Religion is a Ethical Double Edged Sword
Faith-based prison programs: New study suggests religion may help criminals justify their crimes.
A new study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology (hat tip to the Vancouver Sun) suggests that, far from causing offenders to repent of their sins, religious instruction might actually encourage crime. The authors surveyed 48 “hardcore street offenders” in and around Atlanta, in hopes of determining what effect, if any, religion has on their behavior. While the vast majority of those surveyed (45 out of 48 people) claimed to be religious, the authors found that the interviewees “seemed to go out of their way to reconcile their belief in God with their serious predatory offending. They frequently employed elaborate and creative rationalizations in the process and actively exploit religious doctrine to justify their crimes.”
First of all, many interviewees had only a vague notion of the central tenets of their faiths. Take, for example, an 18-year-old robber whose “street name” was Que:
Que: I believe in God and the Bible and stuff. I believe in Christmas, and uh, you know the commitments and what not.
Int: You mean the Commandments?
Que: Yeah that. I believe in that.
Int: Can you name any of them?
Que: Ahhh … well, I don’t know … like don’t steal, and uh, don’t cheat and shit like that. Uhmm … I can’t remember the rest.
Religion has not been a consistent force for morality. Savage wars, greed, theft and torture have all been favored by Christianity at various points in history. Other religions have similar checkered pasts. It is not surprising that prison preaching is not having the quite the effect expected.
It doesn’t help that the Bible is a complex work whose division into single verses complicates understanding. (I promise you that if you read the bible organized as paragraphs and books not verses, you will find that it is a much more consistent and eloquent document than when it is organized into brief comments – that get tossed like missiles by varying denominations and zealots of all stripes.)
It might do well to conduct studies to find out what religious systems are most effective in curbing recidivism.
I doubt that will happen. The results could be very dangerous. After all, what would people say if the Muslim Brotherhood was most effective in curbing later crime.
From around the web –
From the web site, Thoughtful Faith:
The United States keeps no official statistics on religious beliefs of inmates. The claim that atheists were under-represented in prisions was seemingly started, by Rod Swift, who wrote it on his website, and publicized the claim through the internet and sceptical magazines. He claims that he received an email from an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Denise Golumbaski. According to this email, 0.2% of those surveyed specifically answered they were “atheist” and 19.8% give no answer. This compares with 0.5% of the US population at the time who identified as atheist, and 4 to 6% (according to Gallop) who gave no answer.
From the web site, The Penal System: (This is an interview with Pete Brook – it’s fascinating – you should read it!)
People have to care about each other. It’s just really bizarre in a country that has professed Christian ideals that when it comes to the prison system people don’t seem to love their neighbour, they seem to hate their neighbour. They seem to have an incredible amount of indifference towards the fortune of their neighbour. I mean I’m not a religious person I’m not saying that you should let these people out because of Christian ideals. It makes it easy when I’m chatting to my parents because they’re catholic and I’m like Jesus is all about visiting people in prison and stuff. But it’s a very easy line of argument to use when you’re dealing with conservatives. You should care because that’s what you talk about elsewhere.
And from the web site, Prison Uncensored:
Our conservative government has also taken away funding for religious groups other than Christians in an effort to save money. Before the government looks at saving nickels and dimes in the prison system perhaps they should look at how much money is wasted by other government departments, maybe our Defense Minister could not waste billions of taxpayer dollars.