Give ’em hell – or put the fear of God into the wicked to reduce the crime rate


There’s the usual crop of crime stories in the media today, an index of the lawless – and godless – society we have become.

Rather than more cops and more judges, we need more preachers.

Especially preachers with a knack for spreading the word about hellfire and brimstone.

In short, the wicked among us (and there are far too many of the buggers) need reminding that

. . . on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all. So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

—Luke 17:29–30

And for good measure (as you will find later in this post) a fear of hell is good for the economy.

It will boost our GDP growth.

Before you dismiss your long-serving, much-admired member as a fundamentalist loony, wait.

Check out some academic stuff on the subject of religion and crime here.

The nub of it is that a University of Oregon psychologist has found the specific religious beliefs one holds is the determining factor when it comes to predicting criminal behavior.

The study, appearing in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, found that criminal activity is lower in societies where people’s religious beliefs contain a strong punitive component than in places where religious beliefs are more benevolent.

A country where many more people believe in heaven than in hell, for example, is likely to have a much higher crime rate than one where these beliefs are about equal.

This upholds Alf’s view that something is sadly missing from our society on a day when he has been reading about the discovery of a prostitute’s body on a beach, the proceedings of a few murder trials, a few cases of drunken driving, and a sheila who stole a doctor’s handbag while her child was being treated…

The offenders in these cases are likely to fear nothing worse than being tossed into a prison cell and live off the taxpayer for a while.

They forget that they will be judged again in the hereafter.

Let’s check out what the psychology professor has to tell us about his study.

‘The key finding is that, controlling for each other, a nation’s rate of belief in hell predicts lower crime rates, but the nation’s rate of belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates, and these are strong effects,’ said Azim F. Shariff, professor of psychology and director of the Culture and Morality Lab at the UO.

‘I think it’s an important clue about the differential effects of supernatural punishment and supernatural benevolence. The finding is consistent with controlled research we’ve done in the lab, but here shows a powerful ‘real world’ effect on something that really affects people – crime.’

The professor has been studying this sort of thing for a while.

Last year, in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Shariff reported that undergraduate students were more likely to cheat when they believe in a forgiving God than a punishing God.

It’s bound to be true, similarly, that criminals are more likely to break the law when they believe they ahve a fair chance of coming up against a namby-pamby judge who will send them away with a fine that they will never pay or some other soft-pap sentence.

But let’s throw the fear of hell fire and brimstone into the mix.

The professor says his new findings fit into a growing body of evidence that supernatural punishment has emerged as a very effective cultural innovation to get people to act more ethically with each other.

In 2003, he said, Harvard University researchers Robert J. Barro and Rachel M. McCleary had found that gross domestic product was higher in developed countries when people believed in hell more than they did in heaven.

That’s got to worth exploring.

A copy of this post – you can be sure – will be sent to Bill English.

Alf also intends try to repopularise this ditty by popular American hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748), which got Christians’ feet tapping back in his day.

What bliss will fill the ransomed souls,

When they in glory dwell,

To see the sinner as he rolls,

In quenchless flames of hell.

Just one thing: don’t expect the spread of of a greater fear of hell to be a cure-all.

It it was 100% effective in reducing crime, Graham John Capill would not have been banged up for a few years for sex offences against girls under 12 years of age.

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