It’s all OK if you are a Christian

Our country, with the approval and encouragement of George W. Bush, has been carrying out a program of religious indoctrination and the unconstitutional endorsement of evangelical Christianity. Federal money has been funneled into “faith-based” programs that make religious dogmatists prosper, and have no other actual, real-world value. The clearest examples are the prisons, where con artists like Chuck Colson have been engaged in a kind of ministry that is actually religious extortion and bribery.

The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks. More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions. There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway. Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms.

But the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress.

The article documents many instance of this kind of behavior line up at the trough and get cash—large amounts of cash—to proselytize to captive audiences. It’s genuinely despicable. This is exactly why the government should not be involved in favoring one religion over another—these gasbags cannot be trusted to put the interests of their target audience above their need to preach dogma.

For another example of the sleazy behavior of evangelicals, I give to you Kent Hovind. Hovind is a dishonest creationist who was caught committing tax evasion. Not only was he skimming to enrich himself, but by playing games with their salaries and paying them under the table, he was screwing over his employees, which seems to be a most Christian thing to do. He’s been convicted and thrown in jail, and he has been sporadically posting blog entries from prison. These are appalling stories of a con man who can’t stop bilking his fellow inmates.

have also been teaching math and science to some of the others. It is great to see convicted drug dealers get excited when they learn fourth grade level math for the first time. I have spent quite a bit of time with one 29-year-old man who cannot read at all. I have been teaching him phonics and we are reading Genesis 1, 2, 3 and John 1, 2, and 3. His face lights up when he sees that he can do it. I offer commissary items like soup or coffee to men who memorize Bible verses. There is no way to describe the joy that they show when they get it right. Many have never memorized scriptures in their life, and maybe that is why they are in jail. Scripture helps us to “cleanse our ways” Psalm 119:9-11.

Hovind is not a good teacher. I’ve heard his lectures; he’s a fraud and a liar who babbles at a frantic pace, who has been peddling anti-scientific crap for decades, and now he claims to be teaching science to his fellow inmates. This is an injustice. We’re locking up these poor fellows as punishment, isn’t it a bit much to also allow a bunco artist like Hovind to fill their heads with lies and actively contribute to their ignorance?

Also note the outright bribery I highlighted in the quote—the man has no shame at all.

In fact, he is so shameless I expect that he’ll soon be applying for federal aid in his propaganda efforts…and given the record of this Republican administration, he’ll probably get it. After all, a belief in Jesus seems to be sufficient qualification for any clown to be a teacher (or a president!), overcoming any amount of stupidity.

(crossposted to The American Street)


  1. archgoon says

    Many have never memorized scriptures in their life, and maybe that is why they are in jail.

    So what’s his excuse?

  2. says

    It’s OK if you are a Christian

    Appropriate title, considering that a Catholic left the program, claiming religious bigotry! (I’m not being sarcastic–evangelical Christians use the word “Christian” to differentiate from “Catholic.” Nice, eh?)

    The really sad thing is, taxpayers are going to have to fund entirely new programs in the future to undo all this mind programming once they figure out it’s all beside the point and doesn’t work.

    Oh, and don’t forget the counseling for all the screwed up “Jesus Camp” kids and offspring of “abortionists will come and kill you in the night” nutjobs.

  3. says

    Oh no, Kristine, that anti-Catholic bigotry is huge here in the South. There are folks, and I use the term loosely, who would rather Sissy came home with a Jew than a Catholic. At least the Jews are God’s chosen people who just haven’t been converted yet. The Catholic is a lost cause bound for hell as satan’s spawn. I’m not making that up. It’s unreal.

  4. afterthought says

    Have we really progressed in the last few hundred years if the majority of people still fall for this foolishness?
    Have we reached the limit of human advancement when religion fights science and technology at every turn?
    Maybe so.
    Second enlightenment anyone?

  5. says

    Am I the only one who initially misread that second comment:

    I am one of the many people you do not know you have taught many things about God’s creation and the falacy of Evolution. My name is Van Dominic Cagulada, 27 years old, married for 2 years now with a baby boy who just came out last October 24.

    After all, it’s never too early to start worrying that your beautiful baby boy’s going to come home one day with a wicked case of the gay.

  6. Joshua says

    afterthought: Indeed. Sometimes I look back at the sort of doomsday nuclear annihilation films from the Cold War and think to myself, “Gee, those guys were really optimistic.”

  7. Crudely Wrott says

    Isn’t there something in the Constitution about “cruel and unusual punishment?” If I were in a cell with this guy I’d appeal to a higher power!

  8. Dustin says

    No, Crudely, you’re supposed to sell him for a carton of cigarettes. That’s what I’d do, anyway.

    But this really ruffles my feathers. I’ve been flirting with the idea of teaching math in prison and making donations of the books to prison libraries. My reasoning was, really, that if I were in prison, I’d like someone to do the same for me.

    But I haven’t because this isn’t an easy thing to do. For starters, I’d have to come up with the money and the time. Math books aren’t cheap, and I don’t really have the time to get in a full eight as it is. So how do you think the whole federal money for prison Sunday School thing makes me feel?

  9. Warren Terra says

    For those interested in the special-privileges-for-conforming-Christian-inmates abomination, Mother Jones did a story on a similar program a couple of years ago; their story is rather more explicit and less mealy-mouthed than the New York Times story, of course (and less likely to inspire a serious reaction, unfortunately, because it isn’t the front of the Times).

  10. Dustin says

    Tangentially, the Colorado Springs Gazette recently published an article in which Eric Rudolph was complaining that he was being treated like a terrorist.

  11. says

    I was listening to NPR earlier today while trapped in a shopping center parking lot, and heard the back half of some presidental hopeful who was being interviewed about his overnight visit to Angola prison. Apparently, he’s quite hot-to-trot about these religious programs as well, making statements like: “we have to engage the prisoner’s souls” and stuff like that. He more or less admitted that they are unconstitutional, but referring to reducing recidivism, he said “but they work!” He was a total dip, in my opinion. The interviewer asked if it wasn’t discriminatory to offer only faith-based “helpful” programs, but his response was that nobody is FORCING the prisoners to take advantage of them, and that it was their CHOICE. Then he compared them to Christian college, saying that if people didn’t take advantage of the wonderful opportunities available at those schools, it was their choice. You know, there are some real nutjobs in Congress.

  12. anomalous4 says

    The use of the term “faith-based” is a smoke screen on a par with “low food security.” Do these morons get their lexicon from the Pentagon?

    There’s a world of difference between truly faith-based social programs and religion-based ones. Both arise from sincere convictions, but the former exist to address people’s needs regardless of their religion, and while the latter may do some good work, that’s largely a front for their real purpose, which is to proselytize. The former will feed you, and the latter will subject you to a sermon with your soup.

  13. Ernest Hammingweight says

    Was I the only one who snorted on reading the comment “What a wonderfull way to spend your free time” posted under Hovind’s blog?

  14. Rey Fox says

    What kind of Christian minster takes seriously the virtue of memorizing bible verses?

    Oh, that’s right, the huckster kind.

  15. sleepyinsaudi says

    Every time they arrest terrorists here in the magic Kingdom, they put them into faith-based programs. In jail, if you memorize the Koran, they let you go. The the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue,(a government agency here also known as the religious police),will give these “reformed “terrorists a job and big stick to smack men who dont go to pray, and women who uncover their face.
    You see , these programs are effective.

  16. Dustin says

    Oh man, I just had a thought that induced a wave of nausea, and I just had to share it with everyone. Ready? Here’s my prediction:

    Kent Hovind’s hard time is going to be made into an inspirational movie. On some restless night in the future, you’ll be flipping through the wasteland of latenight cable, and that’s when you’ll come across “The Light in Cell Block E: The Kent Hovind Story”.

  17. Ichthyic says

    I just had a thought that induced a wave of nausea

    You could market that thought as more effective than ipecac.

    …er, excuse me..

  18. G. Tingey says

    I would have thought that the obvious way out of this would be to buy every last scrap of their bullshit, get yourself the priveleges, and a shorter term in jail, and then denounce the whole thing as a greedy con about three nanoseconds after getting out the door.

    Anyway, isn’t this sort of thing illegal inder your constsitution, since it is making an esatablishment of a (particular form of) religion?

  19. ConcernedJoe says

    There is so much wisdom in literature and other recorded words of thinking people that it amazes me how anyone can think the bible is a source of anything outstanding. Objectively, the bible pales in comparision to just about anything that tackles life seriously and intelligently.

    The bible does NOT contain good philosophy, useful practical advice, correct history, exceptional food for thought, or just about anything worthwhile in a modern world; it’s a waste!! Aside from few well-worn commonsense feel-good “gems” — that most believers know as THE bible in total — it is otherwise sickeningly barbaric, bigoted, and backward.

    Yet we pay for this vacuous stuff in one form or the other to be fed to “captive” audiences?!?!?!? Pardon me while I scream in anguish!! Trouble is religion and the concept of god are so ingrained in society that protesting or challenging the superstitions and/or inconsistent beliefs of friends, family, co-workers, etc. is akin to ripping a big smelly one in a closed crowded room. You are considered the boorish and insensitive one… if not legally culpable of some crime against women, children etc. Of course we must consider the faithful’s gas as “essence of roses”.. we all should know and BELIEVE that!!! UNfortunately most of us SANE people are just too timid to let one lose in company.. so we suffer in silence! Thankfully some people like PZ are not as hung-up!

  20. j.t.delaney says

    I love the fact Kent’s last blog entry oscillates between the two messages of “everything’s just joyous and wonderful in here, and I’m really saving souls!” on one hand, and “Sweet Jesus, get me out of this place!” on the other. He’s impressing the socks off a group of lonely, cognitively underdeveloped prisoners… and yet, somehow that’s not enough for him. Go figure.

    I’m torn in this situation. Part of me relishes the thought that justice prevailed and this huckster is exactly where he belongs, but the other part of me realizes that this sociopath is not going to reform, and while he’s in there, he’s going to selectively predate on the most vulnerable segment of society: the indigent.

  21. says

    It’s a well-known fact in prison that finding Jesus can be your get out of jail free ticket. There is a relative in my extended family, a repeat child molester, still unrepentant for the offenses he didn’t get caught for. However, he makes sure every year to type out a christmas letter and send it to everyone he knows about how he’s been saved and prays to make parole. . .he even sends this out to some of his victims. No apologies, just details about how wonderful his life is now that he’s a Christian. Everyone who gets these knows it’s a ploy that he’ll pull in front of the parole board just to get out, and the letters – well, he’s undoubtedly carbon copying them as further support of his faith. In case anyone needs proof. He’s hoping it works as well as, if not better than, actually repenting and reforming, but if he does get out, you can be sure that nobody who knows him will be inviting him to dinner.

  22. says

    Anyway, isn’t this sort of thing illegal inder your constsitution, since it is making an esatablishment of a (particular form of) religion?

    Yes. Unfortunately, we’re among the seemingly tiny portion of people who actually care about the law and our civil liberties.

  23. Spirula says

    “sick sack of shit” doesn’t adequately describe that guy, however, “not uncommon” unfortunately does. An ex-girlfriend had been molested as a child by a guy who latter “got saved” and then started teaching…sunday school.

    Many have never memorized scriptures in their life, and maybe that is why they are in jail.

    Nothing says obtuse, arrogant, and hypocritical better than this quote by Hovind.

  24. says

    I picture Hovind in a lecture hall in the prison packed with prisoners. He sits at the front of the lecture hall on top of a desk, holding a box of Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins.

    Hovind barks out “Matthew 5:28!”

    A prisoner raises his hand.

    “Yes, let’s here it Paco!” calls out Hovind.

    “Uhh, I tell you that anyone who looks a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” says Paco.

    “Excellent Paco!” proclaims Hovind. He tosses a munckin at Paco, who opens his mouth and catches it in mid-air like a seal at an aquarium show. Hovind adds, “That means no masturbating in your cell at night to J-Lo. Okay, next quote!”

  25. Spirula says

    Hovind is a political prisoner.

    Yeah, that was Capone’s problem too. And us floridians are aware of how (ahem) anti-Christian the panhandle is.

  26. Ichthyic says

    Yeah, that was Capone’s problem too. And us floridians are aware of how (ahem) anti-Christian the panhandle is.

    yeah, just ask that America and Jesus hating gay liberal, Katherine Harris!


  27. snoey says

    I’d call BS on Hovind right from the start.

    Drug dealing takes some skills, and 4th grade math is one of them – cut%, profit margin calculations, metric conversions …

  28. Keanus says

    Colson reminds me as nothing so much as an old Soviet re-education specialist. He would have thrived re-educating fallen communists behind the Iron Curtain before it collapsed.

    Kristine’s and Blue Gal’s comments remind me of a recent conversation I had with a friend, a retired high school history teacher. A couple of years ago he asked a class what their religions were. Only about half the class said they were Christian. Puzzled he asked the other half to what religion they belonged. Most said “Catholic.” So it seems that nuns, priests, fathers and brothers have been teaching their vulnerable the same things the fundies teach theirs down South.

    And the “presidential hopeful” to whom Daephex referred who spent a night at Angola prison in Louisiana was none other than the holy Sen. Brownback of Kansas. He’s on the same wavelength as Colson, looking for places to invest public money to recruit more folks to Jesus.

  29. jackd says

    What kind of Christian minster takes seriously the virtue of memorizing bible verses?

    When I was a boy in the Deep South back in the 60’s and 70’s, memorizing verses was highly thought of by your basic hardshell Baptists. Few of them were hucksters, but they were certainly the kind of audience that the hucksters could reach.

  30. random guy says

    I think the christians are the ones being conned. Prisoners arn’t nessisarily stupid, they see it for what it is. Most of them wouldn’t care about lying just to get some extra privelages and an easier parole.

    On a side note, was I the only one who immediatly thought of A Clockwork Orange when reading this post? Seems like the same kind of deal. Say these words, toe this line, and badda bing, badda boom your free to go! Wether or not you mean what your saying is kind of irrelevent to these modern missionaries, they count ever convert like its going to determine the size of their condo in heaven.

    All that aside it is an unffortunate waste of tax payer money. Id much rather see it spent to solve some unsolved crimes or start a nice little impeachment fund.

  31. Ichthyic says

    What kind of Christian minster takes seriously the virtue of memorizing bible verses?

    If you are Islamic, memorizing the entire Quran is a common (and usually required) part of adolescence.

    not saying it’s “correct”, but it isn’t exactly a new idea, for xianity or islam, at least, and at least in Islam, they take it VERY seriously.

    In fact, wasn’t there a thread posted on this either here or on PT a couple of months back?

  32. Kseniya says

    Yes, I think so. At least, there was a piece in the New York Times a few months ago about American children or Muslim families going to classes to learn to recite the Koran in its entirety – in the original Arabic, of which very few of the children understood a single word. It’s kind of a systematized speaking-in-tongues tradition, now, I guess. The logic is: the Koran is the literal word of god and cannot (should not) be translated. Or understood, apparently.

  33. Dustin says

    I’d call BS on Hovind right from the start.

    Drug dealing takes some skills, and 4th grade math is one of them – cut%, profit margin calculations, metric conversions …

    Yeah, this is the same old Hovind. He knows exactly where the public’s prejudices lie, and he’s exploiting them again.

  34. Rey Fox says

    Yeah, I remember that thread now. Children memorizing the Koran despite not knowing Arabic. Magical thinking in it’s purest form. I just figured that most minsters today would realize how silly it is to praise the rote recitation of Bible verses. I guess it depends on what yu consider the higher priority: giving young people a better understanding of their faith, or keeping them in line and controlling their minds. I won’t speculate as to how widespread either approach is.

  35. says

    Federal money has been funneled into “faith-based” programs that make religious dogmatists prosper, and have no other actual, real-world value.

    No other value, that is, besides buying fundie votes for the Republican cynics who exploit religious faith.

  36. says

    the Koran is the literal word of god and cannot (should not) be translated. Or understood, apparently.

    I think it would have been very interesting had such a taboo been in place in Christianity, considering the problems in translation that have changed key meanings in the Bible. Such as, feminine adjectives for God; “annointed” instead of “son of” for Jesus; and other subversive facts.

    Evangelicals swear by the KJV; I think this contributes to the anti-Catholic thingie. (I’m going to a catholic college because it’s the only school that offers my major and the religious students are shocked–shocked–that Protestants teach a literal reading of Genesis. Very interesting, indeed.)

  37. Gary Hurd says

    I would not worry about the po’lil’ inmates of the county slam. If Kenny runs low on soup and coffee, he will learn how much his fast talking mouth is really worth.

    He will also encounter a different crowd of prisoners at what ever Federal “facility” he is sent to wait out his future.

  38. Azkyroth says

    Anyway, isn’t this sort of thing illegal inder your constsitution, since it is making an esatablishment of a (particular form of) religion?


    Yes. Unfortunately, one of the hard lessons of the last two centuries is that a constitution is only as strong as the people’s willingness to force the government to uphold it.

  39. Brian X says

    I don’t see anything wrong with a Christian memorizing Bible verses (though it was never my idea of a good time); what bothers me is that the emphasis is on memorization rather than comprehension. It goes along with the idea that prooftexting is a legitimate method of literary criticism.

  40. says

    The really sad thing is that this also crowds out legitimate rehabilitation efforts. That illiterate man who Hovind is “helping” does need to learn to read, but he is not going to get the help he needs if he is spending his time with a charlatan, or if the prison is spending money to support one. This is dreadful. (I already knew about the “express religiousity, get a “get out of jail free” card, but this is even more extreme.)

  41. lurker says

    “Don’t get an audience much more captive than that.”
    Posted by: Bronze Dog

    I laughed until I hemorrhaged.