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Crime Stats Science

Belief In Hell Predicts a Country's Crime Rates Better Than Other Factors 471

An anonymous reader writes "Religion is often thought of as psychological defense against bad behavior, but researchers have recently found that the effect of religion on pro-social behaviors may actually be driven by the belief in hell and supernatural punishment rather than faith in heaven and spiritual benevolence. In a large analysis of 26 years of data consisting of 143,197 people in 67 countries, psychologists found significantly lower crime rates in societies where many people believe in hell compared to those where more people believed in heaven."
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Belief In Hell Predicts a Country's Crime Rates Better Than Other Factors

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  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @07:30PM (#40378409)

    "Shariff noted that because the findings were based off of correlational data, they do not prove causation."

    And the paper itself even explains with some detail:

    First and foremost, these findings are correlational, and thus reverse-causation and third variable explanations need to be discounted before causal claims can be firmly endorsed.

    (I.e., "A is correlated with B" does not necessarily mean "A causes B"; B could cause A or C could cause both A and B.)

  • Huh (Score:5, Informative)

    by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @07:40PM (#40378529) Homepage

    According to Table 1 of the study, the choices of religious affiliation include "Roman Catholic," "Other Christian," and "Muslim."

    That would seem to ignore much of the world's population, beginning with Jews and continuing on to the various religions that believe in reincarnation.

    They claim to have drawn their data from publicly available sources. I'd love to hear how they spun that data to achieve their sample.

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @07:40PM (#40378533)

    Who else believes in hell?

    Well, let's look at The Fine Paper [plosone.org]:

    The same pattern also emerges for three out of the four religious groups that form national majorities–predominantly Roman Catholic, predominantly non-Catholic Christian, and predominantly ‘Other,’ which comprises of either unaffiliated majorities, or more localized majority religions such as Hinduism, Shintoism and syncretic religions that combine Islam and Christianity with traditional indigenous religions (see Figure 1). The only exception to this observation is predominantly Muslim countries in Asia, for which the uniformly high levels of both belief in heaven and hell (Ms = 93% and 91% respectively), produce insufficient variance for prediction.

    So presumably some flavors of "Other" believe in a hell of some sort (for example, "being reincarnated as something in the "sucks to be you" category" might fill the bill), as does Islam. I don't see "IL" in Figure 1, so, unless I've missed something, there's no country where Judaism is a national majority (I'm assuming it's still a national majority in Israel), so I'm not sure it addresses the "Judeo" part of that.

    (Oh, and the data point for the US is a fair bit above the line, meaning a higher crime rate for the US's value of {believers in hell} - {believers in heaven} than the line would predict. I don't know whether that's significant; if it is, maybe hell is a less effective deterrent here in the City on the Hill.)

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @07:42PM (#40378549) Homepage

    If there's good then there's evil. If there's a God then there's a Devil. If there's a Heaven then there's a Hell.

    It might help if you took a comparative religion course. Many people believe in God without a belief in a Devil. This applies for example to many liberal Christians. In Judaism, the closest thing to the Devil is "Satan" who acts more as a prosecuting angel or a gadfly in the heavenly court. This interpretation is based on pretty old sources including the actual mentions of Satan in the Old Testament, especially the book of Job.

    Similarly, many forms of Christianity have a notion heaven without any notion of hell. This is common among Christians who ascribe to universal reconciliation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_reconciliation [wikipedia.org] and similar beliefs. Some other groups believe that there is either heaven or oblivion- this belief is common among Jehovah Witnesses for example. Similarly, many forms of Judaism have a notion of purgatory but no equivalent of hell. Indeed, there's a belief common among Orthodox Jews that no matter how bad you are you won't suffer for more than a year in the afterlife. This is related to the tradition of saying, Kaddish, the prayer for the dead http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaddish [wikipedia.org] for 11 months- one wants to ease their suffering but one does not want to imply that that someone was so bad that they were being punished for a full year.

    In the other direction, you have some belief systems that have a notion similar to hell but no equivalent of heaven. For example, in some forms of Buddhism, there are very unpleasant things one can be reincarnated to to suffer for milllenia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naraka_(Buddhism) [wikipedia.org] but there's no real equivalent of heaven. So one can not only have a belief in heaven with no belief in hell, one can have a belief in hell with no belief in heaven.

  • Hell != Hell (Score:4, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @09:28PM (#40379601) Homepage Journal

    As far as I know there are no concrete concepts of either hell or heaven in Judaism.

    Nor did Jesus teach about any sort of eternal conscious torment. Part of the problem is that some churches have conflated two concepts, Sheol and Gehenna, into "hell". Sheol (also called Hades) is the grave, an unconscious state of being ("the dead are aware of nothing", Eccl 9:5) in which the dead sleep awaiting resurrection. Gehenna (from the Hebrew for Hinnom Valley) is literally the name of a valley where garbage was destroyed through burning, and it symbolically refers to destruction of the incorrigible with no hope of resurrection, not eternal conscious torment.

    The Hebrew Scriptures have a concept of a kingdom of God that will destroy the kingdoms of man (1 Chr 29:10-12; Daniel 2:44, 4:3).

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @09:30PM (#40379621) Homepage

    Almost every single sentence you've wrote is wrong as far as I can tell. See Zuckerman's paper I referenced earlier for a very long list of references showing that crime is not reduced by religiosity. There are complicating factors (for example, in a worse off society people may be more inclined to turn to religion) but your claim that there are "numerous studies" backing up this sort of position is simply false. Moreover, if this sort of claim were at all true then one would expect Sweden to be in absolutely awful shape since it is even less religious than Russia and China, yet Sweden is extremely well off.

    As to your claim about philosophy, many prominent philosophers, such as Kant, Bentham, and Rahls would disagree. All three would see humans as having innate instincts for moral good. And in fact, studies have shown that many mammals will instinctively help other members of their species even when they have not encountered them before. For example, when another rat is hurt or trapped, nearby rats will help free them http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2011/12/08/helping-your-fellow-rat-rodents-show-empathy-driven-behavior [uchicago.edu]. The instincts for basic moral behavior run deep.

    At a temporal level, the claim is also questionable. It is pretty clear that over time, religiosity has gone down. But over the last few hundred years, the overall violence level when measured by the percentage of the population that dies violent deaths has gone down. There's an excellent book about the decline of violence among humans, The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker, which I strongly recommend.

    By the way, the first major proponent for National atheism is Carl Marx. This is something to think very strongly about, though I very much doubt that people will do so even after reading that statement.

    Ok. So first of all, his name was "Karl". Second, the that's just not true. Marx was born in 1818, when the French revolution was already over. During the French Revolution, major proponents of atheism included Jacques Hébert http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_H%C3%A9bert [wikipedia.org] and Chaumette http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Gaspard_Chaumette [wikipedia.org]. Curiously, the bloody Robespierre strongly favored deism. But let's pretend that your claim was true for a moment and that Karl Marx really had been the first proponent of national atheism. Would this matter? Not really. This is in essence the genetic fallacy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_fallacy [wikipedia.org]- who comes up with an idea doesn't impact whether the idea is valid. For example, the mathematician John Nashh is schizophrenic- that doesn't make his math incorrect. And even if the genetic fallacy were valid, Marx's idea of national atheism, a forced destruction of religion, is extremely different than a secular society that simply doesn't care much about religion, (like say Sweden).

  • by pastafazou ( 648001 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @10:44PM (#40380209)
    I'm going to have to disagree with you. Crime rates and poverty levels throughout the United States show now correlation whatsoever. South Carolina has a violent crime rate of 1414.3 violent crimes per 100K, and a poverty rate of 13%. West Virginia has a violent crime rate of only 275.2 violent crimes per 100K, and their poverty rate is 15% Even Mississippi, at 22% poverty, only has 291.3 VCper100K. Delaware is only 9% poverty, but has more than double the violent crimes at 689.2per100K. It also helps to look beyond the borders of the US. Many impoverished countries have lower crime rates than the USA, while others have high crime rates. Interestingly, crime rates in across the United States have been declining steadily for the past three years, and gun sales across the states have been up significantly too. It's possible that the fear of different forms of punishment (getting shot, going to hell, jail, execution, etc) influences the crime rates.
  • by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @11:27PM (#40380509)

    where there is no infrastructure, there is religion.

    when a ruling power cannot effectively educate it's people, there are religious people doing it for them (for free!).

    Its not 'for free', they have to sell their souls.

    in this way you could take religion as being a kind of base level of education that will reach everywhere.

    the goal of an enlightened society is to educate people even halfway as effectively, or they'll be dominated by supernatural thought.

    religion will keep a people alive, but rarely can they achieve greatness without demystifying the world.

    I've recently been working in a developing country, in what I thought was a university. Turns out this 'university' is a front for christian missionaries and despite handing out degrees the quality of education is laughable. About 85% of the teaching staff have NO KNOWLEDGE of the subjects they are pretending to teach. But they feel good about what they do because they are spreading the word of god. Its pretty detestable stuff. And its stifling genuine education, which is EXACTLY what they want.

  • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @11:37PM (#40380573)

    China is pretty atheist, if you actually ask what the younger generation believe personally.

    From my experience, if you ask surface level "what do you believe", you will generally get an answer "Chinese are buddhist"; but if you probe what they actually believe you tend to get a very atheistic worldview. The older generation may or may not believe in buddhism, although tradition seems to be big there so Im not really sure what the dominant belief system is for that generation.

    Not to mention that in order to get a government job you have to affirm atheism.

    There are indeed atheist countries out there, whether or not you want to acknowledge it.

  • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @02:24AM (#40381485)

    Atheist generally is a term for those who do not believe in a God. This is both its common meaning, and its etymological meaning: atheos, meaning "without gods".

    Atheists may or may not believe in supersitions; perhaps the term you are looking for is something like "naturalism" (as opposed to "supernaturalism") or "secular humanism"

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:51AM (#40382567)

    The crime rate also dropped during the second world war in the UK.

    It's often said that that's the case, but as with many beliefs about crime rates, it's not true. Crime in every category soared during the war years, ending with almost double the crime rate at the end of war compared with before the war.
    http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/crime-research/historical-crime-data/rec-crime-1898-2002 [homeoffice.gov.uk]

    This, despite the fact that most of the young men had been drafted into the army. So with the most usual offending category either out of the country, or at least under disciplined regimes in an army camp, one would have expected a drop in crime. But it didn't happen.

    And it wasn't just looting and black-marketeering either. Every kind of crime was up.

  • by volpe ( 58112 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @06:03AM (#40382653)

    No, 0.0999[...] (I can't do the symbol here, because /. doesn't do Unicode) is not the same as 0.1 It's never 0.1. The more decimals you add, the closer you get, but like the speed of light, it can never be reached.

    Wrong. 0.09999... == 0.1 for the same reasons 0.999999... == 1:

              X = 0.09999...
        10X = 0.9999...

    (10X - X) = 0.999999... - 0.0999999...
    (All 9's in hundredths place and beyond cancel out)

    9X = 0.90000000...
    X = .1

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser