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Far from deterring criminality, religion may actually be used to support it, says new US study.

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COMMENTING on a recently published study, which found that through “purposeful distortion or genuine ignorance,” hardcore criminals often co-opt religious doctrine to justify or further their crimes, Justin Peter’s – writing for the Slate last Friday, pointed out that the sample size (just 48 people) was very small, and that as the authors themselves acknowledge, criminals certainly aren’t the only ones who tend to misunderstand religious teachings, or to contort them for their own benefit.

He added:

Granted, there aren’t usually violent consequences when your Aunt Sue misunderstands something in the Bible; the worst that happens is that she’s just a little more unbearable at Thanksgiving dinner. But, still, the Theoretical Criminology study shouldn’t be interpreted as conclusive evidence that faith-based outreach and rehabilitation programs are worthless.

But the point is, neither is there conclusive evidence that religion on its own actually helps rehabilitate criminals. This becomes a policy question when we’re talking about prisons. As that Bureau of Prisons report put it, while ‘religious programs in the correctional setting have been the single most common form of institutional programming for inmates’, nobody really knows whether those programs are effective.

There’s not much good data. People tend to use tautological arguments to support religion-based rehabilitation programs. That’s not good enough. If we’re going to talk about whether religion helps rehabilitate criminals, we need to insist on data. Don’t just take it on faith.

Lead author of the study is Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University. Research done by he and his colleagues was published in February in Theoretical Criminology in an article entitled With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders.

According to this report, the 48 people they interviewed 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.

One 33-year-old, 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. 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.

Other interview subjects tended to manipulate religious doctrine or were selective in which principles they adhered to. A 23-year-old,“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 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 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.

The interviews show that criminals will often employ “elaborate and creative rationalizations” to reconcile their belief in God and their serial offending.

The researchers suggested that those who run faith-based programs in prisons could play a role in trying to correct some of the distortions or misunderstandings.

However, that’s not to suggest that these programs should be all about “hellfire and brimstone” because that would just turn inmates off, Topalli said. Instead, religion should be a “subtle, background, authoritative force” for making change, he said, adding that faith-based programs work best in reducing recidivism when done in conjunction with educational, vocational and life-skills training.

A 2007 report posted on the Correctional Service of Canada website noted that about 15 to 20 per cent of federal inmates regularly attend religious worship services and expressed a “high level” of satisfaction with services offered.

The study said while a key function of chaplains was to provide religious services, some were also providing more “holistic” services, including personal development and money management training, which complemented inmates’ overall correctional plans.

HAT TIP: John C

26 Responses to “Far from deterring criminality, religion may actually be used to support it, says new US study.”

  1. Ian says:

    Well, who’da thought it, peapul misinterpratatin’ de buybul?

  2. Harry says:

    I observed this on this very site years ago.

    Religion helps people let go of their guilt, creative people can do this often enough to not feel bad about anything at all.

  3. Lazy Susan says:

    This is surely not news. Believers make up stuff they like to believe in, and rationalize away the bits they don’t like. I would expect criminals to be no different from law-abiders. I suppose the only remarkable thing is that probably no-one has interviewed that particular demographic on this subject before.

    Religion is a crap path to knowledge. It reinforces your own prejudices, encourages belief in things demonstrably false (too many to mention), supports arguments from authority, and … the list goes on.

  4. Broga says:

    @Lazy Susan: Ken being an example of the points you make. His deceits, rationalisations, distortions and refusal to accept what is before him provide us with a model for devout Christians.

  5. The Woggler says:

    time and time again I read that because atheists have rejected god, the final arbiter of absolute morality, we have no basis for determining right and wrong.

    It’s horseshit. As an atheist, I can choose not to discriminate against or kill homosexuals, to not commit acts of violence against people of other faiths, or to keep slaves. I can choose to reject all the stuff that these so-called ‘holy’ books that I, and most other people in the world, find repulsive.

  6. ZombieHunter says:

    I’m always skeptical of criminals who say they have found god and think that by saying sorry to some imaginary friend in the sky it somehow excuses the hurt they have caused their victims.

    As an atheist I don’t have an imaginary friend to hide behind when I fuck up it’s MY responsability and mine alone this means I take responsability for my actions and therefor think about what I’m doing or about to do.

  7. L.Long says:

    Oh you heathen secularists are just making these lie up!!!
    You are just trying to make people go against us!
    Jesus! Help us! They are persecuting USE AGAIN!!!!
    Persecution!Persecution!Persecution!Persecution!Persecution!
    I can just hear this has they peacefully walk with the kids to get get them indoctrinated at their indoctrination centers every sunday.

  8. charlie says:

    I was taught to respect all people not because of some sky fairy, but because it IS the decent, human thing to do. Also, it feels good to try my best every day to treat all I meet the way I want to be treated. Not easy soem times, but life isn’t easy.
    Ethcis, morals do not require some Invisible Magic Friend in the sky to be valid. Ethical behavior and morality existed long before the “chosen” ever came upon the scene and later split into the Jewish and xtian clans who have despised each other until today. Where are their ethics and morality?

  9. charlie says:

    I was taught to respect all people not because of some sky fairy, but because it IS the decent, human thing to do. Also, it feels good to try my best every day to treat all I meet the way I want to be treated. Not easy soem times, but life isn’t easy.
    Ethcis, morals do not require some Invisible Magic Friend in the sky to be valid. Ethical behavior and morality existed long before the “chosen” ever came upon the scene and later split into the Jewish and xtian clans who have despised each other until today. Where are their ethics and morality?
    Also, here in the US of A, we have many high profile criminals who “find jeebus” in prison. At least one who went to jail for the Watergate mess still gets me. Colson I think was his name. He had “found god/jeebus” in prison. What a load of crap. His type get so “superior” with their new “faith” in jeebus and really piss off those of us who know religion is false.
    Sorry for the long rant, but this topic gets me going.

  10. Matt Westwood says:

    “I was taught to respect all people not because of some sky fairy, but because it IS the decent, human thing to do.”

    And as my religious fascist of a mother would have said, with a sneering curl to her lip and a contemptuous tone to her voice: “So you’re just a humanist.”

  11. stokebruernehuman says:

    Muslims casually plan and commit murder because they believe its the will of god. Priests rape kids. American evangelists have been conning money out of their followers for years. Whats new?

  12. barriejohn says:

    Faith-based programs work best in reducing recidivism when done in conjunction with educational, vocational and life-skills training.

    I other words, education and training work, but religion has no beneficial effect whatsoever!

  13. tony e says:

    @DCBrighton,

    I’m sure it’s just a coincidence……..

  14. barriejohn says:

    What prisoners really need is Jesus. They’re being saved left, right and centre here, so how come American prisons aren’t empty by now?

    http://disciplesforchristoutreach.org/about/the-system/

    “Prisoners need regeneration not rehabilitation.”

  15. Matt Westwood says:

    @barriejohn: Actually you’re not far off. Prisoners can get early release if they profess a religious faith. Claiming to be converted to xtianity, to be precise. Now: surely it could not be that criminals pretend to be born again just in order to get out of jail? No, that could never be.

  16. barriejohn says:

    Matt: This “Prison Ministry” has been going on in Great Britain since at least the 1950s, to my personal knowledge! Where are the results? Of course, all evangelists are the same – they are always engaged in “exciting” endeavours, enjoying wonderful success, and “experiencing God’s blesssing in a way that (they) have never experienced before”. All this hyperbole maintains interest in their “work”, and keeps the donations rolling in. Even with those two dinosaurs, Billy Graham and his cheerleader Cliff Barrows, nothing really comes of it in the long run. You have to feel sorry for them – but more sorry for those whom they have so successfully deceived.

  17. Trevor Blake says:

    The low number of atheists in prisons compared to theists in prisons suggests either atheists are less prone to crime or less prone to getting caught. Perhaps some of both. Either way, glad to be on the winning team.

  18. John A says:

    This research really just states the obvious, that is the obvious to people who are not blinkered by their religious dogma.
    ‘With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders.’
    Nice wordy title for the article but I really don’t see how this is a paradoxical relationship. Any day of any week from around the globe you will hear told of numerous barbaric and inhuman acts done in the name of religion and God. When you believe God is on your side then there’s really no holding you back; couple that with a criminal persona and you have a recipe for bad things to happen.
    ‘However, that’s not to suggest that these programs should be all about “hellfire and brimstone” because that would just turn inmates off,…’
    Yes, give the punters what they want; that’s how so many different people have so many different opinions on what their God can do for them. Of course using the Bible as a working resource can’t in any way help to see through the quagmire of contradictory opposition; no wonder so many decide to cherry pick and use the bits that suit their purpose and can justify their actions, however ill informed or just plain daft that may seem to an onlooker.

  19. Marky Mark says:

    (No, no, no, I don’t think that is right. 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.)
    (A 25-year-old 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.)
    …Boy oh boy have I heard this argument before.

    (The researchers suggested that those who run faith-based programs in prisons could play a role in trying to correct some of the distortions or misunderstandings.)
    …they won’t, their job is to convert as many souls as possible, as the percentage works for them, some will become life-long Christians and donate to their church.

    I wish research was done on how much tax dollars these prison ministries obtain through grants. Usually filed under the ruse of a humanitarian cause, but one must join their prison cult to receive help.

  20. Marky Mark says:

    Here is an Indiana prison video of the religious ICAN program. (Indiana Canine Assistance Network)
    Run by the religious nut-job Sally Irvin. Sally gets to pick which inmates enter her program…so notice that all her inmates are white people. Even though the Indiana prisons are 60-70% mixed or African race.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jjBo93K8T0

    High profile child killer Hope Rippey passed through the ICAN program and was released early, after serving only 1/3 of her sentence. Under mysterious and controversial circumstances I might add.

  21. Marky Mark says:

    Sally and ICAN are related to, and most likely receives funds from this all white prison ministry named “Kairos”
    http://kpmifoundation.org/index.php

    Hope’s fellow inmate and child killer, Melinda Loveless is in the ICAN program as well…and they are still trying to get her released early.

    The fourth inmate involved in this crime, the kidnapping, torture, and murder of 12-year-old Shanda Sharer…Laurie Tackett, is involved with the PLUS program, run by “Prison Fellowship Ministries”
    These prison ministries are infesting our prisons and on the increase since X-pres Bush signed the “Faith Based Initiative” program.
    In Florida a politician was caught accepting huge amounts of cash from a Florida based prison ministry to de-fund public schools and create a religious voucher program…They are trying to force their belief on our children with our tax dollars.

  22. Marky Mark says:

    (The low number of atheists in prisons compared to theists in prisons suggests either atheists are less prone to crime )
    …there was a study on this and i posted it months ago. It said the reason Atheists are less like to commit crimes is because they are considered of a higher intelligence than their religious counterparts.

  23. Marky Mark says:

    If you people really want to strike a blow against this religious injustice in the prison system, copy the video link of the all white people ICAN video below.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jjBo93K8T0

    and the all white “Kairos Prison Ministry”
    http://kpmifoundation.org/index.php

    Than send it to the NAACP with a complaint (Scroll down to bottom of page) here;
    http://www.naacp.org/page/s/contact

    Ask them to investigate the ICAN program and the funding of Hope Rippey and Melinda Loveless’s attorney. People of color and convicted of non-violent offences serve their time in Indiana prisons, but white women who kidnap and murder children get to play with dogs and are released early.

  24. Georgina says:

    A religious criminal seeks forgiveness from a priest or faces a nebulous, all-forgiving god/father figure.
    An atheist criminal must seek their forgiveness closer to home, from their victim. Much harder.

    Might explain why so many mafioso hit-men were roman catholics.

  25. Ryan morrigan says:

    Ummm….did anyone catch that the article says criminals “misinterpret” and “distort” the bible to justify crimes??!? THEY DON’T NEED TO. Lets just look at the crimes clearly endorsed by the loving Christian god in the bible in black and white: murder, genocide, rape, slavery, infanticide, torture, pillaging, incest…it goes on and on. The people distorting the bible are not the criminals, but rather the supposed “good Christians” who gloss over all the murder and rape parts and harp about homosexuality being the greatest threat to mankind. Cherry picking much? Bottom line is, religion has always been a tool to justify one’s own hatred and fears. The bible is a reflection of the hatred and fears of Bronze Age desert tent dwellers who knew nothing of science and were governed by the laws of barbarism and tribalism. Although very little has changed in the Middle East in the last two thousand years, that doesn’t mean the rest of the world should adhere to this insane, monstrous dogma in the face of moral and scientific enlightenment. Yes, slavery is wrong. Yes, evolution occurs. Yes, that means the bible is wrong and outdated. Yes, I keep one by the toilet in case I run out of tp.