Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sermon: Study Finds People Who Believe In Heaven Commit More Crimes

SEATTLE (CBS Seattle) JUNE 22, 2012, 8:31 AM 

Believing if you are on a “highway to hell” could impact whether or not if you commit a crime.

   A study published in the scientific journal PLoS One by University of Oregon’s Azim Shariff and University of Kansas’s Mijke Rhemtulla finds that people who believe in hell are less likely to commit a crime while people who believe in heaven more likely are to get in trouble with the law.

   The two professors collected data for belief in hell, heaven and God from the World and European Values Surveys that were conducted between 1981 until 2007 with 143,197 participants based in 67 countries. They compared the data to the mean standardized crime rate in those countries based on homicides, robberies, rapes, kidnappings, assaults, thefts, auto thefts, drug crimes, burglaries and human trafficking.

“[R]ates of belief in heaven and hell had significant, unique, and opposing effects on crime rates,” Shariff and Rhemtulla found in the study. “Belief in hell predicted lower crime rates … whereas belief in heaven predicted higher crime rates.”

   They also found that a recent social psychological experiment found that Christian participants who believe in a forgiving God gave themselves more money for the study.

   “Participants in the punishing God and both human conditions overpaid themselves less than 50 cents more than what they deserved for their anagrams, and did not statistically differ from the neutral condition, those who wrote about a forgiving God overpaid themselves significantly more-nearly two dollars,” the study found.

   Shariff and Rhemtulla believe that the study raises “important questions about the potential impact of religious beliefs on global crime.”

 NOTE:   Normally, when I see studies like this one, I ask myself  “who paid for  this and how can I get them to give me grant money?,” but I looked up Prof. Shariff and Rhemtulla’s paper on Prof. Shariff’s U. of Oregon website and in PLoS (Public Library of Science)(Link) and it appears to be self-funded.  For anyone interested, it's quite short and can be found HERE on Prof., Shariff's Culture and Morality Lab homepage (right-hand side of the page under Most Downloaded Papers).  

   My own hell belief conforms pretty exactly to the Limbourg brothers’ vision from Les Tres Riches Heures (1416)  seen in center position above.  My heaven conception was visually fixed when I first saw Alexander Hall’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) as a child (top illustration).   The Who’s best set-opener, John Entwistle’s great Heaven and Hell (Link), completed the thought. 
   I find William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1878 A Soul Brought To Heaven  (shown above this Note) simply overdramatic and upsetting.  
   Readers continuing down this road might want to to consult other sections of the June 22 edition of PLoS, including especially the revived Small Wonders section covering marsupial genitalia, sharks with laser beams, and doggie MRIs. * Carl Zimmer wrote a lovely essay on hands. * Rad photo collages made from National Geographic and …”  

   Seriously, PLoS looks like a terrific organization.

John Alec Entwistle (9 October 1944 – 27 June 2002)


  1. Reading this, I thought of mob hit men doing their deeds and then going to Confession.

    I find it odd that heaven and hell appear to be either/or beliefs. Seems to me that a person would need to believe in both.

  2. That's my view also. I don't just think of hit men, however; I think of Kennedy family members disporting, dissembling, dismembering and then seeking refuge in Confession while simultaneously seeking annulments. So many banal ideas receive market, including academic market, support. Very peculiar. These professors, who may do other perfectly legitimate work, remind me of other soft-science members of Swarthmore College's Psychology Department. I studied with one "hard science" professor, Hans Wallach, a great expert in the field of perception. I gave the rest a pass, although I regularly made pocket money by participating in Psych. Dept. experiments. Curtis

  3. Terrible transition here, but speaking of Heaven and Hell, Barry and I are going to visit my mother today to tell her that Sam has died. I hope she won't feel like she's in Hell.

  4. I hope everything went as well as it could. Curtis

  5. It did. Your name came up, by the way. My mother was reminiscing about Fiske Street. She said "what a nice boy" you were.

  6. Why are there just 2 people in heaven?

    I thought you must have made a mistake when you said that John Entwistle died 10 years ago. Surely that was just last year, wasn't it?

    The middle-aged compression of time is SO alarming.

  7. Nell: That's good to hear. I was worried.

    Chris: I will watch Here Comes Mr. Jordan later this week so that I can recall whether the heavenly figures pictured are Robert Montgomery and Edward Everett Horton, Edward Everett Horton and Claude Rains or Claude Rains and Edward Everett Horton. Heaven is spacious and there is plenty of room for spreading out and solitude and because everyone is by definition a good neighbor no fences are needed. I was also shocked by the Entwistle statistic, which seemed wrong, but I just double-checked it. I don't know whether we've ever discussed this, but Caroline worked closely with him for a few years when she was at MCA. I also got to meet him, which floored me. He was a very, very nice man as well as being an extraordinary musician. It probably won't surprise you to hear that he had enormous, beautifully formed hands and a bear-grip handshake. The only handshake I've ever encountered that was similar (identical, actually) was Chris Hillman's from The Byrds, another fantastic bass player. I assume it comes with that particular territory. Curtis