Saturday, March 1, 2008

Why We're Not All Here: 1 in 100 are in there (behind bars)

If you put 100 randomly chosen adult Americans in a room, how many of them would be atheists? Answer = 1.6. So says a new study by Pew.

If you invited 100 randomly chosen adult Americans to meet in a room, how many could there be? Answer = 99. Because 1 out of every 100 adult Americans is in jail right now. So says a new Pew study.

I'm not saying these numbers are related, but they really made me think. Is the 100th American in jail an atheist? Is America holding more prisoners than any country in the world because it is the most Christian of developed nations? (America is 78.4% Christian according to the latest research, higher than Canada, Australia, Germany or the UK, for example.) Consider these numbers:

U.S. population 301 million, 2.3 million prisoners
China  population 1,322 million, 1.5 million prisoners
Russia population 141 million, 890,000 prisoners

The U.S. has 0.764% of its entire population in jail, versus 0.113% in China and 0.631% in Russia. Are we just better at catching criminals than the Chinese? Do we have more criminals to catch than the Russians? Do we execute fewer criminals than Russia and China and humanely opt to incarcerate them instead? Whatever the reason, we are way ahead in the jailing of our citizenry, way ahead of two world powers routinely decried as havens of atheism.

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