Professor links high US crime rates to evangelical beliefs

Professor links high US crime rates to evangelical beliefs February 24, 2016

A new book by criminologist Elicka Peterson Sparks, above, claims that Christianity is to blame for America’s high crime rates because its followers believe that the Bible gives God’s ‘blessing’ to violence.
According to this report, in The Devil You Know: The Surprising Link between Conservative Christianity and Crime, Sparks points out that the Christian Right thinks America is a “modern day Sodom and Gomorrah” and prefer vengeance to forgiveness.

She also says that typical Christian fundamentalists use religion to feel self-righteous and employs double standards in their thinking and judgment
Sparks, an associate professor of criminology at the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, argues that, at its core, Christian ideology is close to fascism and is “criminogenic”, meaning that it actually causes crime.
She claims that fundamentalist Christian ideology has been the inspiration for terrorism and figures like radio host Rush Limbaugh are damaging America by helping “promote vengeance seeking”.
She writes:
The United States also has a very high rate of violent crime, and particularly high rates of lethal violence – compared to other similarly situated nations.
This is not a coincidence … this belief system, and the culture it inspires, lends itself to many types of criminal activity including the promotion of violent crimes against a variety of victims, terrorism against those of different faiths, and even crimes against the environment.
Sparks further argues that Christian fundamentalism has “set the United States on a dangerous course” that is creating a “tide of social problems”.
The book singles out leading figures of the Christian Right such as Limbaugh as having managed to “infiltrate American culture” and now wield disproportionate influence.
Christians who talk about family values are hypocrites as their family values are actually insulating themselves against non-believers.
Sparks says that “at its heart, Christian nationalism includes the language of war, theocracy, and even fascism.
In a chapter titled: “When did Christians get so mean (again)?”, She writes:

Conservative Christians got mean when they embraced political power as an instrument of religious coercion. They do not play well with others, because a significant feature of their ideology holds that others must convert to their views or perish.

In a review of the book in The New York Journal of Books, Sparks is quoted as saying

I clearly do not believe in God … do not view the Bible as the literal word of God . . . I view the Bible as fiction  …
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  • Stuart H.

    Hmm, North Carolina is Franklin Graham country, isn’t it?
    Great to see an academic there laying out the case, but I hope her position is tenured because there WILL be pressure from the usual windbags for the university to sack her.

  • L.Long

    I know the xtian response to this, but they will be stupidly dead wrong. Everything she says rings true. Just consider…..No matter how horrible your life is or your acts are if you accept jesus as your lord and savior you will be saved!!!! The religious excuse to do ANYTHING and still get to heaven!!! And since the target is not a true xtian they are OK to do schite to!!! WOW!!! These guys sound just like isLame!!!!

  • John

    While I am not wholly convinced by her thesis, taking the reference above to Franklin Graham – son of former religio-nut Billy Graham? – he has been associated with a deliberate attempt to lie, cheat and steal by packing his religious products into parcels being sent out as seasonal “gifts” to children in predominantly muslim countries. Obviously, it is a deliberate attempt to “convert” them from one branded product to another, i.e. from muslim to a non-muslim product based on a fictitious individual who never existed.
    What absolute liars these religionists are.
    They truly are capable of anything.
    Up to and including murder.

  • barriejohn

    The following news was all over the internet the other day, but I didn’t draw attention to it as it really says nothing about the likelihood of Christians committing more violence:
    Some of us know, from personal experience, that evangelicals tend to have their faith firmly rooted in the Old Testament. Anyone who follows Dwindling in Unbelief will know all about the bloodthirsty nature of YHWH from that site, so none of the facts being drawn to our attention here need surprise them. The massive contradictions between OT and NT teachings cause massive problems for fundamentalist Christians.

  • barriejohn
  • CoastalMaineBird

    2013 report from U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons:
    0.07 percent (7 out of 10,000) of prison inmates are atheist:

  • Broga

    And still our government and David “I do religion” Cameron supports faith schools, the BBC gives the pernicious doctrines air time and we have 26 unelected and interfering bishops in the Lords.
    Religion isn’t just wrecking the USA. It is a corrosive and destructive force which affects us all.

  • Angela_K

    Prof. Sparkes has hit the same nail as we’ve been hitting squarely on the head for years. She is correct that religion is closely associated to fascism and as others have said before, causes good people to do bad things. The catholic church has a history of supporting fascists, and other religions including Christianity are actively racist and supremacist by nature of their books and members. I hope Prof. Sparkes remains safe, there are a lot of deranged religious nutters out there.

  • Broga

    @Angela_K : Religion depends on censorship, violence and maintaining ignorant followers to hold its influence. They cannot defend their superstition with facts or reason.

  • Cali Ron

    barriejohn: Excellent article in the second link. Unusual to see a christian scholar be so forthright about something so negative for the religion.
    Angel K.: Agreed. It’s good to have a scholar document what seems so evident to us, but routinely denied by christians. The light of truth needs to be shone on all religions and their pervasive violence and intolerance. I firmly believe that education is the key to counter religion and apparently radical Muslims believe the same as evidenced by their attempts to prevent women from any education and forcing men into Madrasas to propagandize them and keep them from honest secular education. In fact the christians do the same thing with religious schools and home schooling.

  • AgentCormac

    If the term ‘National socialist’ got abreviated to Nazi, what should the term ‘Christian socialist’ become? Christzi? Or maybe even Jeezi?

  • Justin Badby


  • Justin Badby

    Scary looking woman … really scary. But spot on and brave for saying it. And well done to the publisher.

  • Pingback: High US crime rates linked to evangelical beliefs | Sack Religion()

  • Marcus

    Let’s really set the cat among the pigeons and demand that ALL prison inmates be given a copy of Sparks’s book. After all, prison is meant to rehabilitate offenders. If criminals are made to realise how much Christianity contributes to criminality, they would then refuse to have any dealings with claptrap merchants such as prison chaplains and become better, more rational citizens who would be far less likely to re-offend.

  • jay

    All I know about the book is from this short article, but it seems a bit less than rigorous. “the US has a high crime rate and the US has fundamentalists” is at best a rather rough hewn correlation. How many fundmentalists are involved in crime, as compared to other groups? this is the kind of info to start with, though more is necessary to separate cause and effect.
    By far, most of the US high crime rate is located in inner cities. If you take that out, our rates (including gun violence) are much, much lower. Is fundamentalism noticeably dominant in inner city culture? [Side point: more than 80% of the mucder victims in Chicago also have serious criminal records, suggesting perhaps that much of this violence is gang driven –though too many innocents still get caught in the middle. Similar for other large cities]
    One needs to construct a provable case for something like this. Perhaps she has done it, but one wouldn’t guess so from the article.

  • Rob Andrews

    @ jay:
    Right you need hard data. While the article made a good point about hatred and vengeance actual CRIME is something that must be proven through data on prisoners.
    I’ve read that most prison inmates claim to be CHristian but there’s some problems:
    1) Many convert after going to prison: Then reoffend for drugs or something else and maintain nominal allegence to whatever religion.
    2) Many clain to be christian just to impress the paroloe board so you realy don’t know.
    My half brother was into the whole crime/drug lifestyle and he told me it’s hard to get reliable information for criminals;” everything is a scam” with them.

  • Stuart H.

    Seeing the comments about atheists as a percentage of the prison population and prison chaplains reminds me that at one point about a decade ago my local prison actually had more clergy as prisoners than it had available as chaplains.
    Actually, it was worse than that. It had more clergy as prisoners than it had APPOINTED as chaplains in the previous decade, and one of the prisoners WAS the previous chaplain!

  • Cali Ron

    Jay & Rob Andrews: You should read the review linked above (under Justin Badby, 4:37 pm) from the New York Journal Book Review, Here’s a very brief excerpt, “She supports this statement with statistics—both national and international, and it is with these statistics that she maintains that due to the fact that the U.S. tops the list of countries with Christian populations, there is a reason to compare crime and Christian nationalism.” – See more at:
    Can’t really tell how well researched and documented the book is from the review, but here is the final sentence, “Whether the reader agrees with the theory presented in this book, or even with some of the hypotheses put forward, The Devil You Know is a compelling read, well researched, and interesting.” – See more at:
    The See more… part was added automatically when I copied from the web site, not added by me.
    For what it’s worth my brother is in the last year of a 9.5 year fed sentence for mail fraud and other nonviolent financial crimes and I’d have to agree that the authorities do play fast and loose with the data and the official statements they release. I could go on a rant hear about federal tactics used to maintain that 93% conviction rate (it went from 75% to 93% from 1972 to 2012), but this is probably not the right forum.

  • For what it’s worth, theists (Christians, Muslims, Jews and the rest) make up 99.9% of the prison population of the United States…
    … suggesting that the best way to empty the prisons is to increase the atheist percentage of the free population of the United States.
    But I cannot turn a blind eye to the difference between the threats from Christians and the threats from Muslims in the United States. The former, not trivial. The later, should be the priority to criticize.
    I still can’t find it in me to say outlaw Islam, or kill Muslims. That kind of conviction is only found among the religious.

  • Laura Roberts

    I’ll be interested to see what she’s written, though as far as I can tell, she hasn’t published this particular line of research in any academic journals. I’m glad to hear that at least one reviewer considers it well-researched.
    Of course, we all know that justification for violence can be found throughout the Bible, but I think it’s also evident that in an advanced and privileged society there has to be some factor that motivates people to seek that justification — why be angry when things are good? Having spent my share of time in the U.S. and Europe, it appears to me that in broad terms Americans are more fearful and less interconnected (e.g., less polite to one another) than other societies. When someone with Dr. Sparks’s expertise shares her perspective on this phenomenon, I’m willing to listen.

  • John

    On a number of fronts the United States of America is today literally crazy.
    To take just one example, take deaths and injuries caused by guns.
    In no other country on planet Earth – as far as I am aware – is this tolerated.
    Any rational country would have done something about it decades go.
    But not the USA. Why? Why do people there tolerate such craziness?
    The only conclusion anyone can come to is US culture has crazed them.
    That culture clearly includes a religious component.
    We keep hearing about how angry Trump-supporting US citizens are.
    Are they not also fearful? They do not have a social welfare state.
    Instead, they must rely upon religious delusions and illusions of strength.
    I think this study is very useful but more research is definitely needed.

  • jay

    Part of the problem is that looking at national statistics is of little use. As I noted, the areas of extremely high crime are NOT hotbeds of religion, fundamentalist or otherwise. You need to look at other issues that have stronger correlation.
    I am also greatly skeptical of the ‘atheists in prison’ statistics, because it’s usually to a prisoner’s advantage to claim to have found religion so you can’t really trust self identification. in those circumstances.
    I’m not defending Christians, but I am defending skepticism over looking for results we might like.

  • G R Kemp

    Isn’t it high levels on inequality that drives much violence? Murder tends to be higher in very unequal societies, and lower in more equal states. Religion tends to be more popular too, in very divided societies.

  • Lisa

    Ah yes, Christians have become the new scapegoat, get rid of Christians and our problems with disappear.NOT. Get rid of Christians and all others religious and mankind will still have major evil issues to deal with. The problems and crime will not disappear. We face an enemy, and that enemy is ourselves! Evil does not discriminate, it lies crouched within all of us waiting to pounce!

  • barriejohn

    We face an enemy, and that enemy is ourselves!
    I take it you’re religious, then, because that’s the sort of perverse garbage that I heard for years as an evangelical Christian!

  • Mark Palmer

    Be sure to hit the link to the full article. A lot more there you’re gonna love.
    Including this:
    Christians are more likely to:
    admit they get pleasure out of punishing criminals
    exhibit fear towards a world perceived to be dangerous
    be mean-spirited toward people who have made mistakes and suffered
    use Christianity to maintain a feeling of self-righteousness
    more easily accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by governmental authorities
    employ double standards in their thinking and judgment
    behave like zealots
    believe in social dominance
    fail to learn from their mistakes and failings
    Seems pretty accurate to me!

  • Lisa

    In response to barriejohn,
    “We face an enemy…….”
    Accually I was thinking of the jewIsh man that testifiyed against a German for war crimes after wwll, I can’t remember his name or who it was he testifiyed against, but I do remember that he realized that we all were capable of what the German soldier did. All of us. Take away all the Christians and all the religious and the same sort of evil will just manifest itself a different way. Mankind is just prone to it. No way around it.

  • barriejohn

    Any ideology can engender psychotic behaviour, but none has the power that religion possesses. And mankind is not “intrinsically evil”, as the religious teach, any more than lions or stag beetles are!