Prison, Faith, and Statistics

A look at the faith of prisoners looking for pen pals on


It is often claimed that the US prison population is made up primarily (est. 74%) of people who ascribe to the Christian faith. I personally always felt this statistic to be a bit grandiose, even for the US.


When I came across the website which offers people the opportunity to be a pen pal to people in prison I noticed that they allow you to select who you will correspond with based on a number of filters including race, gender, and religion.


I thought it might be a fun exercise to try filtering all potential pen pals by the 10 faiths listed.  Here’s how it turned out.
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Christianity is a Religion, Deal with It!

Recently one of my favorite atheist bloggers Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) posted a video blog discussing the question “Can you hate religion but love Christ?”.


My experiences with people who claim to follow Jesus but not be religious differ slightly from Mr. Mehta’s in an interesting way- while he seems to have encountered people who reject religion and also the label of ‘Christian’, all the non-religious Christians I have known are still happy and proud to refer to themselves and identify as Christian.
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Personal Journey Series: My Atheist Testimony

I get a lot of messages, most of which are asking about my deconversion from christianity. People want to know why I left, what it meant to me when I was a christian, and why I don’t see any reason to return. For anyone who has asked, and anyone else who is curious, here is my testimony.


I started life as an atheist. My parents, who were both raised as catholics, never felt the need to force religion or god upon me. I have never seen my mother or father as being faithful. As an adult I have come to know my dad is an atheist and my mother is (basically) a pantheist. My mum and dad were both followers of a man called Prem Rawat (Maharaji), an Indian guru with millions of followers world-wide who preaches peace and love. Many consider him to be a new messiah (he does not claim this himself). My parents often encouraged me to embrace the messages / teachings of Maharaji throughout my childhood and teenage years, but I never connected.


What I did connect with, though, was christianity. At age 6 my mum enrolled me into two christian institutions; the nearby lutheran church Sunday school and the local Girls Brigade company (pic below). Her only motivation for doing this was free childcare. She and my dad had divorced when I was 5 and my mum was working full time – the church offered what was ultimately cheap babysitting. For me though, it would start me on a path that would consume my existence for the next 15 years.
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Hate the Faith Not the Faithful

Living in Australia, when you turn on the morning news and you see the words ‘hostage situation’ or ‘gunman’ or ‘terror attack’ floating across the screen the usual response would be to sigh and lament “Oh America, get your shit together…” As we all know, this was not the case yesterday morning. On Monday December 15th we Aussies were rocked with out own terror scare when a lone gunman took hostages in Sydney’s Martin Place in the central business district.

The incident, which was labelled #SydneySiege by the internet lasted from the morning and through the night and ended with most of the 17 hostages being released, however, two innocent lives were lost and along with the life of the gun man, now identified as Man Haron Monis.

So much has already been said in the past 24 hours. A deluge of articles from all directions have surfaced, some promoting tolerance, some defending their intolerance, and others simply begging for calm. The most amazing development has been the show of solidarity within the Australian community in the form of the #illridewithyou tag which shows non-Muslim Australians offering to ride with and stand up for Muslim Australians. It has been an amazing and inspiring display of humanism.

The tag has a dark side to it with many people criticizing #illridewithyou due to their flawed understanding of what it stands for. Many people assume that offering protection and understanding to a fellow human being is somehow showing support for religion, specifically Islam. It’s really not.

I personally support the movement and I hate religion, all religion. I can’t help but think that yesterday’s event may have been totally avoided if Monis did not consider himself under divine guidance. Monis was there for Allah, acting in his name, through directions offered in the Qur’an. If these things did not exist, where would his motivation come from? Perhaps somewhere else if he truly was a lunatic, but if in fact his actions were guided entirely by his faith-based beliefs, it’s safe to say this probably wouldn’t have happened. The families who lost loved ones yesterday would not be grieving and would not have presents under the tree that will never be unwrapped.
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One Foot In The Church, One Foot In The World: An Atheist Perspective.

There are many Christian blogs and other faith-based writings that speak about living with ‘one foot in the church and one in the world.’ The majority of these point out that living this way is only meeting god halfway and urging people to get both feet in the church. From a Christian perspective this is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly (but not necessarily most importantly), it is what the Bible teaches. Romans 12:2 states bluntly; “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

It is not the Bible though, that seems to truly inspire this vigilance regarding living with two feet in the church. Rather, it seems to be more a request to deny and reject secular culture and elements of popular culture which Christians, especially Christian youth, find desirable, even irresistible. This ideal of worldly rejection in itself is by no means a new development in the church or Christianity; on the contrary, it has always been the goal. Only the fact that this ideal is being rejected en masse by Christian youth worldwide is a new experience for the church, as are the desperate requests for children to ignore the world in favour of Christ.

In more recent years, as the church has begun to come to terms with the fact that popular culture is winning the war in the battle for youth involvement, it has started to defile itself by bringing these seductive pop culture elements into the church in an attempt to lure in the youth; the most obvious example is the integration of secular music and contemporary worship into older church models. While this new adaptive method of fishing for a congregation might be in direct conflict with biblical teachings (again, Romans 12:2), it has, in part, worked for the church. Youth are attending church.

The conflict however, is obvious, as is the hefty price the church is paying for abandoning its roots.

So, what are we to make of an institution which simultaneously supplies people with the things they are taught by that institution to reject?

Continue reading “One Foot In The Church, One Foot In The World: An Atheist Perspective.”

The Evolution of Charismatic and Pop Culture Christianity Vs. Punk Rock

An exploration of Order and Charism as expressions of culture and counter culture: A comparison with Pop music and the Punk Rock Movement.

The 1960s was a time of global social revolution, when counter culture became a centre point of popular culture, and tensions which had been building since the 1940s between traditional societal values and a generation who seemed to instinctively revolt against the conservatism that these values enforced, came to a head.

These tensions peaked early in the decade and saw infant movements such as the women’s rights movement, the anti-war movement, the African-American civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and the artistic and literary movements explode into the forefront of public awareness and become world changing – revolutions in their own right. The ideals of each of these revolutions seem to centre on a desire for equality and a peaceful integration of all humans, a utopia[1]. Even the negative aspects being promoted within some these movements – such as the literary revolutionists’ affinity with free love (meaningless sex) and the encouraging of drug use – still embrace these ideals.

In this essay I will be exploring how these movements influenced two conservative institutions that were also revolutionised during this era: the traditional church and pop music. I will also draw parallels between two related counter cultures that spawned from this social climate: the Charismatic Christian movement and the punk rock movement. My objective is to demonstrate that both the modern ordered and charismatic churches are ultimately direct expressions of social culture – either mainstream or counter – and both ultimately follow the same responsive path in spite of being in tension with each other. Finally, I will discuss how these parallels eventually merge, and what the outcome of this convergence might mean for the future direction of the church.

Justice League – Justifying The Comparison.

To draw parallels between these institutions I first need to show how their histories and growth patterns relate to one another. I will do this by showing the timelines of (a) pop music VS the ordered church and (b) the punk movement VS the charismatic movement. This timeline will also highlight the similarity in causality and rapid growth pattern between the latter.

(a) Pop Music and the traditional Church.

For the purpose of my objective, I will not be exploring a complete world history of pop music or the ordered church as both these topics are of too massive a scale to be appreciated properly in this essay. I will instead primarily focus on the 1960s and 1970s and discuss what changes came into fruition for both of these institutions due to the social revolutions occurring at the time, and how these changes helped  sow the seeds for their respective counter cultures in the next decade.

Pop music has origins rooted in the late 1930s (and as far back as the Victorian era when one relaxes the definition to encompass the entire concept of ‘popular music’)[2] and, like the traditional church, largely remained bound to its roots and core structures (values and traditions) until the social revolution of the 1960s. During this time however, the influence of the surrounding social revolutions saw the inception of drastic changes to the foundations and ideals of both.

While pop music saw a shift away from the traditional content of politically correct love songs, written by professionals and performed by purposefully employed signers and classically trained musicians, to a new wave of rock ’n’ roll inspired pop musicians who wrote and performed their own compositions, the lyrical content of which began to reflect the revolutions and current events of the time with bands such as The Beatles (often considered a revolution in their own right), Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan openly expressing anti-war, pro-drug use, pro-free love and pro-peace driven sentiments in a majority of their lyrics during this era. This shift in pop music permanently redefined the genre in both a literal and conceptual sense and for a time, pop music could be viewed as less a product of  and more a movement in itself.

Likewise, the church underwent significant, similar changes during this time[3]. The ideals of peaceful integration being rallied for by the feminist, anti-gay and African American civil rights were making their way into congregations around the globe and saw many churches allowing women more authoritative involvement in the church, a relaxing of the exclusion of homosexuals and an integration of African American churches with all white churches.  Most notable are the changes introduced into the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which aimed to engage the Church more closely with the present world and saw many long-upheld traditions either modified[4] (such as a relaxing of the rules and regulations of both lifestyle and dress requirements for those in the priesthood) or completely updated (such as encouraging all people to read the bible, which had previously been an activity assigned to clergy, or at best, the faithful).

Continue reading “The Evolution of Charismatic and Pop Culture Christianity Vs. Punk Rock”