him get through life -- much as a therapist does.

This means that concepts like repentance from sin, praying for God's mercy and grace, or faithfully "living as a servant of a sovereign divine" are absent from the religious lives of many teens, and even many so-called Christian teens.

"Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

In their interviews, the researchers logged the number of teens who mentioned certain key phrases. When it came to what the researchers called the "historically central religious and theological ideas," few teens uttered them, if at all. For example, only 47 mentioned "personally sinning or being a sinner," and the numbers trailed off dramatically after that. Next on the list: Only 13 mentioned "obeying God or the church." Concepts such as "the kingdom of God" or "the grace of God" were even less frequently mentioned – by only five teens and three teens, respectively.