May 1, 2008

Christian Nation, Prison Nation

With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States has nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. We have some 2.3 million people behind bars, creating an invisible society of dysfunction within our borders. Is the fact that we rank #1 in incarcerating each other a source of pride or shame? And most important of all, what does it say about us?

I am intrigued that the people most likely to proclaim that the United States is a Christian nation also tend to be those most responsible for perpetuating our status as the world's leading prison nation. They tend to support mandatory minimums, prefer expanding vice crimes, and seem to care little for correcting the social conditions which breed crime. Do they see incarcerating their neighbors as the Christian thing to do?

I would guess not. I assume that many of these people would explain that widespread incarceration is necessary because the populace has been insufficiently Christianized. Since "real Christians" do not commit crimes, they insist, it must be the atheists and false Christians who are filling our nation's prisons.

Of course, those who bother to investigate this possibility soon find that godlessness is unusually rare in correctional facilities. Contrary to the often repeated claims that atheists are simply immoral monsters, the data show that we are underrepresented in prison.

This seems to be a case of trying to have it both ways. The Christian nation crowd argues that the U.S. is deeply Christian while at the same time decrying our insufficiently Christian culture and its alleged effects.