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Actually that's exactly what I meant.

It doesn't matter if god exists if god doesn't do anything useful. Even if you define the odd unexplainable event as a miracle, god doesn't improve the morals of his followers - even if you allow for the original skewed distribution, there are more Christians than atheists in US prisons - and god makes no other useful contribution to the human experience, beyond providing a catch-all dump for the weird fuzzies, vague feelings of moral entitlement, and rather of lot of high level politics we could all do without.

Dogma conveniently tries to pretend that none of this matters because there's an invisible deferred reward, and as mere humans who cannot eff the ineffable we should just believe.

That's an odd definition of 'loving.'

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 07:44:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
even if you allow for the original skewed distribution, there are more Christians than atheists in US prisons

I would be very careful with that statistic. Many American prison wardens seem to be labouring under the impression that people who profess belief in their particular version of Christianity are more deserving of the sort of perks that prison wardens can bestow - including favourable mention in appeals, more leave time, and so on. And even if the vast majority are scrupulously fair, inmates may not want to find out the hard way where their particular warden(s) fall(s) on that spectrum.

Oh, and religious groups are notorious for claiming membership of people who have only the most marginal affiliation. If talking to the prison chaplain is sufficient for being claimed as a member of his flock, then anybody who wants to have a conversation that isn't about crime and punishment and appeals and lawyers will have to either wait for visitation hours or be counted as a Christian.

In fact, I would expect it to be a quite general feature of confined environments with authoritarian power relationships (prisons, military units, boarding schools, etc.) that "invisible" minorities (atheists, homosexuals, political deviants, etc.) would be grossly underreported. The incentives to go along to get along are very strong when you are forced to associate with the same colleagues/inmates for a long time with no appeal, or when the appeal is to authorities who may not view your minority favourably.

tl;dr: Just as there is no particular reason to expect there to be no atheists in the foxholes, there's no particular reason to expect there to be no atheists in prison cells.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 08:08:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The original stats are here.

I don't agree that you only need to include active - i.e. fervently church-going - Christians in the stats, because that assumes that you only need to include active Christians in comparative census data.

Affiliation is self-reported and I don't see why people in and out of prison would use different criteria.

However you dice it, the percentage of self-reported atheists in prison is at least an order of magnitude smaller than the percentage of self-reported atheists in the population as a whole.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 10:15:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't agree that you only need to include active - i.e. fervently church-going - Christians in the stats, because that assumes that you only need to include active Christians in comparative census data.

You're right. The ability to compare to census data is a strong point in favour of using the same standards as the census bureau.

Affiliation is self-reported and I don't see why people in and out of prison would use different criteria.

That rather depends on whether the inmates were convinced that their answer would remain anonymous.

However you dice it, the percentage of self-reported atheists in prison is at least an order of magnitude smaller than the percentage of self-reported atheists in the population as a whole.

I'd like to slice it by controlling for some of the obvious confounders, such as social class, parental education level, educational attainment, etc. It's known that these are anti-correlated to convictions and correlated to self-reporting as a member of an otherwise invisible minority. That could be because atheists (and homosexuals and syndicalists and so on) are more skilled, better educated and more morally upstanding... or it could be because upper-middle class educated people are less likely to be convicted for their crimes and more likely to be granted enough power over their own lives to make it safe to admit to being a member of a politically disfavoured minority.

Overcoming an order of magnitude is going to be non-trivial. But given how rigidly classist American society is... well, let's just say that it may not be impossible. Now, I would not be terribly surprised if there were an effect that persisted even after we stripped out the socio-economic confounders. But it would not be a full order of magnitude.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 08:01:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Faith in God/Christ is not equal to having faith in other Christians or in a religious institution.
by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 08:21:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Except when it does.

Look - it's clear that like every other Christian on the planet, your faith means exactly what you want it to mean. No more, and no less.

This is not unusual. It's so not unusual it's absolutely standard practice.

Anecdote time - I once turned a Christian chat room into a nuclear war by asking everyone what they agreed on.

It turned out that they didn't agree on anything at all. There was no single piece of morality or dogma that all of these so-called monotheistic Christians held in common - not abortion, not the divinely inspired nature of the bible, not the meaning of the life of Jesus.

None of it was shared.

More than that, they disagreed so violently that the discussion turned very nasty very quickly. It was no-true-Scotsman with infinite degrees of freedom and a subtext of 'If you don't agree you're the one going to hell.'

So - that's Christianity for you. You all believe in different contradictory things, and you think that just because you use the same words to describe them, the rest of us aren't going to notice.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 10:27:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Anecdote time - I once turned a Christian chat room into a nuclear war by asking everyone what they agreed on.

Isn't there a Geneva convention forbidding that?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 11:02:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Look - it's clear that like every other Christian on the planet, your faith means exactly what you want it to mean. No more, and no less.
This is not unusual. It's so not unusual it's absolutely standard practice.

This is your perception, apparently. And, of course, it's quite easy for me to hide my personal Christian bias because there aren't dozens of other Christians around to tell me why exactly I'm doomed.

We, everybody, Christians or not, need the honest friction and disagreement. I love to be criticized, and I know how very hard and liberating it can be to let go of a conviction that I considered essential.

You address a larger problem. Old Testament law was a Law that had to be observed by the letter, and every effort was made to either observe the law or find ways around it or to correct errors through offering sacrifices.

The New Law sets us free. It acknowledges that we are unable to be without sin. We know the Ten Commandments but with the Holy Spirit in our hearts and love for God, ourselves and our next, we should observe them without a problem.

Here's the new problem: We have a New Law and continue to apply the old rules. We are afraid of judgment, we are afraid of hell. We make mistakes, we lie but we're afraid to admit them.  So, we (Christians) entangle ourselves in a net of trying-to-be-holiness, making ourselves believe nobody would notice... ouch!

We need a pure heart, meaning we need to be honest in order for the Holy Spirit to be with us.

Christians are often raised with a load of behavioural and moral rules and the feeling that if they aren't observed, judgment (by other people), punishment (by parents, teachers..) and eventually hell will follow. You will find that mostly in Catholics and the American Religious Right.

Liberal Protestants have a different problem. They often lack guideposts and limits. Since everything's allowed, they cannot be wrong on anything. Everything is always relative and a matter of interpretation.

The former cannot be honest because they're too afraid; the latter aren't true because there really isn't any such thing as objective truth.

However, without truth - no Holy Spirit... and we cut ourselves off from God. And, sure enough, everyone around is going to notice.

Anecdote time - I once turned a Christian chat room into a nuclear war by asking everyone what they agreed on.
It turned out that they didn't agree on anything at all.

s.a. - and I may add, that the conscience of Christians is often `sharpened' in a way that certain moral questions are really matters of life and death. If you cut your opponent's opinion some slack, it will immediately endanger your own integrity, your life-saving convictions and values...

That's why such thing happens,

they disagreed so violently that the discussion turned very nasty very quickly. It was no-true-Scotsman with infinite degrees of freedom and a subtext of 'If you don't agree you're the one going to hell.'

---------

So - that's Christianity for you. You all believe in different contradictory things, and you think that just because you use the same words to describe them, the rest of us aren't going to notice.

That's not Christianity for me. ;-)

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 12:11:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
god doesn't improve the morals of his followers

bad apples do their dirty work better in barrels of good fruit.

most religious people actually do reinforce their consciences with their beliefs, (without making a fuss about it), the problems occur when their religion is bad religion, and teaches them to think and act in stupid, retrogressive ways. that majority of people whose religion is innocent of such hateful balderdash, and whose prayers are more likely to be ones about fertility or rain than hating arabs or jews or xtians or anyone else just don't make it onto the tv and front pages...

god, even the idea of god is so powerful it can turbo anything. good religion should teach us to harness that power for the good of all. some of it used to, or pretends to, but precious little keeps it simple, because the more you can mystify something, the more bells and whistles you can dangle off it, the more chance to wield power of an unsalubrious variety.

this is a journey to the heart of darkness, and an abuse of energy.

it happens... a manifestation of wrong thinking. someone got their wires crossed.

your point about prisons, whooosh!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Nov 1st, 2010 at 08:43:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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