GOVERNMENTS labouring to deliver effective crime-prevention policies could do worse than consider divine deterrence. In a paper published this summer in PLoS ONE, Azim Shariff at the University of Oregon and Mijke Rhemtulla at the University of Kansas compared rates of crime with rates of belief in heaven and hell in 67 countries. Citizens of those countries were asked which of heaven and hell they believed in, and each country’s overall « rate of belief » was calculated by subtracting the percentage of hell-believers from that of heaven-believers. The researchers found that the degree to which each country’s citizens believed more strongly in heaven than in hell predicted higher national crime rates. It seems that believing more strongly in the forgiveness of sins than in punishment in the after-life may help pave the way for further transgressions. The researchers also noted that the proportion of people believing in heaven almost always outweighed the proportion believing in hell. So a little more preaching on the fiery furnace might be beneficial in this life, if not also the next.
Note: A number of commenters have queried the validity of the crime statistics shown in the chart. You might be interested in reading the authors’ responses (here) to some similar points that were made when the research was first published. See particularly the paragrah entitled « Integrity of the crime data ».
Clarification: The chart’s y-axis shows the extent to which each country’s overall crime rate deviates from the average overall crime rate of the 67 countries considered. For each of the ten crimes for which the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had reliable national statistics (theft, say), the authors of the paper ascertained an average global crime rate—and then worked out each country’s deviation from that rate. The country’s overall crime rate, as shown in the y-axis, is an average of its ten deviations from the ten means of those individual crime rates.