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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead: New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.

..."Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it's everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and the fall of crime in the '90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.

A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?

Well, here's one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4.

...The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn't paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

...Just this year, Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the '50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. "When they overlay them with crime maps," he told me, "they realize they match up."...

Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

Like many good theories, the gasoline lead hypothesis helps explain some things we might not have realized even needed explaining. For example, murder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We're so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes. It may be that violent crime isn't an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all."...

February 28, 2013 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scalia's religion, or maybe too much lead in his Supreme Court office, seem to be effecting his brain.

No Antonin, the right to vote is not a "racial entitlement." It is an American entitlement.

February 28, 2013 3:31 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

"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.".

It's no surprise christianity is bad at least as often as its good - the foundational beliefs of christianity involve the acceptance of gross injustices as the act of a god who sets moral standards for all. The christian god impregnates another man's bethrothed without her permission, we normally call that rape and adultery but somehow its just and good if a god does it. Right of the bat Christianity is based on subjective morality. Its wrong if one being does it and moral if another does it - right and wrong aren't determined by the action but rather by who is doing it. That's a terrible basis for a supposedly objective morality. he core of christianity also violates virtually universally accepted principles of justice such as only holding the responsible person accountable for a crime, never punishing the innocent, and not allowing the guilty to get off scot free. The christian god is guilty of one gross injustice after another, he punishes Adam and Eve for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil when prior to eating that fruit they had no way of knowing it was wrong to disobey their god. In a stunning example of injustice the christian god punishes all the decendents of Adam and Eve and assigns them with "original sin", holding all the ancestors of Adam and Eve responsible for their wrondoing.

Then the "loving" christian god tortures and kills the innocent Jesus because of the wrondoing of others insanely claiming he needed to do so in order to appease himself so he could forgive humans of their wrongdoings. This is no different than a mother beating her little girl because her little boy lied to her about stealing candy. Its a gross injustice to the innocent and we all know punishing the innocent can never absolve the guilty of responsibility but christianity turns justice and fair play on its head, calling wrong right and right wrong, the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent.

People instinctively know and the vast majority would agree the punishment should fit the crime yet somehow are willing to ignore one of the foundations of justice to excuse the actions of their evil god. Most christians believe in a literal hell and certainly a plain reading of the bible leaves no doubt that people are to be eternally tortured by their "loving" god if they reject him. All human actions are finite, they have a limit but the christian god's punishement for even the most trivial of "crimes" is infinite. Nothing any human has ever done or ever could do could justify eternal punishment, not even the actions of Hitler. And yet the Christian god eternally tortures people just for believing wrong! There could be no grosser mismatch between a "crime" and the punishment. Under Chrisitanity even Hitler is in heaven if he repented for his wrondoings before he died. Hitler can go to heaven, but not innocent believers in a different religion or no religion at all.

So, its no surprise that criminals use christianity to justify their actions, there is no foundation of justice within chrisitanity. Its no surprise christian criminals have a confused sense of right and wrong, they can never get a responsible sense of morality from the confused, contradictory and immoral foundations of christianity.

February 28, 2013 3:34 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

It should be obvious by now to everyone, consistent moral behavior will never come from religion by itself.

February 28, 2013 3:39 PM  
Anonymous David S. Fishback said...

This is another illustration of why religion is like fire. Used properly, it can warm us against the cold Universe. Used improperly, it can burn us to cinders.

February 28, 2013 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary to Maryland's Civil Marriage Protection Act, signed March 1, 2012, by Governor Martin O'Malley!

March 01, 2013 9:50 AM  
Anonymous See for yourselves said...

How one heterosexual wannabe Christian rock singer, Shane, who was recently released from jail, treats his girlfriend, Maggie, and her kids.

"I've been a photojournalist for several years, and currently am in my first year of graduate school at Ohio University. My first semester at Ohio University has been one of the single most challenging periods of my career, and I can safely say I have worked harder than I have ever worked in my life. One of my biggest challenges came in November, when a story I had been documenting for several months took a very dark turn.

I had been photographing a couple, Shane and Maggie, since September. I had originally intended the story to focus on the difficulties felons face once being released from incarceration. My intention was to paint a portrait of the catch-22 many individuals find themselves in upon release, the metaphorical prison of a stigma they can never seem to escape. The story changed dramatically when one night, Shane and Maggie got into a fight. Shane began to physically abuse Maggie, slamming her up against walls and choking her in front of her two-year-old daughter, Memphis. He had possession of our cellular phones, so I reached into his pocket and steal my phone back when he was distracted. I handed my phone to another adult who was in the house,and instructed them to call the police. I then continued to document the abuse.

In that moment, my instincts as a photojournalist kicked in. I knew I had to stay with the story and document it in all of its ugly truth. I have continued to follow Maggie since the abuse, and am producing a multimedia piece as well as a still series. I plan on applying for several grants to continue working on this project and broadening its scope. I've also begun working closely with Donna Ferrato, who will be including my piece in Unbeatable, a project that spans her three-decade career documenting domestic violence.

The biggest part of this whole upsetting situation that has made the difference has truly been Maggie. Her courage through this whole ordeal, especially considering her age, is extraordinary. She has asked me to move forward with this project and to tell her story, because she feels that the photographs could potentially help someone escape from the same type of situation she was in. "Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could," she told me. "Shane was like a fast car. When you're driving it, you think 'I might get pulled over and get a ticket.' You never think that you're going to crash."

While this story is, in part, about domestic violence, it is not a reportage on a domestic dispute—it is not a news event. It seeks to take a deeper, unflinching look into the circumstances that transform a relationship into a crucible, and what happens before, during, immediately proceeding and long after an episode of violence takes place. With this story, it is my goal to examine the effects of this type of violence on the couple, the absued, the abuser, and the children who serve as witnesses to the abuse. We typically only see victims of abuse in the hours or days after having been abused. I have been able to spend time with Maggie and her children before, during, and after the assault. My next step is to travel to Alaska, where Maggie currently resides with her husband and the father of her children, and examine the long-term effects of this incident on her current relationship, on her children, and on her own sense of self. "

March 02, 2013 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see...Jim Kennedy has scoured the internet and found a "scientific" study proving that religion makes people do bad things.

Who saw that coming?

Giddy with this find, he begins to extrapolate wildly becoming less and less lucid and finally admitting: "I am not clear"

No, Jim you aren't.

What explanation is there for the FACT that atheistic societies usually are led by mass murderers?

You know how many people were killed by Stalin and Mao in hopes of ridding the world of religion?

And what sense does it make to lump Judeo-Christian societies together with other religions when the JC societies have produced an heritage of liberal democracy and non-JC have produced the opposite?

Find us a study.

March 02, 2013 10:56 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Stalin and Mao didn't kill people in order to rid the world of religion, they did it to eliminate competition for their authority and to cement their control over the populiation - they did not perpetrate their atrocities because of their atheism. There is nothing about atheism that necessarily leads to mass murder or genocide. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in god. Contrast this with the Inquisition. The atrocities perpetrated were because of a doctrine held by the church, and the thoughts/actions of those deemed to be heretical. Christianity can be blamed in this instance, while in the examples above atheism cannot.

The actions of totalitarians have far more in common with religious, rather than secular values - Do not question the leader, submit unthinkingly, ethics are what the authority says they are, or else. There is no external moral benchmark.

These are the catchphrases of totalitarians through the ages. In the religious context the leader is God, the authority is the Bible and the "or else" the Inquisition. With Mao and Stalin, they were the god not to be questioned, their word was the authority and the "or else" was imprisonment or execution. Mao and Stalin's atrocities were not the result of societies that became too attached to critical thinking, or too demanding of evidence.

The root problem, is that Dogma and Ideology which must be obeyed without question, lead inevitably to horrors. The antidote, is genuine free thought, skepticism and critical thinking.

March 03, 2013 11:18 AM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Since the time of Stalin and Mao research has established that the most religious countries are the most dysfunctional:

"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health.

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data - a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.

There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002)."

March 03, 2013 11:19 AM  

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