Belief in Hell Results in Lower Crime Rate than Belief in Heaven? Study Says
By Ruth Miyake - Crossmap On June 21, 2012
heaven and hell
Is fear a stronger deterrent of crime than love? According to a recent study, it could be the case.
Researchers have found that belief in hell may result in a lower crime rate than belief in heaven.
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Azim F. Shariff, professor of psychology and director of the Culture and Morality Lab at the University of Oregon, and co-author Mijke Rhemtulla of the University of Kansas examined 26 years of data involving 143,197 people in 67 countries.
Its results revealed lower crime rates in nations where people believe in hell and a punitive God, while nations where people believe in heaven and a forgiving savior have higher crime rates.
"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 Shariff.
"I think it's an important clue about the differential effects of supernatural punishment and supernatural benevolence," he said.
"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 study was published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.
The data were obtained from World Values and European Values surveys, dispersed in multiple countries at various periods between 1981 and 2007.
"It seems like there is a case to be made for the causal direction that religious punishment does actually lower unethical behavior, where as forgiveness does seem to license people," he told KEZI 9 News.
In 2011, Shariff reported in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion that undergraduate students were more likely to cheat when they believe in a forgiving God than a punishing God, according to The Huffington Post.
This tendency can be understood through pulling apart the different constructs of organized religion, rather than taking it as a whole, Shariff told the news agency.
"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," according to Shariff.
"Supernatural punishment across nations seems to predict lower crime rates," the psychologist said.
"At this stage, we can only speculate about mechanisms, but it's possible that people who don't believe in the possibility of punishment in the afterlife feel like they can get away with unethical behavior. There is less of a divine deterrent."
The correlational data used in the study should be treated cautiously, Sheriff additionally warned, explaining that further research is necessary in order to solidify his hypothesis.