The Lie about Christians Being More Likely to Go to Prision


One attempt at this bogus atheist social sciences can be found on a site by Rod Swift. Swift wrote to the bureaus of prisons for stats, but unfortunately demonstrates that he doesn't know how to read a table.

I can't reproduce the table here without screwing up the side bar, but I will link to the tables, please read them here. 

Scroll to where it says: "Prison Incarceration and Religious Preference Futher Information"

Look at that link becuase it's extremely important. If you study the two tables you see they are very different but they are supposed to be the same table. I did not make that up, it's on What that means is that the stats have been re configured by someone.

What's really interesting is what has to say about these stats and Swift's website. Here is a letter by researcher on who checked out Swift's data:

David Rice has written to us (23 October 2002) concerning the origin of the data in the table below: The data came from Denise Golumbaski, who was a Research Analyst for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The data was compiled from up-to-the-day figures on March 5th, 1997. (Note that as of the year 1999, Analyst Golumbaski is no longer working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons; I had telephoned Analyst Golumbaski to request the latest figures, and was told by another analyst that Golumbaski was no longer employed there.) The data was requested by Mr. Rod Swift, who passed it on to me for my web site. I later called the Federal Bureau of Prisons and confirmed that the data did in fact come from their database.

I have represented both tables exactly as they appear on the website.

Several interesting points. The original says "National of Islam," Swift's Version says "Nation" only. The Original puts Muslims at 5.837% while Swift's version puts them at 7.273%. Swift's has Mormons as seventh from bottom. The original doesn't have Mormons on it.

What's really interesting is the major difference for our purposes, the original includes "none/atheist/unknown as third from the top. Swift puts them much further down. The Originals give the atheist category almost 20% while Swift gives it 0.2% or less.

Examine this table with the one above.

Swift's Table

On Swift's table there is no mention of atheist in the first five categories and atheist is listed fifth from the bottom. In that table atheist are listed as 0.209% of the population. Now here is the table sent by the Bureau of prisons to Rice, first five:

Catholic -- 29267 (39.164%)
Protestant -- 26162 (35.008%)
None/Atheist/Unknown -- 18,537 (19.908%)

Originally I quoted the stats exactly as they appear on the table with the comparison figures exactly as they appear on the other table. But someone edited that and changed it all. They took out the comparison and they thought "well the figures are different so there's a mistake" the whole point is that they are different because they are supposed to be the same. that's how we know there's hanky panky afoot.

but you can still see what I mean if you look at the link above.

In this table Atheist/unknown/none is third from the top and represents 19% of the population! Fifth from the bottom on this version is not atheist but "Hindu." So the version sent by the Bureau of Prisons is significantly different than the version put up by Swift.

It seems Swift misrepresented the data.

So in other words, the actual number of atheists is about a quarter as high as the Christians. It's not this tiny 0.2 percent of the population represented by Swift, it's actually pretty high. Thus, it's pretty clear he fabricated the data. These mistakes are too far off to be merely mistakes in recording.

Swift goes on to explain how the disproportionate number of atheists in prison from the general population means they are so far better behaved than Christians.
Now, let's just deal with the nasty Christian types, no? "Judeo-Christian Total 62594 83.761% (of the 74731 total responses) Total Known Responses 74731 Not unexpected as a result. Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%).

Of course he's distorting these figures too because the total atheist population in the United States is not 8% (and certainly not as high as 16%). He's including people who believe in God but don't like organized religion as well as agnostics as atheists. He's also dealing with his false figures. The actual figure is 20% atheists in prison and 3% in society. So what does this tell us? Atheist are a lot less well behaved. answers Swift's page directly:

One atheist web page ( presented statistics stating that 0.209% of federal prisoners (in 1997) stated "atheist" as their religious preference. This site said that this is far less than the 8 to 16% of the American population that are atheists.

The atheist site, however, provided no source for the notion that "8 to 16%" of Americans are atheists. This statistic is completely without support from the available data. Gallup polls which include questions about religion have consistently shown that between 93 and 96% of Americans say that they believe in God. Presumably atheist writers would not suggest that up to half of their claimed "atheists" believe in God. The actual proportion of atheists in the United States is about 0.5% (half of one percent). This is the figure obtained from the largest survey of religious preference ever conducted: the National Survey of Religious Identification (Kosmin, 1990), which polled 113,000 people. The religious preference questions were part of questioning completely unrelated to religious preference (consumer preferences, entertainment, etc.), so the frequent retort of atheists that their numbers don't like to admit to atheism, and hence are under counted, is unlikely.

Atheists play a little game where they refuse to accept the fact that there are distinctions between people who really have a devotion to a faith and those who merely having a passing identification. They play this game so they can say that all the bad things of history are done by Christians, and Christians can't say "Oh, but they weren't real Christians." Yet real sociologists (which is more than just a matter of dedication but of real credentials) say that there is a valid distinction and not all people who say "I am a Christian" are really examples of dedication to that faith. The refusal to account for depth of commitment is a real flaw in Swift's thinking and this is exactly what points out:

Thus, some commentators on one side have claimed that being religious is associated with incarceration. This is based only on religious preference statistics. American sociologists are well aware that nearly all Americans profess a religious preference. But there is a major difference between those who are actually religious affiliated, that is, members of a congregation (approx. 45 to 65% of the population, varying by region), and those who merely profess a preference, likely the name of the denomination that their parents of grandparents were a part of. (One of the best discussions of this phenomenon can be found in The Churching of America, 1776-1990, by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark; New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.)

On that same page quotes Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Census of the Jail Population 12/31/95) as saying: 72% affirm Christianity, 54% actually declare themselves religious, and only 33% actually practice their faith (by attending chruch).

Sociologists would laugh themselves silly over the simplistic nature of Swift's thinking. It's just not enough to assume from raw data on the stated affiliations of prison population that some belief system leads to crime. The page also notes:

Thus, some commentators on one side have claimed that being religious is associated with incarceration. This is based only on religious preference statistics. American sociologists are well aware that nearly all Americans profess a religious preference. But there is a major difference between those who are actually religious affiliated, that is, members of a congregation (approx. 45 to 65% of the population, varying by region), and those who merely profess a preference, likely the name of the denomination that their parents of grandparents were a part of. (One of the best discussions of this phenomenon can be found in The Churching of America, 1776-1990, by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark; New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.)

As that same article points out someone on a survey answering "I'm a Methodist" is virtually meaningless, not sociologically but truly meaningless, because that person may be just remembering the affiliation of the family or the grandparents or parents not his own actual beliefs. A more reliable indication would be enrollment on church membership rolls, but these statistics are not available. Even more reliable than that would be records of actual church attendance.

Swift does not even take into account depth of belief, he doesn't bother to determine when the inmates started their beliefs. If I went to prison I would join a church and say I was a Christian, even if I wasn't. You are more likely to get parole, you have a group to identify with which may be able to protect you in certain cases, and you may get favored treatment. Parole boards really love to hear about religious conversions.I knew a guy who fakes a religious conversion because he went to jail and he continued the deception even while the was out on parole latter. When he got off parole, that ever day, he left his wife. He was not a Christian when he went to jail. He became one in jail.

Here is the analysis of Chris Price, a friend of mine and member of the CADRE apologetics group:

Priceless comments

CADRE Comments, Oct 16, 2007

First, I note that when atheists are trying to emphasize their numbers, they include agnostics and nonbelievers and skeptics among their ranks. But when they want to deemphasize their involvement in negative social characteristics, they take a more limited approach to the data. This study only mentions atheists, not unbelievers, irreligious, unbelievers, skeptics, etc. So, you may think there are more “atheists” in the United States than the data supports. Most stats at, for example, puts the number of “atheists” at less than 1%.

Second, atheists tend to be more privileged than the rest of the population, especially the prison population. They are predominately white, more educated, and middle class. These are typically the result of birth, which is not something for which their atheism can claim credit.

Third, the study tells us nothing about the timing or strength of religious identification. There is a strong motive to “clean up your act” in prison, complete with visits by prison chaplains and evangelists working to reform the inmates. Add to this the fact that religious conversion may be a good way to signal to others—such as the warden or parole board—that the inmate has reformed, there are ample reasons to find increased religious identification among inmates.

Fourth, your review of the data is over simplistic. For example, you ignore the fact that Protestants make up a much smaller percentage of the prison population (35%) than they do the population at large (53%). Mormons make up about 2% of the population, but are a negligible portion of the prison population. Now, this may also be linked to other issues such as income, race, or education levels.

...Actually, if you compare church attendance (and thus exposure to the preaching of Christian values) you get plenty of improved morality. This article by a self-styled "secular liberal" who is also an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia admits that "surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people."

The article Price sites is The Third Edge by JONATHAN HAIDT, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Price's comments are "priceless," but it's worse than he thought. He assumes the atheist is fudging by just not including unbelievers and those who have no opinion as atheists (as they usually do). But more than that is happening. In this case, Swift is willfully misrepresented the stats. Counter data: Swift is not a social scientist and his fabricated data is not a real study. But a large body of real social scinece proves that religious belief and participation deter crime. Dark Larson proves there are 400 studies done by real social scientists that show that religious participation reduces the likelihood of Juvenile delinquency. Consider the following from the Cities on a Hill Newsletter, 1999:

Dr. Larson laid the foundation for the discussion by summarizing the findings of 400 studies on juvenile delinquency,conducted during the past two decades. He believes that although more research is needed, we can say without a doubt that religion makes a positive contribution. His conclusion: “The better we study religion,the more we find it makes a difference.”

The benefits from religion (especially Christianity) are numerous:

* [] Attending services is the most significant factor in predicting charitable giving. (Robert Wunthnow, Acts of Compassion, Princeton University Press, 1991.)

* [] Attending services is the most significant factor in predicting volunteer activity. (Ibid.)

* [] Sixth through twelfth graders who attend religious services once a month or more are half as likely to engage in at-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual excess, truancy, vandalism, drunk driving and other trouble with police. (Search Institute, "The Faith Factor," Source, Vol. 3, Feb. 1992, p.1.)

* [] Churchgoers are more likely to aid their neighbors in need than are non-attendees. (George Barna, What Americans Believe, Regal Books, 1991, p. 226.)

* [] Three out of four Americans say that religious practice has strengthened family relationships. (George Gallup, Jr. "Religion in America: Will the Vitality of Churches Be the Surprise of the Next Century," The Public Perspective, The Roper Center, Oct./Nov. 1995.)

* [] Church attendance lessens the probabilities of homicide and incarceration. (Nadia M. Parson and James K. Mikawa: "Incarceration of African-American Men Raised in Black Christian Churches." The Journal of Psychology, Vol. 125, 1990, pp.163-173.)

* [] Religious practice lowers the rate of suicide. (Joubert, Charles E., "Religious Nonaffiliation in Relation to Suicide, Murder, Rape and Illegitimacy," Psychological Reports 75:1 part 1 (1994): 10 Jon W. Hoelter: "Religiosity, Fear of Death and Suicide Acceptibility." Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Vol. 9, 1979, pp.163-172.)

*The presence of active churches, synagogues, or mosques reduces violent crime in neighborhoods. (John J. Dilulio, Jr., "Building Spiritual Capital: How Religious Congregations Cut Crime and Enhance Community Well-Being," RIAL Update, Spring 1996.)

* [] People with religious faith are less likely to be school drop-outs, single parents, divorced, drug or alcohol abusers. (Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Roland, "Correcting the Welfare Tragedy," The Center for Public Justice, 1994.)

* [] Church involvement is the single most important factor in enabling inner-city black males to escape the destructive cycle of the ghetto. (Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer, eds., The Black Youth Employment Crisis, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p.354.)

* [] Attending services at a church or other house of worship once a month or more makes a person more than twice as likely to stay married than a person who attends once a year or less. (David B. Larson and Susan S. Larson, "Is Divorce Hazardous to Your Health?" Physician, June 1990. Improving Personal Well-Being.)

* [] Most happy people are also religious people. 96% of people who say they are generally happy agree that "My religious faith is the most important influence in my life." (George Gallup, Jr. "Religion in America: Will the Vitality of Churches Be the Surprise of the Next Century?", The Public Perspective, The Roper Center, Oct./Nov. 1995.)

* [] Most people who find their work exciting and fulfilling are religious people.

* [] 80% of those who say they are "excited about the future" agree that they find "comfort and support from my religious beliefs." (Ibid.)

* [] Most people who feel close to their families are religious people. 94% of people who "feel very close" to their families agree that "my religious faith is the most important influence in my life." (Ibid.)

* [] Eight in ten Americans say religious beliefs help them respect themselves. (Ibid.)

* [] More than eight in ten say that their religious beliefs lead them to respect people of other religions. (Ibid.)

Religious Belief has a Positive Impact on Health

* [] Regular church attendance lessens the possibility of cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema and arteriosclerosis. (George W. Comstock amd Kay B. Patridge:* "Church attendance and health."* Journal of Chronic Disease, Vol. 25, 1972, pp. 665-672.)

* [] Regular church attendance significantly reduces the probablility of high blood pressure. (David B. Larson, H. G. Koenig, B. H. Kaplan, R. S. Greenberg, E. Logue and H. A. Tyroler:* " The Impact of religion on men's blood pressure."* Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 28, 1989, pp.265-278.* W.T. Maramot:* "Diet, Hypertension and Stroke." in* M. R. Turner (ed.) Nutrition and Health, Alan R. Liss, New York, 1982, p. 243.)

* [] People who attend services at least once a week are much less likely to have high blood levels of interlukin-6, an immune system protein associated with many age-related diseases. (Harold Koenig and Harvey Cohen, The International Journal of Psychiatry and Medicine, October 1997.)

* [] Regular practice of religion lessens depression and enhances self esteem. (Peter L. Bensen and Barnard P. Spilka:* "God-Image as a function of self-esteem and locus of control" in H. N. Maloney [ed.] Current Perspectives in the Psychology of Religion, Eedermans, Grand Rapids, 1977, pp. 209-224.* Carl Jung: "Psychotherapies on the Clergy" in Collected Works Vol. 2, 1969, pp.327-347.)

* [] About half of religious people "have a lot of stress" in their lives, but only half of these "often get depressed." (George Gallup, Jr. "Religion in America: Will the Vitality of Churches Be the Surprise of the Next Century?" The Public Perspective, The Roper Center, Oct./Nov. 1995.)

* [] Church attendance is a primary factor in preventing substance abuse and repairing damage caused by substance abuse. (Edward M. Adalf and Reginald G. Smart:* "Drug Use and Religious Affiliation, Feelings and Behavior." * British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 80, 1985, pp.163-171.* Jerald G. Bachman, Lloyd D. Johnson, and Patrick M. O'Malley:* "Explaining* the Recent Decline in Cocaine Use Among Young Adults:* Further Evidence That Perceived Risks and Disapproval Lead to Reduced Drug Use."* Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 31,* 1990, pp. 173-184.* Deborah Hasin, Jean Endicott, * and Collins Lewis:* "Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Patients With Affective Syndromes."* Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol. 26, 1985, pp. 283-295. * The findings of this NIMH-supported study were repilcated in the Bachmen et. al. study above.)

* This data is reprinted from RIAL Update which is edited by Robert B. Lennick and published twice a year by Religion In American Life.

Swift has responded to this counter-evidence. Here's what he said:
December 23, 2009 4:56 PM


Blogger Rod Swift said...

As *the* Rod Swift who gathered the data I can verify that has completely misrepresented the data that was presented to me by the US Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The fact is that, yes, the data table provided contained an 'unknown' factor. This is because some prisons do not survey prisoners for data about religion. This is why the original table excluded these individuals.

The data is valid, and has been statistically emulated by surveys of prisoners in other nations -- like the UK -- which found the rate of offence for atheists is far lower than that of other groups.

Here is my response to Swift:
December 28, 2009 6:46 AM

Blogger Metacrock said...

I'll give you the benefit of a doubt and not accuse you of lying. I withdraw (conditionally) my accusation. you may be mistaken. you may be lying, I will find out. But in the mean time I'll accept your statement that you are blameless. is not a Christian apologetic site. they have no real motive for saying that. They have professional demographers so it's not likely they made the mistake. I will try to contact them and get to the bottom of it.

In all fairness to you I will put this on the website.

I want to be fair and seek the truth. I know the accusation that Christians are more likely to go to prison is idiotic. I notice he doesn't respond to any other arguments such as the parole argument or the sociologists saying that his methodology is poor. In fairness to him, it's his word against I'm going to check into it. There are four possiblities

(1) he's lying (since he says he's not I'll suspend that suspicion--innocent until proved guilty and all that);

(2) he is mistaken, so his data in error for some reason but he didn't intentionally deceive;

(3) he's right and his data is right; or

(4) both sets of data of data are wrong.

We shall see.

I have proven that the Swift data on Christians being more likely to go to prison is wrong. He denies changing the numbers and I said I would not accuse him until I have positive proof but someone did. Either he did or the guy who sent him the data did. It could be that the guys who sent the data to adherents did, but I don't see what their motive would be. Neither the Bureau of prisons nor have a motive to falsify but an atheist would.


BK said…
These are excellent points, Joe. The idea that because these people put down a particular religious affiliation really takes almost no account of how seriously they take that belief. Moreover, similar to the well-known adage that correlation isn't equal to causation, the question of what causes crime is multi-faceted. Many factors enter into the picture including poverty, upbringing, mental illness, etc. It is simply laughable to think that somehow there exists a straight relationship between these numbers and the mitigating effect of religion on crime.

But what is most astounding is that Swift apparently did manufacture the figures to try to make atheists appear to be a smaller percentage than they actually are. But then, as I said in a previous post, some athiests apparently believe that the phrase "freethinker" means they have the right to disregard the facts when they are inconvenient.
Wandering Internet Commentator said…
Not to troll or anything, but about the UK data, I haven't seen anything official but a few posts from other blogs might lead one to be suspicious of Mr. Swift's post:

For male prisoners (the great majority), the percentage of prisoners in the main religious groups (in 2002, England and Wales) is as follows:

Roman Catholic.......17
Free Church...........2
Other Christian.......3
(total Christian.....58)
Other religions.......3
No religion..........32

'Other religions' include Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jews, each with less than 1% of the prison population, though Hindus and Buddhists come close to 1%.

Of course, these figures are meaningless without some comparative figures for proportions in the general population. The 2001 Census for England and Wales for the first time included a question on religious affiliation. The results are broken down by sex and broad age group (Census Table S107) [Added: correction, it should be Table S103]. For comparison with prisoners, it is probably most appropriate to take the group of males aged 25-49. There is a complication that about 7% of respondents declined to answer the question. If we exclude these from the total, the percentages of the main religious groups among those who did reply to the question were as follows:

No religion...23

Now, obviously GNXP isn't as reliable a source as the actual British police forces themselves, so if someone wanted to actually go over to their website/email them to verify this themselves I'd be indebted, but the folks at GNXP are not known for having particular animus against atheists and it is somewhat strange that folks with "no religion" are over-represented in prison. The atheist could counter that the "no religion" group actually consists of deists, spiritualists, agnostics, and No True Atheists generally, but then again, considering that Dawkins and other atheists are happy to lump in the "nonreligious" as "nonbelievers" for the purposes of inflating the numbers of their demographic, it strikes me as a somewhat problematic argument to make.

This isn't even going into the other problems of Mr. Swift's page, such as the fact it apparently lists imprisonment rates, not incarceration rates (it's more than possible significant amounts of the religious groups "over represented" in prison are actually converts who started off not believing before joining a religion--Islam has a significant conversion presence in prisons, for instance) and the fact that given the widespread distrust against atheists folks like Mr. Swift bemoan, it would actually make sense for an atheist who happened to get himself into trouble to lie and say he's a member of a religious group--i.e the prison statistics likely under-represent atheists.

Just some food for thought.
about 10 years ago the same argument was going around using UK figures and they just ignored a whole slot that had "no religion" with 20% or maybe 25%.

I figured out that what they did was get from those who put "atheist" in the what is your religion blank. they called them atheists and ignored the "no religion."

Right after I begun to point that out that stopped going around.
Edwardtbabinski said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edwardtbabinski said…
Hi Metacrock,

I never knew there were so many everyday practical earthly benefits to becoming a churchgoing Bible believer. I thought converting to Christianity was about saving one's soul from the terrors of hell, and enjoying benefits in the NEXT life.

Speaking of benefits, there's all KINDS of different things you can do to make your life better here and now, from quitting smoking, to joining all kinds of social groups, to exercising and eating right, to owning a dog. In fact I read that statistically speaking, pet owners score higher than recipients of prayer when it comes to overall health benefits.

Lastly, I agree with you let's get some real data concerning the beliefs of those in prison. "None/Atheist/Unknown" is a vague category. How many "atheists" were there in prison who understood atheism as a philosophy or way of life? How many Christians are in prison who understand Christianity as a complete world view and way of life? How many people in prison are there who understand neither?

The "prison question" as I see it may be more directly put as a case of barbarism versus civilization, ignorance versus intelligence, even physiological and psychological illness versus health. And lastly, economic inequalities and social pressures.

People in prisons are also generally speaking, more desperate, more impulsive, less intelligent, and less wealthy than those who are able to avoid prison. That's a generalization of course, but also contains some truth.

Lastly, there's Christian criminals galore, involved in billions of dollars of "religious afffinity" scams. (And I'm not just talking about preachers rhetorically threatening people while passing round the plate and demanding the congregation tithe.)

There's even been Evangelical Christian leaders of finance at World Com and Enron, and you know how those turned out. (Contrariwise, there's been agnostic-atheistic billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. And atheist sports figures who work to promote cancer awareness like Lance Armstrong.)

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