Religion can’t solve society’s ills

A story has been making the rounds of the news media over the past weekend.

A Kentucky judge had been giving people in his court the option of attending worship services or going to jail when convicted.

LONDON, Ky. – A Kentucky judge offers some drug and alcohol offenders the option of attending worship services instead of going to jail or rehab, a practice some say violates separation of church and state.

District Judge Michael Caperton, 50, a devout Christian, said his goal is to “help people and their families.”

“I don’t think there’s a church-state issue because it’s not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church,” he said.

Alternative sentencing is popular across the country: ordering vandals to repaint a graffiti-covered wall, for example.

Ky. judge offers choice: Go to prison – or church

Setting aside the constitutional question of a judge giving special treatment to a convict based on if they go to church, this case highlights one of the myths the religious right makes about the secular left.

It is said that religion will help people turn away from a life of crime or will help them cope with time in prison. Many states spend tax payer dollars to support prison religious activities (as reported in my last post). Mainline and other religious groups spend time to recruit and tend to prisoners.

They reason that they are either helping the prisoner reform, give them another focus in their life, or filling some void.

But if you look at the religious identifications of prisoners you will most likely find the same break down in religious preferences that you do in the general public. 80% believers and 20% non-believers.

The web page Prison Incarceration and Religious Preference attempts to disprove an old argument that religious people tend to commit more crimes.

I don’t believe that but I do think that religion has NOTHING to do with rehabilitation or the prisoners everyday life.

Many courts force repeat DUI offenders to attend Alcoholic Anonymous. AA uses a religious based 12 step program to help the drunk kick their habit. One of the first steps is to give your life to “God”.

Most members, before turning to A.A., had already admitted that they could not control their drinking. Alcohol had become a power greater than themselves, and it had been accepted on those terms. A.A. suggests that to achieve and maintain sobriety, alcoholics need to accept and depend upon another Power recognized as greater than themselves. Some alcoholics choose to consider the A.A. group itself as the power greater than themselves; for many others, this Power is God — as they, individually, understand Him; still others rely upon entirely different concepts of a Higher Power.

The Fellowship of A.A.

But it is the religious basis among other reasons that lead 95% of newcomers to drop out of AA in their first year and 50% drop out after 30 days.

Harvard University: Why People Drop Out of AA

Another pet project of the religious right is Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage programs that have replaced sex education classes in the public schools.

Teaching about abstinence is not a bad thing as it is one sure way to prevent pregnancy and STD’s but the programs now being funded by the Federal Government doesn’t allow comprehensive sex education. Many of the programs are staffed and run by religious groups who also proselytize to students.

These Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage programs don’t show much effect and in some cases give wrong information about sex.

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman’s investigators:

• A 43-day-old fetus is a “thinking person.”

• HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

• Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

One curriculum, called “Me, My World, My Future,” teaches that women who have an abortion “are more prone to suicide” and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.

Some course materials cited in Waxman’s report present as scientific fact notions about a man’s need for “admiration” and “sexual fulfillment” compared with a woman’s need for “financial support.” One book in the “Choosing Best” series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. “Moral of the story,” notes the popular text: “Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”

Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says

These programs attack one of the basic elements of effective safe sex – condoms. They tell teens that condoms fail more often then scientific studies have shown to be the case. Also because the programs don’t allow the teaching of comprehensive sex education, teens coming out of the programs are more likely to have unprotected sex.

“Sex education doesn’t cause all these negative outcomes. What causes these negative outcomes is kids who are having sex and aren’t protecting themselves,” says Columbia University’s Peter Bearman, who co-authored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality.

It was a $45-million project, funded by 17 separate federal agencies. Bearman’s investigators interviewed more than 20,000 young people about virginity pledge programs — and there was some good news.

“Pledging will help them delay sex for, say, 18 months — a year and a half,” says Bearman. “It’s a big deal in the lives of teenagers. Eighteen months is a phenomenally long time. It’s almost two school years.”

So what’s the downside?

“The downside is that, when they have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms at first sex,” says Bearman. “So all of the benefit of the delay in terms of pregnancy-risk and in terms of STD acquisition — poof — it just disappears because they’re so much less likely to use a condom at first sex.”

Why do they not use condoms?

“They’ve been taught that condoms don’t work; they’re fearful of them. They don’t know how to use them,” says Bearman. “Their peers don’t use them. They have no experience with them. They don’t know how to get them. They’re had to get access to. For whatever reason they don’t use them, that has long-term consequences.”

Taking The Pledge

The fact is that religion is not going to reduce the crime rate, stop you from being addicted to alcohol and drugs, or protect your children when they start having sex.

We need to address those issues in a rational, fact based, way. That is the only way we can solve them.


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