I have just discovered that I am a Presbyterian. I used to think I was Anglican. However, I do know that my beliefs are atheist.
This confusion comes from the way religious labels are used. Ten years ago I visited Israel and spent Easter in Jerusalem. My Israeli guide asked me what my religion was and refused to accept my description of “none.” “What is the religion of your parents?” she asked, exhibiting the common belief that religion was an heritable characteristic.
Well, I don’t think my parents had any religion. They certainly never attended any church or told us children what religion they were. However, I did notice that when it came to filling out official forms – census and hospital admissions for example – they always wrote ‘C of E’, Anglican. Perhaps that answers my guide’s question.
But no. I have recently come across official documents from dealings my family had with government departments when I was 4 years old. These describe the family religion as Presbyterian! There hadn’t been any conversions. It’s just that people were never given a real choice in those days. They had to fill in the form and many probably chose their religion randomly.
So you can see why I am a bit sceptical of statistical data broken down by religion. Such data probably says very little about religious beliefs.
With that qualification in mind here are some data describing the religious affiliations of US prison inmates in 1997 (see Atheists, the religious, and their behaviours compared).
Apparently 0.2% of prisoners were atheist, 7.3% Muslim, 35% Protestant and 39.1% Catholic. When compared with the population as a whole the figures suggest that Muslims are about 9 times more likely to be in prison, Protestants 2/3 less likely and Catholics 2/3 more likely.
Atheists were 50 times less likely!
Data also suggests that Catholics are more likely, and secularists less likely, to support torture than the general population.
Atheists and agnostics are less likely (21%) to be divorced than Jews (30%) and Christians (24% or 27% for ‘Born Again’ Christians).
Religious labels really say very little about beliefs and values. But these data certainly conflict with the message some conservative theists give that us godless heathens are immoral people.