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Give me that Old Time Religion…to reduce crime

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 27, 2011

Sociologist Byron Johnson has marshaled conclusive evidence that Church attendance is associated with reduced crime and delinquency. Johnson, who is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, summarized his findings in an article entitled “The Religious Antidote” (First Things, August/September 2011).

Byron has both conducted studies himself and reviewed the studies of others. An early study (1986) by Richard Freeman examined housing projects in several major cities to determine factors that helped kids stay out of trouble. Religious faith was a key factor. Byron, working with several colleagues, replicated Freeman’s study in the late 1990’s, with the same result: The frequency of attending religious services was inversely related to the likelihood of young, poor, black males selling illegal drugs or otherwise breaking the law. The differences in getting into legal trouble between those who attended church and those who did not were on the order of 40 to 60 percent.

In 2000, Byron reviewed forty studies on the relationship between religion and delinquency, with similar results. The same was true of a review of sixty studies by Colin Baier and Bradley Wright in 2001, which further demonstrated that the inverse relationship between church attendance and delinquent behavior increased as studies grew larger and more comprehensive.

Very recently, Byron completed the most exhaustive systematic review to date, analyzing 273 studies published between 1944 and 2010 in a variety of fields. He found that 90% of the studies “report an inverse or beneficial relationship between religion and some measure of crime or delinquency.” Only 9 percent found no association, and only two studies (less than 1%) found the opposite relationship.

Professor Byron began his article by noting that if the studies generally showed the opposite—that religion or church-going contributed to crime and delinquency—the press would be all over the story, and a Federal commission would doubtless be established to make sure Americans were officially notified that religious practice is deleterious to your social health.

Funny how it doesn’t work the other way.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bnewman - Jul. 29, 2011 10:52 PM ET USA

    High marks for First Things again. The key to the point of the article was indeed the last point made by Dr. Mirus. Well Duh? Yes, quite right, but it was nice to see media bias so definitively and unambiguously pointed out and so rigorously documented.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jul. 28, 2011 8:01 PM ET USA

    The benefits more than likely come from the real grace received at Mass when we receive Communion worthily. Glad to see a story like this but you are right, as long as there isn't any negative stats about religion than the media will not touch it. Shows you just how morally and spiritually bankrupt the media is doesn't it? It's why I turned off the TV and put away the papers a long time ago.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jul. 28, 2011 4:28 PM ET USA

    One assumes that it doesn't work the other way because it is glaringly obvious that criminality and (most) religion do not occur together. My reaction on reading the lead sentence of this piece was the same as that when I reached the end: Well, duh.

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