Atheism, Religion, and Crime

In these forums there have been endless discussions of historical atrocities committed by established religions (Crusades and Inquisitions) and atheist governments (Stalin, Hitler, Mao).

I’d hope to stay clear of these issues and focus in particular on whether a society’s moral values are better off with or without religion. More specifically, how does that issue get factored into the current prison populations?

Our laws are mostly based off of the Judeo-Christian heritage. This heritage obeys the laws of God. Our only concept of a criminal is one who disobeys the laws of God even in secular matters (Thou shalt not steal). As a result, our concepts of laws in this country were instituted by religion.

Prisoners are unusually the victims of not receiving enough love, the feeling we all aspire to obtain with the mercy of God. Notice many prisoners come from poor families and as a result do not experience love. Think about the lack of love it takes for someone to dive into the world of drugs and hurt others for the sake of your own gain.

Criminal activity is the result of original sin. Even since Jesus conquered death and people are washed away of original sin through baptism, there are still criminals because God lovingly gave man free will.

fish90

Notice many prisoners come from poor families and as a result do not experience love.

So true, and many of those families do not have a father present to teach moral values to his sons and daughters. Mothers can do it sometimes, but it’s done twice over when a father is present and reinforces the mother’s nurturing and love of her children.

My experience in the prison ministry leads me to believe that the great majority of male prisoners had lost or never known their fathers when they were young, and so became the more susceptible to peer pressure … young blind people leading other young blind people toward a gang mentality.

These same young men also stopped going to church when they were young. Many who call themselves Catholic or Protestant have no idea where they were baptized, and so (without a certificate) have to receive conditional baptism again before being confirmed in prison.

I cannot see how atheism could be a benefit in a prison population.
In the same way, it provides zero help in trying to talk someone out of suicide.
The Catholic Faith gives meaning to the punishment that is found in prison – and it gives meaning and hope to the most corrupted life. Redemption and reparation are possible because God can set the scales of justice right again.

I think wether or not an athiest mindset or religious mindset is better, really depends on the time period you are discussing. One cannot get past the atrocities of religious fevour either in the past or now. Nor can we get past the atrocities commited by athiests. What we must realize, is that both believers and non-believers are capable of this. A Belief or lack-thereof does not determine how good a person chooses to be.

What we can do, is look for the “reason” such atrocities occured and why they were supported and invariably we will find ideological fanaticism at it’s roots. I find it extremely difficult as an athiest, to show other athiests this concept. It is also just as hard to show it to believers. We all want to believe we are strong, good and compasionate people. It messes up our perceptions of ourselves if we realize we are actually capable of such brutality. To admit religious people CAN become idealogical fanatical is painful. It is just as painful a realization as an athiest. A “desire” to percieve ourselves as good, will not keep us safe from our darkest nature by default. We must be aware of what we are capable of, good or bad.(IE. No telling ourselves we are good, will actually mean we are good)

Having said all that, I have been asking this question for myself, for quite a while now. Is the world better off with, or without religion. Ask some believers and they will say “OF COURSE belief makes the world better”.(Incidentally I alway’s have a great deal of respect for the believer who can ask this question honestly and with integrity,). Ask an athiest and they will say the same thing "The world OF COURSE is better off without religion(I did this recently on an athiest site and recieved the usual suspicious questions regarding my “true” athiesm).

What I think, is that it depends very much on the religion in question and the period of time you are dealing with, but overall religion has probably enhanced human life. And I say that as an athiest.

I “could” talk about the benefits of the other faiths, but I’ll focus solely on christianity. The wars fought by christians in the name of God, were almost alway’s fought over power, money, and land. These were all things that christianity(minus some pauline christianity) disregarded. What Jesus taught was the opposite of what christians in power did. Not the fault of Jesus or the apostles who first tried to teach it to mankind.

But take a look at the common man, the average believer. They have been taught that through their lives they must reflect on their behaviour, modifying if it is bad and listen to a conscience given to them by God and upon which God wants them to use for the greater good of mankind and their individual selves…and ultimately God.

This kind of self-reflection EVEN IF it occasionally went south due to bad leadership, overall has probably enhanced human life.

In today’s secular world, we don’t have this focus so much and people get themselves into trouble, by not pro-actively thinking on their behaviour and it’s repurcussions. What we have, is therapists who then attempt to peel back the layers of the human mind in an attempt to fix problems, that may never have occured with a bit of self-reflection and gentle but wise guidance.

So all in all, despite all the atrocities, the general goal of religion was to attempt to improve humanities behaviour, through an act of love and obedience to a power higher than itself. Not…an act of submission to a daddy figure, but a real act of submission to something bigger because that bigger concept is good for mankind.

Many non-believers do this, without any faith but I do wonder if they would have gotten into the habit of it at all, without several thousand years of social conditioning? And this drive to self-analyze and improve our behaviour…isn’t a bad thing at all.

So I would probably vote Yes for religion. I would also vote Yes, that society needed to challenge religious claims and it needs for now a secular world.

Cheers

Okay I answered the 1st part of your question, but forgot the 2nd. I’ll try and share my thoughts on that now.

The prison population is an interesting one. We can do statistics on it, and see a LOT of religious people in prison. What I dont’ see as often, is the statistics on how many convert to religious faith, while in prison. It can skew the data to make it appears as though religious people ARE criminals, when in fact that may not be the case. All in all, I’m not sure.

However, in case of the types of people who end up in prison, I would say a resounding Yes, that religion helps. I almost can’t believe I’m saying it, after so many years as a militant athiest, but I’ve really looked into this matter as hard as it was, and I think religion helps.

Why? I’ll answer that if you want, but I’ve been verbose enough so far(bad habit of mine sorry), so let me know if you are interested in my reasons.

Otherwise, just add me to the yes crowd :slight_smile:

Dameedna

It is refreshing to hear an atheist/agnostic make concessions of the type you have just made.

Working as prison ministry volunteers, my wife and I have discovered that most of any given prison population consist of people who have identified themselves as belonging to this or that denomination. But when you ask questions about their religious education you come to a blank wall upon which is written hardly anything. It is difficult even to get these people into the chapel or study mode for Christian instruction because it is so foreign to them and they are so steeped in their lack of a well-formed conscience. They are, in short, without God even when they sign a form entering prison that is supposed to identify them as one of His own. This is how prison statistics get skewed by some to make it look as though only Christians are in prison. Few prisoners consciously accept that they are without God, and even if they did, would not be likely to sign “atheist” after their name as, I imagine, they would suspect it would not help them with the parole board.

As you suggested above, formal atheism is limited in its scope and does not as a rule provide a frame of reference for moral instruction. There are no “atheist” churches that teach “atheist” ethics (though I understand there are many atheists among the Unitarian/Universalists). Perhaps for this reason, some of the less militant agnostics or atheists send their children to Christian schools where they will absorb some formal instruction in morals.

Thank you for your insightful comment! :slight_smile:

lol, this is ridiculous. The reason most prisoners are poor it’s because the rich can get away with it. OJ isn’t in jail for a reason.

And now the poor don’t have the ability to love? This is ludicrous specially considering that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor.

jorgural
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The reason most prisoners are poor it’s because the rich can get away with it.*

Poverty by itself does not produce crime, any more than wealth by itself produces virtue.

Many poor people are not in prison, but especially the ones who have a strong family backgrounds, religious upbringing, and devoted, loving (and yes disciplinarian) parents.

There are exceptions to the rule, but that is more the rule than the exception.

As for the wealthy, we know what Jesus said on various occasions about their chances.

I am sorry that statement came off that way. I meant to connect the possible consequences of being poor (not seeing parents, family issues) that connect to not being able to properly experience love which can be the case for wealthier families.

If a person never experiences proper and full love, that person certainly has a harder time expressing love properly and fully. A son who grows up seeing the way his father treats his wife is statistically more likely to treat his future wife the same way.

I admit that quote was horrible in its accuracy, so I apologize and wish no harm to anyone of any socioeconomic status. I should have explained poor not only in terms of socioeconomic status but a lack of education and family life. This statement was a serious oops for me, since I was focusing on that poor communities usually have higher crime rates. Thank you Charlemagne II for pointing out that poverty does not solely create crime nor does being wealthy. People from poor communities have a great chance to experience God in completely new ways; I just focused on the presumed higher crime rate in poorer communities.

Finally, any person who comes from a bad background has a higher risk of entering into criminal activity.

No one can never change and since we were made in the image and likeness of God, everyone is possible of love. Poor and the wealthy are each as likely to enter into crime.

PLEASE FORGIVE THAT OOPS OF MINE!!!

Thanks for these very thoughtful and fair-minded insights.

Atheists and believers are all children of God. I would like to point out that we don’t see newspaper headlines that state: “Atheist kills two in nightclub” or “Atheist robs bank, wounds guard.” However, we do see headlines where Christians are identified.

On the American Atheist web site is a statement reminding other atheists that they are not causing or contributing to the world’s current problems. What? Does atheism make one immune from all of the faults afflicting everyone else? In fairness, this is the same irrational generalization that says, “They are all like that.” Such a statement cannot be made without facts to back it up. Are there statistics that indicate how many atheists are in jail or who commit crimes? It appears to me, the suggestion being made is that if your mind is infected with religion you’re more likely to harm others or even start a war. This is illogical.

Peace,
Ed

When statistics are presented demonstrating that religious people are less moral than atheists (and such evidence seems to be abundant), the appropriate response for he believer is that the Church is a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints.

When statistics are presented to suggest that atheists are less moral than believers (though such evidence does not seem to be available), the appropriate reponse for the atheist is that whether or not believers are better or worse behaved may be evidence that belief is good for society but it is in no way evidence that God exists.

Either way, I don’t see much point in the debate about who is better behaved.

Best,
Leela

Ed

It appears to me, the suggestion being made is that if your mind is infected with religion you’re more likely to harm others or even start a war. This is illogical.

Exactly. I read an analogy once to that effect:

If you were walking down a street sidewalk and on one side of the street coming toward you there was a group of young men toting bibles and on the other side there was a group of young men in black leather jackets wielding bats and chains, on which side of the street would you rather be?

Which group is with God and which group is without Him?

Common sense!

Leela

Welcome back.

When statistics are presented to suggest that atheists are less moral than believers (though such evidence does not seem to be available), the appropriate reponse for the atheist is that whether or not believers are better or worse behaved may be evidence that belief is good for society but it is in no way evidence that God exists.

I and my wife have served in prison ministry for several years. I can tell you that published statistics are always bogus. Go to a prison with 2,000 hardened criminals in it. Count how many attend a religious service once a week. Believe your eyes, rather than the lies.

You will never see it printed in atheist literature that the vast majority of prisoners want nothing to do with God. That’s the atheist position.

I don’t say that all atheist belong in jail. What I do say is that most of the people in prison are atheists. Most often they remember that in childhood their parents had them baptized at a church, so they declare that to be their religious preference, because it looks better on the rap sheet than “atheist” when they come up for parole. Atheist organizations take those stats and try to make it appear that atheist are by far the most moral group alive. Tell me this: if they are, where did they get their moral formation?

Even some of the prisoners we’ve served in chapel and religious education are clearly there not because they want to learn about the faith, but because they want that chapel attendance record on file when the parole consideration comes up. Subtract that number from the total number who attend, and you have very few religious people in jail and a very large number of atheists who are very dangerous because they have never formed a moral conscience under the guidance of parents and church.

But if you want to look at some** real **statistics that you can believe in, consider the different rate of recidivism among those who attend chapel while in prison and those who do not. A considerable difference. Look up the stats if you need to.

I don’t know that atheists are the most moral group alive or try to make themselves out to be so, but I do know where thet get their moral formation. It is the same place that everyone gets it, from their parents. And the atheist parents teach their kids morality in the same way that the believer parents do. They ask their children, “how would you feel if someone did that to you?” They try to get their children to empathize with others by asking them to imagine what other’s perspective is like. If the child is not a sociopath, compassion will naturally arise out of empathy.

What seems completely irrelevent to me to the development of morality in children is belief in God, since even religious parents do not want to teach their children to be good out of fear of the wrath of God but ratyher out of compassion for others.

I’ll take your word for it that their is lower recidivism in prisoners who go to church, but is is it the churching that is doing them good or is it that the prisoners who already desire to change their lives are the ones choosing to go to church? I understand that there is also lower recidivism associated with pursuit of education, for example. I’d put my money toward educating inmates rather than churching them. I think you’d get a lot more bang for your buck.

Best,
Leela

I watched a debate once with Christopher Hitchens and one of the audience members pointed out to the Christian Evangelicals that, as a prison warden, he sees alot of belief in jail, but he doesn’t believe it does alot of good. There are very few genuine atheists in prison. Now, perhaps these people are pious, but they do have a belief in God. I guess the problem is their belief doesn’t do them alot of good.

Plutarch, I believe?, had a theory that there were two views of the Gods. One was cosmic tyrrants who inspire fear and obedience, and when one of your neighbors offends the gods and makes them angry, it’s all his fault that bad things happen. Another one was mysterious but benevolent being that exist to give hope to the powerless and afflicted. The first idea he said was superstition, the second he said was good religion.

Unfortunately Christianity has a long history of being used as a tool of oppression and power, rather like Plutarch’s example of the gods as tyrrants. I believe there is something in Abrahamic monotheism that almost demands it, the atavistic tones of hyssop sprinkling blood don’t help. The dark, sinister story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac comes to mind.

Leela
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I understand that there is also lower recidivism associated with pursuit of education, for example. I’d put my money toward educating inmates rather than churching them. I think you’d get a lot more bang for your buck.*

There’s no reason in the world why prisoners shouldn’t do both, and I’ve seen them do both with great effect.

Daedelus

Unfortunately Christianity has a long history of being used as a tool of oppression and power, rather like Plutarch’s example of the gods as tyrrants. I believe there is something in Abrahamic monotheism that almost demands it, the atavistic tones of hyssop sprinkling blood don’t help. The dark, sinister story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac comes to mind.

Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac. Go back and read it again.

Well, here we go again: Stalin, Hitler, Mao. All atheists. Need I say more? :banghead:

Leela

… is it the churching that is doing them good or is it that the prisoners who already desire to change their lives are the ones choosing to go to church?

Both?

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