From the radically leftist Huffington Post, of all places.
As a crime stopper, faith may be particularly effective in setting moral norms, building social ties and investing communities with a sense of meaning and purpose, counteracting the “moral cynicism” and individualism that can foster criminal behavior, researchers Ulmer and Casey Harris of the University of Arkansas note in the latest issue of The Sociological Quarterly.
Ulmer and Harris explored “Race and the Religious Contexts of Violence” in their study. They analyzed data from the U.S. Census, the Religious Congregations and Membership Study and crime reports from nearly 200 counties in New York California and Texas. All of the counties had substantial numbers of black, white and Latino residents.
What they found was not only evidence that religion may exert a protective influence discouraging violent crime, but that there are also racial-ethnic differences in the role of faith communities.
Consider these findings:
• Black and white violence decreased significantly as the percentage rose of county residents who belonged to congregations or were regular attenders.
• Black and Latino violence was lower in communities where residents belonged to similar types of religious institutions, indicating faith groups from similar traditions were able to exert greater influence on community values when they had a significant presence.
• Religious homogeneity was not associated with overall rates of white violence, but further breakdowns showed communities with larger percentages of evangelicals had lower rates of white violence. Latino violence was significantly reduced in communities with large numbers of active Catholics.
• Black violence dipped dramatically in counties with high levels of poverty, unemployment and low levels of education where large percentages of residents were active in congregations. This is a key finding, as communities with severe social and economic disadvantages are more likely to have high violent crime rates.
The findings suggest that religious groups have the ability to cultivate moral attitudes “that counteract the code of the streets,” Ulmer says.
The post also includes results from another study, this one featuring over 15,000 people between the ages of 18 and 28:
Baylor researchers Sung Joon Jang and Aaron Franzen analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine differences in crime rates among young adults in four categories:
• Religious and spiritual.
• Spiritual but not religious.
• Religious but not spiritual
• Neither religious nor spiritual.
Individuals who identified themselves as “religious” were less likely to be offenders.
However, individuals who were “spiritual but not religious” were more prone to commit violent crime than their “religious and spiritual” counterparts and more likely to commit property crime than emerging adults who were “religious” or “neither religious nor spiritual.”
“Is being ‘spiritual’ enough to reduce criminal propensity without also being religious? Our study suggests the answer is no – at least during emerging adulthood,” Jang and Franzen write in a recent issue of the journal Criminology.
What both studies also suggest is that the role of religion should be considered as communities address issues of violent crime.
Communities lose out when they marginalize or trivialize the potential pro-social influences of religion, Jang says.
“And one of the areas where society suffers is in crime,” he says
A long time ago, when I was just getting started with blogging, I wrote a series of posts that explained the minimal requirements for a robust moral system.
1) Objective moral values
There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.
2) Objective moral duties
Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?
3) Moral accountability
Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?
4) Free will
In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.
5) Ultimate significance
Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.
I argued in other posts in that series that atheism does not ground any of those factors, but Christian theism (and Judaic theism) ground them all. Atheists aren’t going to be able to behave morally in the face of temptation when doing the right thing (assuming there is such a thing on their view) involves risk or self-sacrifice. Doing the right thing when it goes against your self-interest makes no sense on atheism – it’s not rational. And the studies above lend empirical support to that claim.