News from the Pews

First, the Pew Center on the States tells us that for the first time in U.S. history, more than 1 in 100 American adults is prison or jail. Per capita, that is more than any other country in the world. At the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were incarcerated. And "while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole." The report goes on to say that our 50 states combined spent a total of over $49 billion dollars on incarceration last year.

More than 1 in every 100 adult Americans are in jail. Shocking.

My officemate, Taquiena, once told me that a nearby state tracks how many prisons it's going to build in the future by how many low-income kids of color are enrolled in grade school right now. That means the state has already written these kids off as jail-bound before they've ever committed an offense. That means the state would rather spend money on prisons than on better education or economic development. Perhaps the free/forced labor within prisons is a motivating factor.


Second, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says that we Americans are a "fluid and diverse" bunch when it comes to religion. More than 1 in 4 American adults (28%) have switched from the faith of their birth or lost faith entirely. If one counts changes within the different Protestant denominations, that number jumps to about 44%.

Atheism is on the rise and Catholicism has dropped sharply. It would have dropped even more if not for immigration. Immigrants also make up most of the increases in Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also says that there is a great deal of diversity within each category.

(Unitarian "and other liberal faiths" got characterized under "Other Religions," along with New Age and Native American traditions.)

Pew tells us what we already knew. There is lots of diversity, with various denominations splintering into ever smaller groups. There is lots of fluidity. Heck, all one has to do is spend some time on an online religious forum and you run into people who are Buddhist one week and Pagan the next and then born-again Christian.

The report appropriately describes the country as "a very competitive marketplace." James Madison would be proud, as that is essentially what he wanted.

We are a country of religious consumers. Ok, maybe Madison wouldn't be so proud, because I can't imagine that he wanted that.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative