Some Hard Truths About Prayer and Crime

Are there prayers in these cells?

I recently wrote about the Republican school prayer myth. I thought we’d revisit the question of prayer and violence  given the Republican mania over the question. They’re pushing a narrative of prayer = nonviolence. They want us to believe that the absence of prayer in our public schools is breeding criminals. They want us to believe barring religion from politics at the government level is corrupting America. Religion, they say (as do many Muslims) is the maker and enforcer of morality. Without God, morality, so the narrative goes, is impossible.

That’s what dogma tells us. Let’s look at the facts and see what they tell us.

If the morality police are right, most of our criminals are nasty old atheists and secularists and Pagans.

But they’re not! Atheists and agnostics commit fewer crimes than Christians.  A Pew Research Values Study shows that “crime correlates inversely with levels of religious conviction.”


That’s not how it’s supposed to be. Religious people are supposed to be the most violence free. After all, they have prayer. The rest of us schmucks wallow in the muddy waters of moral relativism.

We already noted that secularism is on the rise, from 8% of Americans in 1990 to 15% in 2008. If this is the case, and if the morality police are right, then crime should be on the increase as well, because these are the immoral slobs committing all the crimes.

Instead, violent crime remained at a steady level from 1990 to 1993 and since 1993 it has declined. As America has become more secular, it has become less violent.

If the narrative is true, this is another logical impossibility.

The morality police will continue to argue that the reverse is true but in a fact-based world this cannot be the case. Prayer does not reduce crime. Those who pray are more likely to be criminals than those who do not.

Who fills up our prisons? Why, secularists of course! Atheists! Pagans!

Wrong again. The Federal Bureau of Prisons says that nonbelievers are only two-tenths of 1% of inmates. Since Christians are approximately 80% of the population and 75% of it’s prisoners, we should be drawing some vastly different conclusions, shouldn’t we?

While I’m sure the apologists will explain the 91% of executed murderers on persecution of the faithful, the numbers suggest that Christians are simply more likely to murder somebody. How many atheists were executed for murder in the same ten-year period? Less than a third of 1%.

And all this is true not just nationally but internationally as well. Europe, far more secular than America, has a much lower crime rate. Denmark and Sweden are recognized as the “most atheist nations in the world” as Timothy Ferris points out, but they “enjoy admirably low levels of corruption and violent crime while scoring near the top of the international happiness indices.”

How can this possibly be, we must ask ourselves. It’s the reverse of the truth! It’s all a lie.

But the numbers don’t lie. The believers lie.

As an aside, the “family that prays together stays together” is just as false. According to a study by the Barna Research Group born again Christians have a higher divorce rate than the rest of us – and much higher than atheists and agnostics (27% vs. 21%). Of the various Christian denominations, Evangelicals lead the pack but another group that prays from much the same scripture, the Jews, lead the way with 30%.

Another interesting if disturbing tidbit is a Pew poll which shows that Christians are more likely to support torture – an illegal activity. Fifty-four percent of those who attend services at least once a week say torture of suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed.  Again, Evangelicals lead the way with 60%.

And all the prayers in the world haven’t stopped Catholic priests from molesting children, or Evangelical megachurch pastors from engaging in activities they have preached loudly and vehemently against, from drugs, sex, prostitution and homosexuality.

The narrative is flawed. If there is one thing proven ineffective in enforcing societal norms, it is prayer.

In fact, those most fervent in prayer advocacy as a cure for society’s ills seem to be part of the problem, not its solution.

Taken as a whole, the numbers demonstrate that prayer does not make for morality. Morality in fact seems fairly common across the spectrum of humanity and most groups have the same taboos. And laws were around long before Abrahamic religion – the suggestion that without the Ten Commandments society would fall into wicked anarchy is not only demonstrably baseless, it’s ridiculous.

Conservatives can and will continue with their narrative; it is up to voters to educate themselves on the facts as opposed to the dogma, and to understand that society’s underpinnings are not religious, but liberal.

Source:  This article was inspired by Timothy Ferris, The Science of Liberty:  Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature (Harper 2010).

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