Reflections from a Barbed Wire Monastery
By: Prison Bob
Editor’s Note: In the interest of of accurately portraying life in America’s sectarian prisons, the Reed Secular Alliance is starting an ongoing feature with “Prison Bob”, an atheist inmate, who is incarcerated in Oklahoma. Note that all the opinions expressed herein are uncensored and are the views of solely the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the Reed Secular Alliance as a whole. Due to space constraints, we at times have to shorten the letters. We hope you will enjoy the feature.
Please call me Prison Bob. I’m incarcerated in the buckle of the Bible Belt with fifteen more years left on my sentence. In this facility, there are – no exaggeration – four Bibles per man. Christianity of every stripe, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and multiple pagan groups all share one small chapel. That little building now, for the first time, has humanist literature available. That is due to Leslie at the Reed Secular Alliance. Thank you, Leslie, and thanks to all the Freethought groups, who are willing to help those of us with limited exposure.
Upon my incarceration in 2006, I inspected each of the theist groups available to me. I feared that they might possibly possess an answer I had missed, due to my non-theist views. What I found instead were social organizations. Organizations which promote the xenophobic views which lead to arms races. And, in this setting, the most fervent disciples are often (not always) the most despicable offenders.
Whereas I found that the truth did indeed set me free, others hope to find an exterior source of forgiveness. I say that truth set me free because, for the first time in thirty-five years, I have been able to live comfortably within my own skin. Which, isn’t that one of humanity’s main goals, after bare survival? I have also been lucky enough to correspond with the likes of Leslie Zukor, Patrick Julius [President of Michigan's Secular Student Alliance], and other like-minded individuals. Of one thousand or so men at this camp, I can count the number of non-theists without taking off both shoes. Here is my disclaimer: If I ramble from point to point (which is more likely than not), it is only due to the chemical onslaught my cerebrum has withstood throughout the years. I will attempt brevity.
I will of postal necessity be somewhat behind the times when either reading or commenting to RSA website postings. Having just read [the website posting] “The Survivor of a Christian Boot Camp Speaks Out”, I would like to comment. Sadly, institutions like the Victory Christian Academies, Bible Colleges, and the ever-insidious Mega-Church are more the norm than not. I myself was brought up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Possibly the Mega-Church capital of the known universe (per capita, of course). Oral Roberts University wasn’t ten miles away, with a Victory Academy across the street from it. A Rhema Bible College wasn’t three miles distant. And the number of congregations, numbering in the multiple thousands, is on the rise to this day. Happily, I do not recall local mention of any atrocities similar to those suffered by Ms. Ulriksen. However, anyone who has dated a Catholic school girl, a real one, not a stripper in a plaid skirt, can tell you exactly how debilitating an overdose of guilt can be.
Ray S. commented that “you cannot coerce faith!” If that were true, there wouldn’t have been lasting change after the: 1) invention of Christianity, Islam, et al.; 2) Protestant Reformation; 3) Spanish Inquisition; or 4) Second World War. What I am saying is that humans are extremely adaptable animals, who will adopt the most preposterous conditions to achieve a modicum of perceived comfort. It is all a question of degree. If faith is coerced long and well enough, it becomes ingrained and unquestioned. If that weren’t so, there wouldn’t be so many faithful to such a variety of practices. And the beauty is that you only have to coerce the first few generations. After that, people follow. The poor dears don’t even know why they believe the way that they do.
The kindest thing we can do as practitioners of Freethought is to educate others slowly. To paraphrase – some need to be bottle fed; others can chew solid food. The overbearing misconception among the pious of any flavor is that non-theists have no moral rectitude. They often feel atheists, agnostics, Freethought advocates, are “evil worshippers”, but wouldn’t that just make them theists again? They don’t think that far ahead, however.
I have a unique opportunity in this where and when. I don’t even have to leave my block to debate theology (not only Christian), from Zoroastrianism on, with many people. If that sounds as if I am an insufferable, arrogant prick – it’s because I am. I don’t care if you agree with me. That is the least important aspect of a debate. I’m not seeking converts. I would prefer you know what you’re talking about though. I want to make you dissect your beliefs. If you don’t, I will shred them.
I can argue with Jews and Christians that their own texts tell of their God allowing angels to rape human women (Gen 6: 1-4). I can debate Buddhists that their philosophy isn’t a religion. Which it isn’t, any more than Socratic thought is a religion. I can – with knowledge, tell Muslims that their Qu’ran is an answer to a political problem, which holds no truck with Christian or Jew. I can bore you with a wide variety of details concerning many versions of theism. I can do all of that because I have read The Glorious Qu’ran, The Bible, and countless other texts. It is those studies which excite me. Well, I’m outta here for now.