Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Topic: Meme: Children Are Not Allowed To Read The Bible In Schools But Are Encouraged To Read The Bible In Prison

In this post, both will be discussing the meme children are not allowed to read the Bible in schools but are encouraged to read the Bible in prison. This is a meme that is floating around the social networking sites on the web. Both Brutal Antipathy and Redneck Genius give their points of view.

Biology, the Bible, and Recidivism
by Brutal Antipathy

Without attempting to offend, something that is a rarity in my case, I immediately notice that this meme has something in common with numerous other religion endorsing memes. It virtually drips of self-righteousness and smugness while falling short of delivering any factual or beneficial information. That though is not the problem. Where I find fault is that the meme coveys no factual or useful information. The opposite is indeed true as it conveys false information presented as truthful and useful. In other words, the creator of this meme constructed a lie that is being presented as insight. It is with little surprise that memes have existed for decades which describe a meme like this. "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story".

The creator is twisting and misrepresenting the fact that American government funded public schools are constitutionally prevented from including religion and prayer. We have to assume that the meme creator is unaware of Bible study clubs in many public schools throughout America. These groups are allowed to meet on school grounds, and despite Supreme court ruling from a half century ago, proselytizing at public schools remains rampant, particularly in the south. West Virginia court even found in favor of allowing Bibles to be made available for distribution at school (See Peck v. Upshur Board of Education). Attempts of Jewish and Islamic students to form Torah and Koran study group on campus have been far less successful. 

Children are allowed during recess, and usually in study hall, to read a variety of books, the Bible among them. While my personal experience is ancient and anecdotal, the only book that I was personally denied the opportunity to read while at school was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich when my fourth grade teacher snatched it from my hands, claiming bruskly that the swastika on the cover was illegal to display. By the time I was a freshman I knew that the teacher was a liar, but in fourth grade I knew about as much of the law as any other nine year old. My teacher had, in my eyes, as much authority as any police officer. Possibly more, as I was never spanked by a policeman. I can't say the same about my teachers.

So much for no Bible in the public school system. Now on to prison.

Prison life, from what I've been told, is not pleasant. I've been in a prison once, on a job interview. The guards were reserved, the interviewing physician stressed, the lead nurse sour, the prisoners morose, and the atmosphere, for lack of  better word, oppressive. I was happy to leave once the interview was over, and a week later politely declined by phone their job offer. A brief half hour of being inside a prison under the best of circumstances was enough to convince me that I had no desire to work there. 

I want to take a moment now to use empathy to place myself in the shoes of someone incarcerated. The stress of the new inmate is going to be high. He will be tense and nervous, likely depressed. His every move is under close scrutiny, which is a delusion in the paranoid but a reality for the prisoner. His incarceration in itself is likely evidence of a maladapive nature and behavioral problems. He is unsure of what his future will hold. The prisoner is even deprived of his sense of self identity with uniform dress and assigned numbers.

Those emotional states combine for a near perfect formula of a potential cultist. Each one of those states alone are enough to encourage a need for belonging and security. When compiled as they are, the prisoner is in a state that will drive him to seek a sense of security, any sense of security.  Religion can provide just that  in this environment. For that matter, so does gang membership. Security can be found through any solidarity and this is known as group cohesion. Identifying with and acceptance by a group, any group, is an act of self preservation as these groups offer mutual protection, welfare, and an emotional crutch in troubling times.

 Of all the groups that one can associate with in prison, a religious group has the added benefit of potentially offering a swifter release. This benefit may be small, as many parole boards are skeptical, but even a tiny advantage is better than none at all. A cross tattooed on the arm indicating religious affiliation will also cause far less negative reaction than will a swastika tattoo showing ones affiliation with a white power group. A prisoner who affiliates with a religious group then will gain some degree of protection along with a small but real advantage of early release over the ones that choose affiliation with non-religious prison groups. 

Furthermore, there are other perks to professing a religion in prison. The sense of self identity and individuality is allowed expression through religious items and articles of clothing that is denied to other inmates. In a room of jumpsuits, a yamulke or runic headband worn by practitioners of the neo-pagan Asatru  can be an act of individuality. Even religious dietary customs that prisons observe can break the monotony of the standard prison fare. Prisons routinely recognize not only Christianity, but Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, Wicca, and Rastafarian, just to name a few. Each of those are allowed perks and benefits including being excused from other assignments for religious reasons, observation of holy days, food variants, special visitations, and articles of clothing and headwear that those not professing a religion are deprived. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. In the land of uniformity any scrap of cloth that provides a hint of identity can be the line between sanity and insanity.

Fortunately for these people, the prison system bends over backward to accommodate almost every religion, not just Christianity. Have a look at that last link and see for yourself. 

In summation, it can be said that the Bible is encouraged in prison, only not for the reasons the religious might think. It is also a mistake to assume that the prison system itself encourages this. Religious encouragement in prison comes from the prisoners and outside sources, not the warden and guards. As the majority of American prisoners are hands down of a Christian denomination, as are the majority of Americans outside of prison, we should expect nothing less than their encouragement being the dominant one

. This of course says nothing of morality, as we are all aware of how many prisoners find their way back into prison after their release.  The encouragement of religion in prison is nothing more than a study on human dynamics, group cohesiveness, and survival in an otherwise bleak and brutal environment. In this, religion is only one of many group affiliations, most of which are considerably more unsavory and socially unacceptable than religion. This is no great revelation, no pious moral lesson. This is simple human behavior and reaction to a hostile environment.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets take a look at the message that the meme is trying to say. The translation needs to be read with smug self conviction and in a patronizing voice. Be sure to throw in a contemptuous sneer at the end. Ready? Good, now read this aloud just like we rehearsed: "If they would teach the Bible in school, there wouldn't be as many people in prison. Can't these fools see that they are teaching them the Bible too late?"

That is what the meme is really saying. It is attempting to show the foolishness of secularization of the state, and appeals to what the creator thinks is a common sense solution. The only glitch here is that common sense ain't so common, and the facts paint an entirely different story. Only with difficulty would you find an American that has not had exposure to the Bible. You could do it, but you would probably have to go well out of your way to find such a person. Even when you find that him, the odds are still high that he had exposure to some other religious text. Children are exposed to the Bible at school, at home, in public, and naturally at church. Despite this literal Bible saturation, some of these children grow up, become criminals, and find their way into prison. The meme creator wishes us to pretend that none of these factors are enough. We should believe that even more saturation of the Bible in school would reverse this process. I call bullshit.

The primary source of morality for any child is not the Bible. It isn't even church. The single greatest moral influence for a child is their parents. Sometimes though, this upbringing isn't enough. Take a look at some of our most notorious criminals. Ted Bundy was raised Mormon. John Wayne Gacy was raised Roman Catholic. David Berkowitz came from a good Jewish family. Ed Gein was raised Lutheran. Dahmer was Church of Christ until age 5 then was re-baptized after imprisonment. You would be hard pressed to find a serial criminal that was not given a religious upbringing.

My argument here is not that religion creates criminals, but rather that it does not prevent people from becoming criminals. This is because it is not a lack of religion or morality that creates these people. Rather it is, at least in part, something that modern society has started to deny. Human nature is driven by biology, and the biology of hormones and brain chemistry can predispose a person to criminal activity. While poor parental behavior influences some of these people, not even most of our worst offenders came from abusive families. Time after time the story involves bizarre behavior as a child, torturing and killing animals, hurting other children, and various signs of mental illness and psychosis. Our nature is a far greater predictor of criminal behavior than is our nurture. It is brain chemistry, genetics, and hormonal variances in the womb that predominantly formats people for violent and anti-social behavior.

 I am not saying that criminals should be excused for their behavior, but that we cannot continue to deny that biology shapes our behavior. Not if we are ever going to decrease the number of people in prison at least. Sociologists, often driven by political motives, wish us to believe that all behavior is the result of socialization, and these behaviors can be altered through social engineering. This approach is as ineffective as the religious solution, which itself is a form of social engineering, and equally destined to fail. No amount of Bible studies, in school or elsewhere, will deter the Bundys and Geins of the world. It might stop the petty thief who steals to feed his family, but it will not give pause to the Berine Madoffs.

Keep the Bible in prison. It won't make most criminals behave any better, but the society it breeds there will make the people a little safer, a little less miserable. Just keep the Bible out of the education system. If you are really concerned about your child's moral compass, set a good example for them at home, then pray at night that they have normal brain chemistry.

This Meme Ain't Your Grandma
by Redneck Genius

One of the internet memes making the rounds these days is a simplistic idea that children are not allowed to read the Bible in schools but are encouraged to read the Bible in prison.

To address the underlying assumption first, reading the Bible (or any other religious manual) is not going to keep a person out of jail. I supply the following proof:

As a prison minister today, I hold services regularly for men who know so much about the Bible they may as well have a degree in theology. Certainly they know more than most non-seminary trained preachers I know.

Most have been in prison before. Most admit to being "saved" prior to their last brush with the law. To a man, each and every one admits a knowledge of the Bible will not keep them from coming back as an involuntary guest of the state.

Which then begs the question, does a religious education reduce recidivism?

Independent research into religious instruction to those behind bars is hard to find. In a piece published by the University of Alabama by a professor at the Emory Law School, the answer is a resounding - It's hard to tell.

"Thus, based on current research, there is no strong reason to believe that faith-based prisons work. However, there is also no strong reason to believe that they do not work. I conclude with thoughts on how faith-based prison programs might be improved, and offer a strategy that would allow such experimentation to proceed consistent with the Constitution," Alexander Volokh writes in the abstract to the paper DO FAITH-BASED PRISONS WORK?

My discussions with the men and women running prisons indicates the same. No one is entirely sure.

So, will pre-prison religious education keep people out of jail? Again, bloody hard to quantify. I can only speak based on my experience. The vast majority of men I see in the system grew up going to church, having the Bible read and explained to them. Most did not read it, but then most didn't read much of anything.

I also point to theocracies overseas in which religious education is mandatory. They have roughly the same amount of crime as the US when (bad) apples are compared to the same fruit.

Now to address the statements directly from the meme.

Children may read the Bible and other religious texts in school. There is no prohibition on a child bringing a Bible to school and reading it during recess, lunch or a break between classes. A child may even use the Bible, or religious text, as the basis for a class assignment or report. Children may even be taught from the Bible in public school. The Bible is a wonderful source of literature and some history. The King James Bible in particular is beautifully written prose from the time it was set down in print.

As for encouraging the reading of religious material in prisons, this may be done with varying degrees of enthusiasm in county and city lockups. State and federal prisons allow such reading but do not require it. The state and federal folks will, upon request of an inmate, supply just about any written religious material.

With all this presented, someone is going to ask why I continue to go to prison and speak with inmates about the Bible.

Because, I can. I volunteer. 100 percent. In fact, I give from my own limited funds to buy Bibles. No tax dollars support me or my work. I do it because I may reach someone and give him something he needs to leave prison and become a productive citizen, never to return to prison again.

For those of you who still criticize my efforts, I ask, what are you doing to help these men avoid another prison stay?

1 comment:

  1. Both are very well written. I just came upon that meme this morning. I really appreciate both of these articles. Thank you.