Atheists in Prison

I can’t help it.  As a former Chaplain in detention facilities, this is priceless!

from Thought Potato
from Thought Potato

Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) has a longer analysis of this, and includes this chart (remember, this is only FEDERAL Prison, not State Prisons, County Jails, etc.)

from Federal Bureau of Prisons
from Federal Bureau of Prisons


12 thoughts on “Atheists in Prison

  1. I’ve been surprised at the number of imprisoned writers who have either lost whatever faith they might have had, or become Buddhists. Probably still a pretty small percentage.

  2. Yes, Catana. Those with lots of time. . .understandably sleep, watch television, exercise. . .and/or read, write, meditate, take classes, etc. “Prison ministry” is a huge industry, so many fall into the “care” of evangelizing, simple-minded preachers (and some unwise chaplains) who seem out to put “notches in their bibles” as we used to say (saving souls). This, in my mind, is missionary zeal run rampant. Turning any venue full of vulnerable people, whether a hospital, a shelter, a streetcorner or a prison into a mission-field is abusive as far as I’m concerned. Inmates who think for themselves (freethinkers) are, oddly, on the outs on the inside. Some just conform and survive, or isolate even further. Sad.

    1. I have a survey of religious beliefs and affiliation of 50 men on death row. It was done three years ago by a death row prisoner. It’s fairly extensive, considering the circumstances. Death row prisoners probably aren’t typical for an attempt, but it’s still revealing. If you would be interested in it, I can track down the link to order it. It was $5.00

      1. I’d be interested in a summary of that, Catana. Thanks. My guess is, with the limited access to visits and materials, most special housing prisoners will identify as Christian, especially since most fulltime Chaplains in prisons are of that faith. In my experience, an Interfaith approach is rare.

      2. Here’s the link to the blog post where the survey creator discussed it. At the bottom are PDF links to a few of the graphs, and a Paypal link to the whole thing.

        I should note that there are no religous services at all, and visits by chaplains of any denomination or religion are rare. These men are in solitary confinement. I have the whole survey, and haven’t looked at the other links in some time, so I don’t know how useful the limited number of pages will be to you. What’s most interesting is the move to no-affiliation or to non-christian beliefs.

  3. Thank you, Catana. I will take a look. As with individuals in any “outsider” group (cast out, castaway, marginalized, etc) no specific worldview or belief system may speak to their unique situation. Unfortunately, when there is access, it is often sectarian. We should all stop to contemplate isolated people on a daily basis, if “spirituality” or at least Humanity means anything.

      1. Wow. Yes, I just read over most of the material and sent Thomas a supportive comment. We need to hear more of these reasonable voices trying to make sense inside an irrational system. Thank you again.

  4. Thanks. I know he’ll appreciate it. If you sent it to his prison address, he may eventually write back, but until mid-February, he’s in disciplinary isolation. He refuses to be silenced, and he always pays for it one way or another. SOP.

  5. What I don’t understand about alot of atheists is if you don’t believe in God why do you spend so much time discussing him? If he doesn’t exist why even bring him up.

    1. I rarely discuss atheism, but it’s difficult to ignore something that’s a major part of our society. And I don’t think it *should* be ignored, because it affects a lot of people. It isn’t a matter of whether “he” exists, because that’s a pointless argument, but how people’s beliefs impinge on culture, law, etc.

    2. Point well taken, Jeremy. This is a common criticism of non-believers and it deserves a reasoned response.

      For those of us who gave a large portion of our lives to faith and God, to study of scripture and church, a lot of “mental rental” space was given to these matters. I was personally saturated in God-things. Serving as a Minister and Chaplain for many years I encountered people day after day who thought of little else than God and I had long discussions (still do) with those who feel put off and put out by people of faith. In our culture, religion rules and everywhere we look the evangelizers with their “good news” are out to make a free country their own, to create America in their image. This has to be met clearly and firmly with education, reasoning and healthy laws that assure a secular nation with freedom of religion. Yes, I strongly support freedom of religion, but it must be for all free thought and must not be imposed with one religion dominating all others.

      Here’s another thing, Jeremy. I have a strong interest in “ultimate issues” and sense that often Religion/Faith has merely put a human face on Nature. Nature is enough for me, with no need for a “super” nature. The world is full of beauty and wonder and endless good things to discover and celebrate. I have no time for the distractions of another world or pointless, circular theo-logical debates. People need shelter and food and healthcare and justice. . . I wonder what Jesus would be up to here and now? Sitting in bible studies or a church pew? Caught up in God-debates? I highly doubt it. You see, I honor the wisdom and social action of Jesus and just happen to think most modern Christians follow a religion that has little to do with him. Odd, but seems true. I honor all the wise teachers of old. But they are not here now, we are. And life is short.

      I also miss a few elements of the “church community.” Such as “community,” such as group singing and some aspects of service. Yet, I still serve (people, not a watchful eye in the sky), and I still find community and sing a bit. Sometimes I miss a bit of the “respect” I felt from people who view clergy as “closer to God.” Yet, now I delight in the respect I feel from people who know that I’ve “been there” (with faith) and now I’ve left, and can talk about that freely, without fear, without fear of judgement or punishment. The judgement comes only from believers who judge me, and other nonbelievers, in the name of their “loving God.” I already know I’m going to their “hell” where their “loving Father” will torture me for eternity. So, I shake my head and live my life the best I can. And, I speak out to counter this strange and oppressive ideology that really can sink in and poison the mind. Our human community needs and deserves a healthier diversity of viewpoints and solutions.

      Maybe this helps, Jeremy? As long as the world is filled with religion and people of faith, who continually preach at us with their chosen God, those of us who don’t see the world that way will speak out and respond, again and again. You see, if believers didn’t “spend so much time” imposing their beliefs into my life and my world, I wouldn’t feel the need to “spend so much time” talking about it. See? My only hope and intent is that this can be done as respectfully and compassionately as possible (though sometimes with an edge and a dash of sarcasm). And it’s true, with my long history facing the faith issues, I do get quite irritated when the irrational is being sold and sermonized as “truth.” This poses as much danger in this country as irrational faith poses in many other areas of the world. I would hope that you, and others of faith, would join us in facing down these dangers, and working for the good of all.

      I wish you well.

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