Christian ideology can save would-be criminals

Lately, there has been much discussion on these pages about the U.S. prison system, centered around the alarming statistic that a whole percent of our population is currently incarcerated. To put this in perspective, this means that for every 100 people that you know, one of them is probably in prison right this instant. This discussion has very personal implications for me, since I am writing this column from the New Haven Correctional Institution. I wish that I could say that I was just visiting.

Before I go on, I’d like to thank my lawyer for the hard work that he put into my defense. In the past, his sharp legal mind has earned light sentences for Yale students for a wide variety of youthful indiscretions.

But it seems that no amount of zeal and expertise would have been enough to convince a New Haven jury that robbing a convenience store at gunpoint in broad daylight constitutes a “youthful indiscretion,” even if it was spring break.

We did manage to negotiate the charges down from felony armed robbery to misdemeanor larceny, which, given my previously clean record and what the judge called my “nigh-limitless potential,” means that I’ll be released in a month or two. In the meantime, I’ve been pondering the circumstances that brought me to this lamentable state. I wonder if maybe I wouldn’t have held up that convenience store if I’d had prayer in my school.

In his recent column (“In liberal circles, Great Society rhetoric lingers” 4/1), Peter Johnston opined that reducing America’s burgeoning prison population, “requires a strengthening of the institutions that most directly shape character: the family and the church.”

There was a time when I’d scoff at this notion that building up the role of the church would result in fewer people going to jail; I’d cite studies like “Does Religion Really Reduce Crime?” by Paul Heaton at the University of Chicago, which examined data from 3,008 American counties and found “a negligible effect of religion on crime.” But the circumstances of my arrest have led me to reconsider my former secularist views.

I distinctly recall that when I committed my crime, I was so hopped up on godless existentialist philosophy that I wasn’t even sure whether I was a figment of my own imagination. “If life is nothing but a meaningless series of material circumstances linked by a merciless chain of cause and effect,” I thought, “I might as well go rob that Rite-Aid.” Yet even as I stuffed handfuls of $5 bills into the pillowcase that I brought from my dorm room, I felt a profound emptiness in my heart.

Flushed as I was with excitement at the audacity of armed robbery, my soul was still as dry and withered as the packets of beef jerky that I looted from a display rack. I suspect that if the police had not promptly arrived and apprehended me, I would have committed further robberies simply out of despair at the pointlessness of human existence.

I used to decry the Gallup poll numbers that revealed that 53 percent of Americans would definitely not vote for a well-qualified atheist in a presidential election. But now I understand that without the promise of scrutiny by an all-knowing God, we nonbelievers just can’t seem to stick to a moral code. Sure, we bandy about phrases like “social contracts” and “personal ethics,” but deep down inside, we’re all just a moment of uncertainty away from doing something completely unconscionable. Imagine, then, the abuses, the unnecessary wars, the sex scandals that would result from electing an avowed atheist to public office!

By the same token, maybe I wouldn’t have turned into such a rotten character if there had been a strong religious presence in the public schools that I had attended. I’m not talking about a token ceremony in the middle- and high- schools, in which students would mumble some prayer in unison after they finish mumbling the Pledge of Allegiance in unison. No, we need to set a strong example to children while they are young and enthusiastic, convincing them that religion is fun and exciting before they are seduced, as I was, by the wiles of modern liberal humanism.

I urge the government to divert money from wasteful prisoner “rehabilitation” programs into funding for brightly colored religious picture books to disseminate to children in the earliest stages of elementary school. An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my current prison stay in perspective: At least it means that one more dangerous secularist is off the streets.

Michael Zink is a junior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Fridays.


  • Zinktard

    He confuses religious affiliation or identification with actual religious conviction.

    I would have expected a more nuanced position from a fellow Yalie.

  • Bruce in Orlando

    Poll your fellow inmates to see how many of them committed crimes while believing in gods. That statistic alone should negate your argument. Christian ideology espouses forgiveness for armed robbery simply for the asking. Atheism offers no such easy way out.

    And why should the gov't enforce Christian ideaology over Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or Hindu ideology? Now you are asking gov't to support one religion over others. A clear no-no.

    I spent one night in jail and the stress and the things I contemplated were incredible. We wish you the best of luck on getting your act together.

    Turn to the religion of your choice if you must. The support and community can be used to your advantage. Just don't ask the rest of us to suffer for your flavor of epiphany.

    Which Christian ideology do you refer to? Reminds me of this joke.

    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well, are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are your Christian or Buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, Me too! Are your Episcopalian or Baptist? He said, "Baptist!" I said, "Wow! Me too! Are your Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are your Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum!" and pushed him off.

  • Brent Rasmussen

    Too subtle, I think. you're going to lose both sides on this one. Fun to read, though!

  • MQ

    “If life is nothing but a meaningless series of material circumstances linked by a merciless chain of cause and effect,” I thought, “I might as well go rob that Rite-Aid.”


    I'm sure that's exactly what you thought!

    If you need to believe in a vengeful invisible friend to keep you in line, then by all means, pray on. Myself, I'll keep philosophical company with my fellow humanists, including:
    Albert Einstein, scientist

    Gene Roddenberry, producer/Star Trek creator

    Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President/founding father

    Carl Sagan, scientist/author

    Leonardo Da Vinci, artist/inventor

    Mark Twain, author

    Dave Barry, humorist

    Clara Barton, Red Cross founder

    Angelina Jolie, actress/humanitarian

    Isaac Asimov, author

    Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood founder

    Confucius, philosopher

    Marlon Brando, actor

    Jonas Salk, physician/inventor of polio vaccine

    Ted Turner, broadcaster

    Gloria Steinem, feminist activist

    Kurt Vonnegut, author

    Philip Adams, author/filmmaker

    Margaret Atwood, author/literary freedom activist

    Béla Bartók, composer

    Luther Burbank, scientist

    Brock Chisholm, physician/World Health Org. Director

    Francis Crick, scientist

    John Dewey, philosopher/educator

    Frederick Douglas, liberator

    Albert Ellis, psychologist

    Epicurus, philosopher

    Philip José Farmer, author

    Betty Friedan, feminist activist

    Erich Fromm, psychologist

    R. Buckminster Fuller, futurist/inventor

    John K. Galbraith, economist

    Emma Goldman, author/revolutionary

    Stephen J. Gould, scientist/author

    Julian Huxley, philosopher/biologist/UNESCO Director

    Robert G. Ingersoll, author

    Margaret Kuhn, Grey Panthers founder

    Richard Leakey, anthropologist

    Abraham Maslow, psychologist

    John Boyd Orr, Food & Agriculture Org. first Director

    Linus Pauling, scientist

    A. Philip Randolf, human rights activist/union leader

    Carl Rogers, psychologist

    M.N. Roy, political thinker/Radical Humanism founder

    Bertrand Russell, mathematician/philosopher

    Andrei Sakharov, scientist/human rights activist

    Michael Servetus, theologian/physician

    Barbara Smoker, author/freethought activist

    James Thurber, humorist

    Harriet Tubman, educator

    James Watson, scientist

    Faye Wattleton, Planned Parenthood Director

    Walt Whitman, poet

    E.O. Wilson, biologist

    Frank Lloyd Wright, architect


  • LP

    It's nice to tell people what to do and what not to do to try and prevent them from getting into situations he/she might regret. I'm all for the education but ultimately it's the individual's choice whether or not they are going to do something. Religion, however, cannot be the only factor as to whether or not someone will commit a crime. Look at sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, look at the Reverend who went to strip clubs. Look at "family values" senators *cough*Vitter*cough* who preaches family values yet cheats on his wife while diaper-roleplaying with prostitutes.

    The author's goal is well-meaning, but religion itself cannot be the whole answer.

  • LP

    wait…was this satire…

  • Jose Abrego

    It's a shame! Mr. Zink would have had such a bright future were it not for the shameless heresy present on the Yale campus. The blasphemy and immorality conducted behind these gates is enough to lead even the most religious of men into a very dark path.

    I myself, in an orgy of sin, decided to break the law because the godlessness had led me to view the world as a nihilistic waste of time.

  • AlisonS

    LP, that was my take on it too; satire, if a little on the lame side.

  • Astley

    I think the author needs to consider the following powerful argument against the exitence of an all-powerful, loving God:

  • Public Service Announcement

    Mr Zink has been released from New Haven Correctional Center on secured bail of 11.3 gold oz. God help us.

  • A message from Chief Perrotti

    To the Members of the Yale Community:

    Consistent with federal reporting requirements and in order to increase awareness of personal safety, I write to let you know that today at approximately 8:07am, 8:36am, and 11:44am on April 4, several Yale students were the victims of property vandalism.

    The vandals destroyed the victims' satire detectors.

    Also, at approximately 2:56am on April 5, several Yale students were the victims of a Rickrolling incident.

  • y10

    I find it amusing that everyone who's missed the satire thus far has been an angry atheist.


    (Also, Chief Perotti, I don't think Zinktard missed the satire - his point was that someone who actually subscribes to Christian principles [ie: thou shalt not steal] would not commit crimes. It is the ideology, not the identification, that discourages crime)

  • cmon

    I'm so tired of these satiric articles. They aren't any good, they aren't clever, they are just confusing. I don't know what the author is getting at, if they are serious or not. Seems like every journalist and their mom has written satire lately. It's most effective when used sparingly.