I Don’t See Any State/Church Violation… April 1, 2008

I Don’t See Any State/Church Violation…

But this story is still disturbing.

baptismjail.jpg

Nearly a third of the inmates in the Creek County Jail were baptized Thursday night in a corrugated steel horse trough set up in the jail’s kitchen.

Seventy men and 12 women were baptized Wednesday, the second time baptisms have occurred in the new jail, which opened nearly three years ago.

The Rev. Luis Torres, chaplain of the Creek County Jail and pastor of the First Assembly of God in Sand Springs, said a baptism was held in the old jail six years earlier.

He attributed the high number of baptisms to the work of the 75-some volunteers who lead worship and teach Bible studies at the jail and to convicted inmates’ realization that they soon will leave the jail for hard time in prison.

“And,” he said, “in the last four years, there’s been a surge of the move of God, a revival. Inmates that have found the Lord are telling other inmates about it.”

Inmates are not allowed to be baptized until they have gone through an orientation, with teaching about the meaning of baptism, and have “accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior and want to follow him,” Torres said.

As far as I see, no government money is going into this. No one is forcibly baptised. If atheist volunteers wanted to go into the prison and talk to inmates about reason and evidence, they would probably be able to do so.

So why do I get a queasy feeling while reading this?


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • So why do I get a queasy feeling while reading this?

    Maybe because people locked in cages “voluntarily” being baptized look suspiciously cultist.

  • Kevin L.

    “Prayer – the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

    I think that pretty much sums it up.

  • Joseph R.

    Although religion is not for me, I don’t see how society is being damaged by a convicted felon “finding” jesus while in prison. If jesus serves as some kind of criminal muse for the convict after he/she is released, then we have a problem. While I agree with many things that Sam Harris has to say, I do not think that religion is inherently bad or dangerous. It is extremists that are dangerous, and a person can be extreme about any cause or belief(i.e. environmental terrorists).

  • stogoe

    Two words:

    Captive Audience.

  • Christophe Thill

    Because it peddles the silly notion that religion makes you a good person. Well, the Maffia chiefs have always been devout Catholics, for all I know.

  • Jen

    You feel queasy because this smacks of taking advantage of vulnerable people in order to lure them into a certain belief. It’s similar to missionaries – they give help, but one of the conditions of taking it is sacrificing your own beliefs.

    I’m sure those leading this program feel they’re doing good – and maybe they are, but I think more good would be done by providing more practical education, access to more reading material, and just plain old positive encouragement. You don’t need to religion as a justification to do that.

  • Ron in Houston

    Don’t worry – it doesn’t stick. There are real benefits for someone in prison to profess a view in God. They get more time out of their cells to attend chapel, etc.

    If I had a dime for every jail house “conversion” that didn’t stick, I’d be a rich man.

  • FoundLink

    I think the queasy feeling comes from the knowledge that these indoctrinations are at least tacitly approved by Jail administrators, and how unlikely it is the same administrators would allow Muslims, Jews, or even Catholics – let alone – atheists to proselytize with the same impunity. “Stogoe” is spot on with the captive audience comment.

  • Sarah H.

    I agree that the queasiness comes from the underrepresentation (for, yes, a captive audience) of alternative philosophies and belief systems and from the undertones suggesting that this is somehow making the prisoners ‘better people’ simply because they’ve accepted Christianity.

  • Would you feel less queasy if voluntary baptisms weren’t allowed in the prisons? That is, if prisoners had their rights to the free exercise of their religion violated? Would that be better?

  • cipher

    how unlikely it is the same administrators would allow Muslims, Jews, or even Catholics – let alone – atheists to proselytize with the same impunity.

    the undertones suggesting that this is somehow making the prisoners ‘better people’ simply because they’ve accepted Christianity.

    Unfortunately, this is often the case. I know a Tibetan Buddhist nun who runs an extensive prison ministry organization, and she told me that, while it isn’t universal, Christian clergy have been hostile, particularly in the South (anyone surprised?). She’s even had Christian inmates, filled with the zeal of the convert, come to meetings and threaten her and everyone else with eternal damnation.

    I don’t know that it’s a bad thing for them to have a belief system that helps them to undergo personal transformation. Unfortunately, it generally seems to be conservative evangelical organizations that are having the greatest impact, thereby creating more fundies. I don’t know; perhaps it’s necessary. Perhaps the threat of hell is needed to grab the attention of someone who is inherently violent. And many of them aren’t terribly well educated, so it’s an easy theology for them to grasp. I’m sure that many also come from abusive backgrounds, and already have low self-esteem, so the idea that they are inherently depraved and require someone to “redeem” them in God’s eyes must seem reasonable to them.

  • QrazyQat

    Cults look for people who are desparate or “damaged”. This particular cult also provides benefits not available to other conversions. Try telling your parole board that you have studied a lot while behind bars and so now are a committed atheist.

    See you in ten years.

  • My mother visits a local all-female jail with a group of Baptists, though she isn’t a Baptist herself. They do the whole “jail ministry” thing. She joined the group because she wanted to try to help others. My mother isn’t preachy. She talks to them about their problems instead of trying to make new converts. Others in the group are more… Well, you know how Baptists can be.

    She and the rest of the group have even been given name tags with the status of official chaplains. The people who run the jail are picky and reluctant to allow anyone in. That is except for a group of Baptists doing jail ministry.

    I expressed my displeasure about what she and the others were doing. I considered making a big deal about it to get something changed, but she pleaded with me not to. Fortunately, a few discussions about the rights of individuals and the value of separation of church and state had some impact. The group began stating, up front, who they were and why they were there, and that all participation was optional.

    My mother receives letters from some of the inmates. Many are transferred elsewhere, but continue to write to her. A big part of the letters is sharing prayers and prayer requests. I know prayer can give a person hope, but I sure hope they don’t actually think, for example, that Jesus is going to shorten their sentence.

    I remember hearing about one visit. Mom was sharing about herself in an attempt to relate. She told the women that her son is an atheist. As the story goes, all of the 28 prisoners gasped in shock. Then they all agreed to pray for me- that I would come to know christ. LOL

  • QrazyQat

    You be sure to tell your mom how much you appreciate her standing up to a bunch of criminals telling her they’re morally superior to her son. Oh, she didn’t, did she? Ouch.

  • Maria

    I guess you feel queasy b/c it’s religion. Honestly, I don’t care, b/c it’s voluntary, and voluntary stuff isn’t my issue. Some people are just going to choose it, and that’s just the way it is. Freedom of choice is important, whether we agree with the personal choice or not.

  • I guess you feel queasy b/c it’s religion. Honestly, I don’t care, b/c it’s voluntary, and voluntary stuff isn’t my issue. Some people are just going to choose it, and that’s just the way it is. Freedom of choice is important, whether we agree with the personal choice or not.

    Well said Maria.

  • infideljoe

    I have a friend who was a wiccan. That was until he ended up in prison and now he is a hardcore christian. I don’t blame him, when you’re in that type of place I don’t think atheism offers much comfort for you. If it’s a placebo that helps him get through his time in prison, so be it. When no one really cares about you in that place and some would like to hurt you, then I guess an imaginary friend who loves you probably offers you some peace of mind.

  • Julia

    The best explanation I ever heard of why different people follow different religions was based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Look at human history, geography, socioeconomic divisions — at times and in places where humans feel more helpless and/or are more helpless, they turn to religions that give them answers and tell them everything happens for a reason, or that things will be better in some afterlife. It’s fulfilling a basic need. The more “in control” people are of their lives, the more they turn to religions that are more mystical than concrete (beliefs in some sort of energy of the universe, or basically just awe and respect for life and the planet), and eventually towards something like secular humanism.

    This news makes me sad, but not upset. I don’t think that atheism would give these people what they are looking for right now. I don’t like that they’re being marketed to, because they’re in the strictest sense a captive audience, and something about it seems coercive because of that. But I don’t think it really is.

  • QrazyQat, she said to them, “If he wants to go to hell, it’s his choice. He’s a grown man.”

  • Maria

    The more “in control” people are of their lives, the more they turn to religions that are more mystical than concrete (beliefs in some sort of energy of the universe, or basically just awe and respect for life and the planet), and eventually towards something like secular humanism.

    this is true. I have found it to be quite true in my own life as well.

  • cipher

    “If he wants to go to hell, it’s his choice. He’s a grown man.”

    That single sentence, more than any other, encapsulates the reasons that I am not a Christian.

  • cipher

    And, J.S., I meant to add that I’m so sorry.

  • Cathy

    Face it the “I found religion” line goes over well with parole boards, I’ll bet that’s why ninty percent of people in prison “convert”. Oh, and infideljoe, many people, including the philosopher ludwig feuerbach, become atheists in problematic times or times of suffering, because they look around and realize that Jesus (or whoever) has yet to show up and help. The old problem of evil hits pretty hard when you are the victim of the evil.