Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sorta political: A hell of a way to reduce crime

Are you ready for this:
Religions are thought to serve as bulwarks against unethical behaviors. However, when it comes to predicting criminal behavior, the specific religious beliefs one holds is the determining factor, says a University of Oregon psychologist.
What, you mean that all religions aren't equal? That some might be superior to others?
"Religious belief generally has been viewed as "a monolithic construct," Shariff said. "Once you split religion into different constructs, you begin to see different relationships. In this study, we found two differences that go in opposite directions. If you look at overall religious belief, these separate directions are washed out and you don't see anything. There's no hint of a relationship."
Did you catch the passive voice there? "Religious belief generally has been viewed as 'a monolithic construct'." Has it now? By whom? What Shariff really means is that scientists have tended to treat all religions as if they were more or less the same. And he doesn't want to dwell on why that might be. It wouldn't do, for example, to explore the possibility that the scientific community is biased against religion.

And, at least when scientists start really doing it as opposed to milking their prejudices,  science is amazing. I mean the way it keeps coming up with things you never would have guessed. Such as, for example, that people whose religious belief includes a punitive component are less likely to be criminals:
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. The finding surfaced from a comprehensive analysis of 26 years of data involving 143,197 people in 67 countries.

"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.
Now think of how much of liberal Christianity is devoted to promoting a benevolent God who gives himself to all rather than, to pick a random example, is just willing to accept many if they accept him and follow his commandments. Think of how many of the "seekers" so beloved of Sally Quinn are rejecting traditional religion to make "a connection to the divine" without all that stultifying morality that goes with traditional religion.

Not surprisingly, Shariff wants us to use this data with caution, and rightly so.
He added, however, that these are correlational data, and so caution should be taken with the conclusions. Though Shariff and study co-author Mijke Rhemtulla of the Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis at the University of Kansas tried to account for obvious alternative explanations, more research is needed to explore other interpretations for the findings.
Good idea. Might I suggest a possibility for further research. How about he next compares different religions with strong punitive components for their performance?  Let's suppose, for example, there was a religion that has a strong punitive component that led the charge against slavery in western society. That would be interesting to compare with, to be hypothetical, a religion with a  strong component that has become more brutally oppressive of women, Jews in gays in recent decades.

I mean, wouldn't it be crazy if it turned out that western civilization with all its rights and freedoms, all its inquiring nature, all its hard work and industry, owed that to a particular religion? I know, you can already see people's heads exploding because of the cognitive dissonance.

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