Concept of the Month -- May 2005

Religion in the Criminal's Good Opinion of Himself/Herself

Over the many years that I have evaluated and counseled offenders, I have found that many consider themselves very religious. They attend church, celebrate
religious holidays, read the Bible, and pray on their own.

What I have seen is that they adhere to the trappings of religion but do not use religion as a guide to improve themselves and their relationships with others. I recall a man who wore a cross around his neck and would touch it in atonement after each time he cursed. This did not stop him from committing brutal assaults. I remember a juvenile offender telling me that he found God while spending time in detention. He also had stolen a particular religious booklet from a fellow detainee.

A criminal may be sincere at the time of his religious observance. He may pray in churach at 9 a.m. and rob a convenience store a couple of hours later. Such "religiosity" is not a guide to life. Belief in God, praying, engaging in religious rituals, and other religious practices do not deter him from ihurting others. Instead, they fortify his view that he is a good person. Then it is even easier for him to commit crimes.

Religion can be a positive force in helping an offender become a responsible person.. But being "religious" requires more than engaging in specific practices or rituals. The person who prays and then commits a crime is hardly religious.. No matter what denomination, most religions set forth teachings and concepts that require an individual to do good works and live in this world without harming others (e.g., the Ten Commandments, the "Golden Rule"). Transformation into a responsible person comes from learning to think in the manner a responsible person does!

Stanton E. Samenow

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