Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Study: Crime and Religion

The Vancouver Sun reported this week on a study published by the journal Theoretical Criminology, in an article titled "With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders." The study asks the interesting question, how can religious criminals justify doing terrible immoral things to people?
The U.S. study found that through “purposeful distortion or genuine ignorance,” hardcore criminals often co-opt religious doctrine to justify or further their crimes.

The findings could have important implications, the researchers say, for how faith-based services are administered within the corrections system.

Prison ministries shouldn’t just be about presenting religious doctrine because some inmates might take religious teachings to excuse their behaviour, lead author Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University, said in an interview Monday.

“People have to understand that presenting religious doctrine to people isn’t enough to change their behaviour,” he said. “(Faith-based services) have to be systematic and about behaviour change — religion has to be a vehicle, rather than the goal.” New study raises questions about religion as deterrent against criminal behaviour
This article doesn't say so, but these results could also give us some insights into how non-imprisoned people who claim to live in the spirit of a loving God can be so enthusiastic about declaring wars on small, weak, nonthreatening nations; executing prisoners who have been convicted on ambiguous evidence; deporting immigrants; forcing women to give birth to children who will live in sickness, deformity, and disability; why they could choose to embrace guns, which spit death and destruction only, as their representative symbol; why they can demand that gay and lesbian people live without the fulfillment of a home and family; how religious people can be greedy, hateful, and uncharitable. It isn't only about hard-core low-lifes who have been caught up in the prison system, these themes of religious justification of immoral acts are powerful ideological torrents that drive our national policies.

And this is not to say that all religious people believe all these things, there is plenty of charity and good will spread by religion. But you cannot deny that much official and unofficial malevolence has been motivated by religious beliefs.
They interviewed 48 people who were actively involved in serious and violent street-level crimes, including drug dealing, robbery, car jacking and burglary.

Almost all of them professed a belief in God and identified with the Christian faith. However, many of the criminals had an incomplete understanding of the rules and expectations of their faith, the study found.

One 33-year-old criminal, identified in the study by the nickname “Triggerman,” refused to accept the suggestion that a consequence of murder was eternal damnation.

“No, no, no, I don’t think that is right,” he told the researchers. “Anything can be forgiven. We live in Hell now and you can do anything in Hell. … God has to forgive everyone, even if they don’t believe in him.”

Another criminal, 47-year-old “Detroit,” told researchers that “there is a Heaven and there is a Hell, but I believe that it is Hell on earth, and we trying to fight to get (to Heaven). … We already in Hell, you know?”

Other interview subjects tended to manipulate religious doctrine or were selective in which principles they adhered to, the study found. One 23-year-old criminal, nicknamed “Young Stunna,” said those who came from disadvantaged backgrounds were excused from committing crimes.

“See, if I go and rob a [expletive], then I’m still going to Heaven because, umm, it’s like Jesus knows I ain’t have no choice, you know?” he told researchers. “He know I got a decent heart. He know I’m stuck in the ‘hood and just doing what I gotta do to survive.”

A 25-year-old criminal nicknamed “Cool” said he always does a “quick little prayer” before committing a crime in order to “stay cool with Jesus.” As long as you ask for forgiveness, Jesus has to give it to you, he said.

He also suggested that if a crime is committed against another “bad person,” such as a dope dealer or child molester, “then it don’t count against me because it’s like I’m giving punishment to them for Jesus.”
There you go, say a little prayer before you jab a pistol barrel into somebody's ribs and take their money.

A couple of themes seem to emerge. One is that you can do anything if you believe, because you will be automatically forgiven. This is to say that religion -- these were all Christians -- frees a person from the constraints of any moral system whatsoever. It is a license to wallow in the anarchy of self-indulgence.

The related idea, that this world is hell, is an interesting one. So for one thing, you are more or less expected to do bad things, because this is hell, right? You're surrounded by devils, they're all doing bad stuff, that's just what you do here. One of these guys seems to express an idea that he is struggling to escape from hell, he is trying to get to heaven. I am not clear how you do this through drug dealing, robbery, car jacking and burglary, unless the repercussions shorten your life significantly, precipitating your transition to the next level.

One respondent quoted here justifies his violent acts by saying that his victims are bad people. Therefore he is doing Jesus' work by punishing people. This kind of thinking is not limited to guys in jail. Many Americans feel completely justified in destroying the Muslim world in the belief that those are bad people who deserve punishment. Have you ever heard of an atheistic racist? American society historically supports a distinction between good people -- that is, God-fearing white folks -- and bad people, and doesn't mind carrying out God's punishment on the bad ones.

During the Bush years we saw a lot of these kinds of people in power, and the alarming thing to me was their belief that God was speaking directly to them, that their "gut feelings" were divinely inspired. It allowed them to rationalize the most heinous behaviors -- the United States of America began practicing torture, fer cryin' out loud. They felt justified in crushing LGBT people who wanted to marry and have a family, yet "shock and awe" displays of deadly power, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, got a whoop of support.

So we see the criminal establishment from the tip-top to what these authors call the "street level" using similar delusional arguments to justify horrific acts. And I would point out that the effects of white-collar and political criminals are felt on the street as sharply as the rip of any hoodlum's bullet. Being thrown out of your house, losing your job, being harassed and bullied, these are street-level effects of high-level criminals who are able to pass through the streets hidden from their victims behind tinted windows.

These researchers seem to believe that criminals distort the teachings of their religion, but it is hard to explain exactly how that happens, when their beliefs seem identical to those of mainstream believers and religious leaders. Religion is not going to go away, these institutions have persisted for millennia and obviously provide fundamental support for social and psychological stability. But like any powerful institution, a religion inevitably seeks power for itself and preference for its members. The only feasible way to keep religion wholesome is for participants in the process to speak clearly on matters of conscience, for members to influence their leaders to make good choices and support kind and fair positions.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What's Going On At Shady Grove? Part Two

In 2006, 270 doctors at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital signed a petition supporting the anti-gay Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's (CRC) position on condoms and anal sex. As the CRC reported on their web site, "CRC’s representative on the committee, infectious disease specialist Dr. Ruth Jacobs, submitted a petition signed by 270 doctors asking Montgomery County to warn children of the health risks associated with homosexual sex." We listed the names of those who signed, as well as we could transcribe them, HERE.

If you are not familiar with CRC's President, Shady Grove physician Ruth Jacobs, you can watch her in fine form HERE, as she makes her most lucid case against same-sex marriage in Washington, DC. (BTW, the most accurate and best line in that video comes at 4:56. I won't spoil it for you.)

This week someone, broke federal laws by leaking the personal medical records of a woman who died at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital following a late-term abortion at a Germantown clinic.

A Friday Washington Post article by Petula Dvorak about the records leak has, so far, nearly 2,500 comments on it.
Lots of people are opposed to the kind of late-term abortion that preceded the death of a woman in Maryland last week. I understand that.

But everyone should be opposed to the blatantly illegal violation of her privacy and the exploitation of her death by protesters using it to make their point.

Her name and photo have appeared on protest signs, in blogs and in newspapers.

The intimate details of her medical records — probably leaked by someone with access to that information at the Germantown clinic where she got the abortion or the Rockville hospital where she died — should never have seen the light of day, let alone be broadcast at a rally the day after her death.

That pesky HIPAA privacy law, the one that forces you to fill out a bazillion forms whenever you go to the doctor, did absolutely nothing to stop this. Woman loses her life and then her privacy after an abortion
There is a lot of tragedy in this situation, and Ms. Dvorak tells the story fairly, calmly, and well. A family had to make a terrible decision, and the outcome of the decision was worse than anyone ever imagined.

And then somebody with access to private medical records abused their privileges to make the family's grief so much worse, turning their private tragedy into a public spectacle.

We know that Shady Grove is loaded with physicians who opposed the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum and supported the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. What is the chance the hospital administration would be honest and transparent if someone on their staff turns out to be responsible for this federal violation?

USA Today says, "The Operation Rescue officials said their information is based on sources at the hospital and activists who were protesting at the clinic when Carhart allegedly left Wednesday afternoon with a suitcase." So -- some witnesses standing outside the clinic reported the doctor left work with a suitcase, and somebody at the hospital produced the medical information. Authorities need to identify that source in the hospital and prosecute.

Medical records are kept in databases these days. Databases have logs of every transaction, every query, every report, and who requested it. You need a user account and a password, you don't just find this stuff lying around. Somebody has violated the most fundamental principles of human decency, to publicize the details of a family's sorrow and shame them in their worst moment, and the database administrator at Shady Grove can tell you who did it. I hope charges are filed swiftly.

From USA Today:
Kathy Morbelli, the dead woman's mother-in-law, told The Journal News that she is extremely upset with the rhetoric coming from abortion opponents, saying this was a "wanted baby."

She pleaded for privacy as the family mourns the death of her daughter-in-law.
It's too late. They won't get it, somebody at Shady Grove has spilled the pearls of the family's most private suffering before the swine of the anti-abortion right. The city, the county, the state, and the federal government need to investigate and prosecute fast, before the slimeballs who did this cover their tracks with a technological and bureaucratic smokescreen.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Exactly Zero Men in Dresses in MoCo Ladies Rooms Since Law Passed

The state of Maryland is considering a new law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. The City of Baltimore and Howard, Baltimore, and Montgomery Counties already have such laws in place, covering the majority of Maryland residents, and this new bill would extend rights across the state.

There might be real arguments to be made about the effects of interfering with naturally-occurring social processes, about government second-guessing individuals' judgments about who they want to work with, who they will allow on their property, and so on. You could argue about the long-term effects of laws that protect minorities, whether such laws are really good for them in the long run or serve to weaken them. You could look at the possible expense of enforcing a new law, the possible economic effects of making your region more or less attractive to certain kinds of individuals and businesses -- there are lots of rational points to debate in deciding whether to pass a bill like this.

But that isn't what happens.

Instead, the debate will be framed in terms of how dangerous transgender people are, and argument about the probabilities of imagined ways that they can harm innocent people. There will be vivid descriptions of men in dresses hanging out in ladies rooms, leering at the ladies and little girls and molesting them, and nobody can do anything about it because they are protected by a terrible new law that makes good Christians defenseless against sin. You can expect the Nutty Ones to refer to this proposed legislation as "the Bathroom Bill."

This blog mostly reports on events in Montgomery County, Maryland, where more than five years ago the County Council unanimously voted to ban discrimination based on gender identity, and the County Executive signed the bill into law.

When that law was being debated, and afterwards, when a referendum drive was being pushed, people literally stood outside grocery stores and churches with petitions, saying, "Sign this petition to keep men out of the ladies rooms," and they got a lot of signatures that way -- mostly invalid, but that's another story.

So let me point out the obvious. There have been exactly zero reports of men dressed as women in our county going into ladies rooms, shower-rooms, dressing-rooms, or any other place where women's privacy is important.

In our county, a Republican leader stood up at a 2007 County Council meeting and shouted, "Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature." After five-plus years, let me count the score here. Little girls murdered by transgender individuals or men pretending to be women in Montgomery County since the bill became law: zero.

A guy from PFOX wrote to the County Council that same year and said, "Hopefully, it will be one of your daughters who gets raped first!" Daughters raped in our county by transgender individuals or men pretending to be women since the bill became law: zero.

Maybe this time the state legislature will debate the merits of the nondiscrimination bill, consider its costs and benefits, hear testimony from people with lucid arguments against and in favor of the bill, and a vote will be taken and the bill will either pass or not-pass in one chamber and then the other. It should be a simple thing, every legislator will vote according to his or her beliefs, or perhaps their perceptions of the beliefs of the community they represent, and the bill will either fail in a vote or it will go to the governor, who will either sign it or he won't.

Before the county laws were passed it was permissible to speculate that there would be some horrible result, that little girls would be murdered, daughters would be raped, men in dresses in ladies rooms, but that point has passed. Laws have been enacted, and no harm of any kind was done. There is simply no rational argument to be made, that prohibiting gender-identity discrimination will result in any kind of sexual offenses or violence.

It has been proven empirically. Gender-identity nondiscrimination laws have no negative effects.

Any such arguments that are made now are demonstrably irrational. People who make these points from now on are not arguing about any real phenomenon that might happen, they are expressing their own insecurity, anxiety and hatred. Let's not humor them this time around.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The World is Changing

I had to chuckle at this one.