Many believe there is no difference in the association between Christians and the law and secular citizens. Criminology is devoted to determining why people do bad things – why they become criminals.
Society is interested in inhibiting criminal behavior while promoting social behavior. Society is also interested in trying to prevent return to criminal behavior after discharge from prison.
Religion and Crime
There has been a great deal of research in the association between religion and crime. A review of research studies published in the last part of the twentieth century found there was a strong positive effect of religious belief upon criminal behavior.
Even so, most recent criminology textbooks do not even have the word “religion” in them, let along discuss the religious effect. These textbooks reflect the antireligion prejudice of academia more than it represents factual evidence.
A question that is frequently asked is why America is such a violent, criminal ridden society even though it is an unusually religious nation.
Crime in America
The image of American crime is that over a very violent society with an increased homicide rate. While it is true that the American homicide rate is greater than in countries of Western Europe, it is substantially lower than in countries of Eastern Europe and in Russia. The Russian homicide rate is more than twice as high as ours.
The homicide rate in Latin America (especially more recently in Mexico) is many times higher than ours.
Since the early 1030s, the Uniform Crime Report published data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is broken down into various offense categories. Europeans then had statistical proof that America is a violent society.
When European began to report their own data the statistics were very interesting; their crime rates tended to be far higher than America’s. In comparison to much of Western Europe, America has low crime rates.
Denmark has nearly 2.5 times as many burglaries per 100,000 population than does the United States and is exceeded by many other countries including Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Thefts per 100,000 population are more than twice as great in Sweden and also greater in Denmark, the UK, Norway, Germany, and Finland. Assaults were nearly four times higher per 100,000 people in Sweden and significantly higher in the UK, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Portugal, and France.
Homicide rates remain higher in the US than in Western European countries. However, European countries report attempted murder rates but few in Europe possess guns and so most of their attempted homicides fail.
The American homicide rate based on only white victims (3.1 per 100,000) is far closer to the Western European countries while the African American homicide rate of 20.9 per 100,000 population is off the charts.
There is a significantly greater risk of being murdered in the United States if you are an African American. Still, even the African American homicide rate pales in comparison to that of Jamaica (59.5 per 100,000).
The effect of religious belief on criminality has been well documented. As might be supposed, there is a significant suppressive effect of belief upon crime rates.
Religion and Crime
Most of the research on criminal behavior is devoted to minors and not to adults. The primary reason is the belief held by criminologists is that by the time offenders reach adulthood it is too late for reform.
Almost all studies on delinquency are based on high school students; few national studies are based on stratified samples. Data is usually collected by questionnaires filled out by students during school hours.
The General Social Survey conducted data since 1972 based on national samples of adults. Results from these surveys are very consistent and are therefore thought to be reliable.
The data also strongly supports the claim that religious belief deters criminal behavior. Jews are the least likely to be picked up by the police and those without a religion are far more likely to be picked up.
Church attenders who go weekly are less likely than those who only go to church occasionally.
African Americans are more likely than whites to have been picked up but in both white and African American races weekly church attenders are far less likely to be picked up than those who never go to church.
The religious effect also holds within levels of educational achievement and in every region of the country.
Religion and Drug Use
Opioid use and accidental death have become a very serious problem in this country leading to what is called the opioid epidemic. Considerable attention is being given to address this problem, and there is some evidence of marginal success.
The General Social Survey showed that weekly church attenders were about one-third as likely to use crack cocaine – a difference that is highly statistically significant.
Religion and Delinquency
Religion decreases the tendency of juveniles to break the laws – but only in certain areas of the country.
If most of a juvenile’s friends believe that theft is permissible as long as you do not get caught, then that may become the juvenile’s view as well. Alternatively, if most of someone’s friends are religious, then religious standards may enter into the moral outlook and suppress theft behavior.
The effect of an individual’s religious beliefs and commitments is overruled by group behavior – especially in young adults where belonging to a social group is so important.
With the exception of children in religious schools, religion plays little or no role in shaping interpersonal relationships. Therefore, in unchurched communities, religious children tend to have friends who are not religious – and become shaped by their non-religious behavior.
In moral communities where church membership is high, there tend to be increased religious standards that inform behavior. The opposite is true for amoral communities where religious standards do not inform juvenile behavior due to the non-religious status of their friends.
Adults, on the other hand, do select their friends based at least in part upon their religious identity. The more religious adults, especially those in conservative congregations, tend to select their friends from their church congregation or denomination.
Rates of Church Membership and Community Crime
Studies show that the higher a city’s church membership rate, the lower its burglary rate, larceny rate, robbery rate, assault rate, and homicide rate.
Since much crime is committed by juveniles, and since juveniles are so much influenced by their peers, when religiosity is increased in a community it tends to support a juvenile’s religious belief. A juvenile will be less likely to commit a crime if his friends also are against such behavior.
Over the past few decades, many studies have started to evaluate the association between religious affiliation and criminal behavior in juveniles.
They find that those belonging to the more conservative denominations and living in areas where religious belief is high will have far less tendency to commit crimes.
This would suggest that for public health reasons if nothing else, cities should encourage religious behavior and belief.
Of course, secularists would oppose such encouragement of religious institutions due to First Amendment considerations; however, there is no doubt that our Founding Fathers encouraged government involvement in religious beliefs for just that reason. They recognized the positive effect of religious belief on crime among many other positive social effects.