Concept of the Month -- March/April 2010

A Note on Religiosity and the Criminal

During many of my interviews with offenders, they have spoken about their religious observances. Many career criminals read the Bible, attend church, and hold religious observances in their homes. How does one square brutality, deception, and intimidation with religious teachings and practices?

The criminal may inform others of his religious practices to impress them or, when confined, to curry favor. But he may very well be completely sincere in his religiosity. Sincerity in espousing religious principles does not necessarily translate into conviction. Some organized crime members have religious shrines in their homes. But this does not deter them from murdering their adversaries. I have known offenders who go to church in the morning, then are on the streets that afternoon committing crimes. The point is that religious sentiment and religious observance do not necessarily deter criminal behavior.

Some offenders misuse religion as they do so much else that is legitimate. They pray to God to help them commit crimes successfully. They beseech God to bail them out of a jam into which they have gotten themselves.Offenders may attach themselves to a religious cause, become zealots, and seek to convert others.. They experience a sense of power in purity and lord their religiosity over others. As people who are extreme in many aspects of their lives, the same is true with religion. They may use religion as a vehicle for their criminality, committing crimes in the name of whatever religion they attach themselves to. How often throughout history have human beings tortured and murdered one another in the name of religion!

For the offender seeking to change, religion may prove to be an extremely positive force, a catalyst to become a responsible person. Advocating for a specific religion or religious practices idoes not produce significant and lasting change unless there is also an accompanying change in thinking.

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