Congratulations atheists… you are more well-behaved than the rest of society. No, this isn’t a “pat you on the back” piece. But, I think it’s important for us to remember that we ARE moral people that know how to be good citizens without a divine babysitter telling us what’s right and wrong. And, there is evidence to show that this is correct.

In 2005, the Kripke Center released a detailed study called, “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies.” Long title, I know. But, what it said was very important and gets overlooked by many atheists. Keep in mind, the Kripke Center ISN’T secular and has no reason to promote a secular view. According to their own website, “The Kripke Center is dedicated to facilitating scholarly activity in the areas of religion and society. Special attention is given to promoting understanding between and among faith communities, including especially Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Kripke Center’s primary audience is the academic community, but its scholarship and services are available to all who seek them. The Center is named in honor of Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke.” The study had some amazing discoveries. They concluded:

Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.

It also stated (check out the graphs at the bottom of the report to see for yourself) that the United States, while still one of the most religious countries on earth, also has the highest rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, and abortions. So much for god looking out for his flock, right? They note:

There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms

But, I digress… This post was supposed to be about crime. But, it all ties together, which is why I felt it was important to start with the above information. Ask anyone with a masters in criminology and they’ll tell you that crime is caused by so many social issues: poverty, parenting, religion, economics, demographics, geography, etc. It’s a deep issue with a lot of sides. But, I want to look at just one… religious affiliation of those in prison. Denise Golumbaski, Research Analyst for the Federal Bureau of Prisons released the following numbers in 1997 under the Freedom of Information Act. take a look:

Response              Number      % ----------------------------  -------- Catholic               29267   39.164% Protestant             26162   35.008% Muslim                  5435    7.273% American Indian         2408    3.222% Nation                  1734    2.320% Rasta                   1485    1.987% Jewish                  1325    1.773% Church of Christ        1303    1.744% Pentecostal             1093    1.463% Moorish                 1066    1.426% Buddhist                 882    1.180% Jehovah Witness          665    0.890% Adventist                621    0.831% Orthodox                 375    0.502% Mormon                   298    0.399% Scientology              190    0.254% Atheist 156 0.209% Hindu                    119    0.159% Santeria                 117    0.157% Sikh                      14    0.019% Bahai                      9    0.012% Krishna                    7    0.009% ----------------------------  -------- Total Known Responses  74731  100.001% (rounding to 3 digits does this)  Unknown/No Answer      18381 ---------------------------- Total Convicted        93112  80.259% (74731) prisoners' religion is known.  Held in Custody         3856  (not surveyed due to temporary custody) ---------------------------- Total In Prisons       96968
If you look at just the Judeo-Christian totals, they account for 83.761% of the total survey.
Catholic               29267   39.164%
Protestant             26162   35.008%
Rasta                   1485    1.987%
Jewish                  1325    1.773%
Church of Christ        1303    1.744%
Pentecostal             1093    1.463%
Jehovah Witness          665    0.890%
Adventist                621    0.831%
Orthodox                 375    0.502%
Mormon                   298    0.399%

So, what can we conclude from this? Either Atheists are really good at getting away with crime, or we commit less of it. I think the latter is more plausible. Yes, the total population of ”admitted atheists” in the country at that time was only about 8-15%. You would then expect the total prison population to be about the same… but it wasn’t. Atheists accounted for 0.209% of the total incarcerated – 1/5th of 1%. That’s at least 40 times lower than would be expected from random distribution based on the population. Hmmm…

Now, let me address the “naysayers” who will attack this (and there are many). There are obviously some difficulties in establishing the “validity” of the numbers. Yes, they DO come from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but people have made claims like “some atheists in prison say they are religious to get better parole”. While this may be true, it couldn’t be the majority, and most states don’t require religious affiliation to be listed in files available to parole boards. The results shown above was a random sampling of about 5% of the total US prison population (which anyone that has taken a basic statistics class knows is statistically significant and a big enough sample size to extrapolate results across the board). If religious affiliation was on EVERY prisoner file, this chart would have had more than 74,000+ prisoners… it didn’t.

Also, some people claim that the “8-15%” number of atheists in America at the time is highly suspect and must be exaggerated since it’s assumed that it includes “non-theists” that aren’t really “atheists”. My answer…. BIG FUCKING DEAL! Even if the study only counted 10% of the total of atheists in prison and the numbers for the whole U.S. population were as small as 4%, that’s still less in prison than in the overall citizenry. I don’t mean to use the numbers to say that being religious MAKES you commit crime… but i think it’s fair to conclude that being religiousDOESN’T PREVENT YOU FROM BECOMING A CRIMINAL! If god (or gods – depending on the religion) is “looking out for” believers or giving them some form of moral compass not available to the heathens amongst us, then how do so many of them wind up in prison.

Myth: Religious people are better people and make for a better society! Result: Well… BUSTED!

EXTRA NOTE: As someone pointed out to me on Reddit, there is most likely a correlation here to intelligence. I had thought about it but didn’t think it was worth mentioning. There is a correlation between education level and belief in god. Smarter people tend to be atheists and smarter (better educated) people also tend to commit less crime (or hire better lawyers – LOL). So, I can see how it is possible that the less educated you are, the more likely you are to commit crime AND be a believer in a fantastical myth! I don’t presume to state that the evidence above is proof that being a believer MAKES you commit crime, but I think it’s fair to say that being an atheist means that you might be better educated than your religious peers and therefore less likely to commit crime. The belief or non-belief IS NOT the deciding factor to crime… just a correlation. I am only speaking to “moral authority” here, just showing that believers are no more “moral” or “good” due to their belief in a supernatural babysitter.

ONE MORE NOTE: Several people have asked what the overall religious population of the United States looked like in 1997 when these numbers on criminals were released. The following is the best I can find if from

In 1997, the US Society and Values magazine published an overview of religion in the U.S., using data from the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. 3,4 They reported:

bullet63% of Americans (163 million) state that they are actively affiliated with a faith group:

bulletRoman Catholicism is the largest single religious group (60 million; 23%).
bulletAnglicans, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches total 94 million members (36%) within 220 denominations.
bulletThere are 3.8 million religiously active Jews (1.5%) ; an additional 2 million regard themselves as cultural or ethnic Jews.
bulletEstimates of Muslims vary greatly. Some surveys show that there are about 3.5 to 3.8 million Muslims (1.4 to 1.5%) in the U.S. Most Muslim sources estimate about six or seven million.
bulletThere are over 300,000 congregations.
bulletThere are over 530,000 priests, ministers, pastors, etc.
bulletIslam is numerically the fastest growing organized religion in the U.S., in terms of numbers of adherents.
bulletThe most rapidly growing religious/spiritual/ethics grouping in the US is not an organized religion; it consists of non-believers (Atheists,Agnostics, etc.).