Are the unchurched criminals?

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43% of young men who never go to church have a record, according to the Inductivist:

The same kind of pattern holds here. For men, 43% of those who never go to church have been arrested, while only 13% of the most frequent attenders have. The corresponding percentages for females is 14% and 8%.

The results are from the GSS. The main question I would have are the affects of the background environment; in many socially conservative environments the expectation of involvement in a church is very strong and unchurched status could be a signal for anti-social tendencies. I know whereof I speak, I grew up for a while in a 3/4 Republican 99% white region of the Mountain West and those who were unchurched were often those who were “up to no good” (a small minority were secular liberals, but only a very small minority). My own prediction would be that this would be a more common phenomenon in a very religious country like the United States.

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8 Comments

  1. I guess that applies mostly to people who can be reasonably expected to go to Church. Buddhists for example go to temple. For example, a Korean family with a history of Buddhism would not be expected to go to Church, and as such, simply because they don’t go to Church does not mean they are criminals. To this particular family, criminalism and temple might have an inverse relationship instead.  
     
    It is my belief that “Church” has nothing to do with it. It probably has more to do with social interaction and the reasonable transfer of values through interaction with people who are a bit wiser (monks, priests etc…). This interaction is often more readily available in places like a church (a temple, synogogue etc…). Maybe even the strong social ties have something to do with it too. A strong base of belief, and a good pillar to rely on rather than simply wandering from unreliable social network to unreliable social network.

  2. By definition, if you are in church, you are not doing crime. Same applies to fishing. 
     
    This “religion makes people behave better” meme is quite strong in some circles. I also believe that if we’d go through the scientific literature rigorously, there would be also at least some causal support for it, possibly even beyond to the fishing example above. 
     
    It all eventually falls to the question of paternalism – should we lie to some people, keep them uninformed or somehow constrained to achieve a society that functions better in some respect.  
     
    Surprisingly large proportion of the people would say no in one instance but yes in another. Many say we shouldn’t lie to people about ‘heaven and hell’, but at the same time are willing to accept other paternalistc measures such as regulating drugs and alcohol.

  3. This is where I remind myself that my Catholic ancestors probably wanted to burn my Protestant ancestors. (And, indeed, that both sets might have burnt witches.)

  4. By definition, if you are in church, you are not doing crime. Same applies to fishing. 
    I’m afraid that’s not quite true. Crime can occur in either case. And I doubt that attending church services takes up so much of a person’s time that they can’t find a spare moment to commit crimes if they wish to. 
     
    Perhaps this has more to do with creating a strong sense of communal identity. Many crimes as things that humans only feel comfortable doing to outsiders, not those we feel akin to. Highly socialized individuals would then be less likely to violate their society’s standards. 
     
    That’s not necessarily a good thing, mind you.

  5. I’ve heard the fishing explanation applied to violent movies. Crime is down opening weekend because young men with a taste for violence are occuppied in the theater.

  6. This was definitely very true in rural Finland as well and likely true everywhere. One potential Europe/US difference would be that where I’m from religiousity was actually a status marker (opposite to what it’s to urban liberals, signaling both education and wealth) and apathy on religion a working class marker. “Redneck” stereotypes mix the rural social groups together in very contradictory ways, the landowning farmers are typically religious and straight (although very much not law-abiding now that so much of the law is written by urban liberals and Brussels…) while the guys who cook moonshine are the areligious teenagers and the older loser loners. 
     
    As for social networks of the youth, one obvious difference between the religious and the non-religious was that the social networks of the non-religious had few nodes connecting them to people of different ages while the youth religious network was well embedded in a wider network that included *all* age groups. That puts very different pressures on behaviour.

  7. A quick question: 
    How is the arrest status of each participant determined? Is their criminal record checked or are they asked about their criminal/arrest record as part of the interview.  
     
    A cynical view of this data would argue that church goers are more likely to lie about an arrest record since they are more likely to feel guilty about it.

  8. jaakkeli – I like your point that bad law makes “straight” people into law-breakers.

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