In an opinion column called Spiritual Politics, writer Mark Silks reacts to televangelist Pat Robertson's recent contention that disrespect and a lack of godliness has led to a rise in violence and mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas earlier this month.
"When there is no vision of God, the people run amok," Robertson stated on "The 700 Club."
Silks delved into the data and found a reverse correlation showing that states known for higher religiosity also rank among the highest in murder rates, while states with populations least identifying themselves as religious rank at the bottom of the same FBI Uniform Crime Report.
"Of course, correlation is not causation," Silks admits.
Q. Do you believe a more religious society would lower violent crime? What do you think of Robertson's assertion and the data analysis by Silks?
I believe a more Christian society would lower violent crime. I would not expect a more religious society to do the same. By "Christian" I do not mean in name or affiliation only, I mean by true conversion of the heart, as Jesus said was necessary: "You must be born again" (John 3:7). By "religious" I mean those who are attempting, in their own strength, to seek, please or appease some deity of their own making, in other words, an idol. Some religions of the world are violent, teaching that the infidel must be punished and killed. Some religions teach that man's every desire should be indulged, not tamed. Of course, man's proclivity to violence must be included in his desires. And yet others teach peace and love as goals, but cannot equip unredeemed people to actually accomplish them. Without being born anew through faith in Christ and living by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit man will always revert to his fleshly nature, which produces "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19). In contrast, the life of the follower of Christ is evidenced by "the fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:19-23). Religion is not the answer to man's violence. Being born again through faith in Jesus Christ is the answer.
Pastor Jon Barta
The problem is not with a religious or nonreligious society. It is with the pronoun before religion. If the 'religious' person believes my religion is the only true religion, then it becomes permissible to murder in the name of religion, and the idea of right and wrong becomes muddled by 'my right' and 'your wrong.'
Reverend Robertson's ideas that a more religious society would be less violent than a nonreligious society stems from his belief that his path is not the only path but the best path. I agree, the best path for him. I daresay that his belief in the sacredness of the Jewish people stems from his understanding of Leviticus 19, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He understands neighborliness and with that the love for all those who struggle with and do righteous acts.
There is conflict and violence when people are not willing to look at Deuteronomy 6, where it states "you will love God, (and by extension each other), physically, spiritually and uniquely (my translation of the Hebrew M'ODEKA). The attempt to place all people in the category of 'believer' or 'nonbeliever' according to one's personal values devalues the valuee and the valuer.
It violates Koran Sura 2: "Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve," by causing others who travel other paths to fear for their path and to grieve their decision.
And that bigotry leaves us with no room to appreciate other's journeys. As it says in John 14, "In my father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you so."
The tragedy of narrow-minded religious people is that their house is not God's house because of its lack of room for others.
Let us not greet others with the closed fist, but let us show them our open hand as we walk together in God's many paths.
Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet of Burbank
Concrete data show that more religious places do not in fact have lower levels of violent crime than places that are less religious. I challenge Rev. Robertson to show scientifically produced data that "lack of godliness" is correlated with more crime or is in any way associated with horrendous mass shootings such as the latest in Las Vegas. (Or another one occurring in our gun-saturated country before this is printed!)
Silks writes about the Pew Research Center's ranking of states by percentage of their population which does all of the following: believe religion is very important in their lives; attend church weekly or more; pray daily; are absolutely certain God exists. He then points out that according to data from the FBI, states with the highest ranking, in other words the most religious, also have the highest murder rates and the least religious states the lowest.
As any good science writer must, Silks cautions that "correlation is not causation." The religious states could be more violent because of something else other than religion, and the least religious less violent for a different reason.
And by the way, this same principle applies to Rev. Robertson's assertions. Even if he had data showing that lack of religion correlates with criminal acts (which I am sure he doesn't because I doubt that such data exists), it wouldn't prove that lack of religion caused those acts.
Lastly, here's another statement supported by data: Gun control reduces violence.
A nation where sincere religious faith motivated residents to treat one another with love, charity and respect would, quite likely, have a lower incidence of violent crime.
While religion can exert a refining influence, its power to change us, and our world, for the better is limited by imperfect faith and human weakness. So, even in the more religious society that Robertson and Perkins describe, there still would be murders, assaults and other violent crimes because there still would be people who harbor hatred, envy and avarice in their hearts.
I believe, however, that there also would be more acts of kindness and generosity, more concern for one another, than in a society that has rejected religious precepts.
I don't think we will ever fully understand what drives mass murderers such as Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock and the many others we have seen in recent years. The statements that some have left behind don't fully explain the rationalizations and distorted thinking that spurred them on. There are simply no easy answers for why they kill, just as there are no simple or easy solutions for stopping them.
As for Silks' comparison of religiosity and crime in the South versus New England, the argument is more rhetorical than analytical. Nevertheless, it's worth digging a little deeper into the factors at play in those states. A quick look at just two states is revealing. In Alabama, the poverty rate is 55 percent higher than the rate in Massachusetts, and median household income is 53 percent lower. Only 24 percent of Alabama adults age 25 and older have a bachelor's degree compared to 41 percent in Massachusetts. My guess is that income, education and poverty have more to do with the crime rates in these states than religion.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I do believe a Christian society would be safer, but I do not think mere religion or merely identifying with religion will add anything positive to our society. Most religions are based on lies, or they simply deny God, yet they'll craft morals to suit themselves and then violate them without fear of God's judgment. Likewise, there are many people in very religious regions who would identify as Christian despite the fact that they really aren't; they merely embrace the default American faith as being lockstep with patriotism. An image that comes to mind is the KKK and their burning of crosses on the lawns of black neighbors. Using a cross to burn does not a Christian make, and perhaps the black family they threaten to lynch is the only genuine Christian in the community. I bring up the KKK because the comparison in the study pitted four New England states against six Bible Belt states, and it is the latter where the KKK emerged spouting its hatred for everything while maintaining a Christian facade.
Another inequity regarding this study is the sheer population numbers. Of the Bible Belt states studied, their combined population is about 26 million plus, while the combined populations of the New England states amount to only about a third of the Bible Belt states. There are just so many more millions of people, I don't see how the conclusion can be legitimate. Not only this, but the history and education levels of some regions in the South cannot compare to the smaller northern counterpart. Also, I wonder why only murder rates are compared. Could it be that in the North there is more adultery, more white collar crime and other misconduct that reflect its less religious culture?
While I echo the scripture verse quoted by Robertson, I am reminded of another that laments the failure of ancient Israel to keep near to God, and the passage reads, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6 ESV). It reflects lawlessness and spiritual lack, even in the land where God had personally assigned the Israelites. God himself was supposed to be their king. If we in America, North or South, truly believe our nation's motto, our Declaration of Independence, and our national anthem, then we should have a better society because we will be a society that actually serves God rather than just mouthing the words. I do no violent crime because God tells me it's wrong; if he did not, I would. Multiply that by millions and you have your answer. And Jesus is king.
Rev. Bryan A. Griem