Many other studies say the same thing, but the most important is Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton's Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
Published in 2005, it is already a classic.
Smith and Denton conducted extensive interviews with 267 American teenagers, and concluded that a new religion had emerged in America whose chief tenets are as follows:
- A God exists who created and orders 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.
Smith and Denton noticed that this "de facto creed" was particularly prominent among mainline Protestant and Catholic teenagers, "but is also visible among black and conservative Protestants."
Since the authors found that this faith is learned from parents, they conclude, "We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."
But it isn't enough to name the beast. The rest of the article is worth a read.
On another note, on a site of creeds and confessions, the side menu included an advertisement which was less subtle than moral therapeutic deism. I can only presume it to be an advertisement from the devil, who has left the second tree and sidled into cyberspace: "CHRISTIAN WOMAN, TAKE DOMINION." No. I rejoice that my head is Christ, whose is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.