Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Church & state in Colorado Springs

Ken Masugi brings us up to date on the "scandal" of evangelical proselytizing at the Air Force Academy, noting, among other things, his letter in today’s NYT.

Over at Get Religion, Terry Mattingly calls our attention to a shockingly even-handed article on the Academy, one that "covers this story as if people on both sides of the debate have constitutional rights that need to be protected."

Discussions - 32 Comments

In his letter to the NYTimes, Masugi said:

"Recall the previous Air Force Academy scandal: rape and sexual harassment. Do you not allow that those of religious faith might fight these passions better than others?"

Rape and sexual harassment are "passions"? At the very least, that’s a very poor choice of words.

Additionally, and more importantly, I do NOT allow that those of religious faith would, could or do fight -presumably to prevent these crimes and hold perpetrators responsible- these "passions" better than others. I am not inclined to a prejudice that "those of religious faith" are more likely to commit these crimes, or look the other way when they do occur, but it does seem that Masugi has overlooked the elephant in the room with his speculation - that "more than 90 percent of the academy’s students identify themselves as Christians...according to academy officials." Considering that a lot of the complaints and problems revolved around leadership and commanders at the academy, I’d guess that there is a similar percentage of Christians among the top brass there, as well. As of only 2-3 years ago, it appears that the Christian-heavy academy had NOT been doing such a great job of "fight(ing) these passions" and creating an atmosphere where such behavior is seen as wholly unacceptable and intolerable.

Lastly, Masugi’s implication that Christians can do a better job at preventing sex crimes than 1) people of other faiths or 2) those who are undecided, agnostic or atheist; is cheap and offensive.

You offend easily. There’s a good bit of social science research that actual Christians (those who are actively religious and for whom faith is central to their lives) do engage in deviant behavior less frequently than others. I’d bet good money that religion is a better crime-figher than other options. As to the propriety of what’s going on the the military academies, I’m not sure...I’d need more information to be offended, one way or another.

I agree with Dain. The Catholic Church, for instance, no stranger to authoritarian hierarchy, has been fighting pedophilia for decades. They must be pretty good at it by now! Maybe they could consult.....

Is "proseletyizing" anything similar to proselytizing?


Oops! Fixed it.

Why Fung, you old MF, I thought you were taking a break. Just had to have your fix of sniping at the rightwing freaks, right?

There really is some social science on behavior on religiosity. Be as satirical as you like, but religious people in general are more likely to refrain from deviant practices.

I’d be curious to know about any such studies showing a negative correlation between religiosity and "deviant practices." The counterexample Fung brings up--of pedophilia among Catholic clergy--seems too glaring to ignore in this regard.

Ok, check this one out. Took me 2 minutes to find it, by the way.

Ellis, Lee and James Peterson. 1996. Crime and religion: an international comparison among thirteen industrial nations. Personality and Individual Differences Volume: 20, Issue: 6, June, pp. 761-768.

Batman comes out today, everybody!

Dain- read "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer to learn more about how religious people refrain from deviant practices (like kidnapping and murder). Since I am a Godless heathen, I have a REALLY hard time keeping from engaging in this type of behavior myself. Because with out religion to provide a moral compass, I am just lost in the big, mean, immoral world. I really WANT to kill, but without religion, how do I know if it’s right or wrong? And why should I care? I don’t have to worry about the consequences for my immortal soul, ’cause I don’t believe I have one!

Okay, you’ve given us a citation, but have you read it? If so, can you give us a precis of the argument, or direct us to one? (Alas, I’m afraid I’ve let my subscription to Personality and Individual Differences run out.) I found three references to this article on the internet--none of which gave anything more than what you’ve listed here.

Look, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that there is a correlation; I’d just like to understand the methodology behind any such study. Even if we could prove that the religious are less likely to commit crimes (by the way, is "crime" the same as "deviant practices"? Homosexuality, of course, isn’t a crime), it would not logically follow that state promotion of religion would reduce crime rates. My suspicion is that religious people who live in a highly secularized society are probably more morally upright than those who live in ones where religion is the norm--such people have made a conscious decision to embrace faith, and are therefore less likely simply to go through the motions. One might, for instance, compare the "quality" of the average Christian in the Roman Empire during the centuries before and after the Edict of Milan. Surely a lot of the older Christians--who remembered the days of the martyrs--had reason to question the faith of those who converted after Constantine threw his support behind the Church.

Mr. (?) Dain: What do you mean by "actual" Christians?? Who are the non-actual Christians, and have they been informed that they aren’t The Real Deal? This reminds me of some of the more stringent "born-again" beliefs. I have a hunch -but I’d be happy to be wrong- that in your analysis, Christians who commit crimes -at least the ones you agree should be considered crimes or "deviant behavior"- are not "actual" Christians, so in the end, it’s 100% of crimes committed by non-Christians and 0% of crimes committed by "actual" Christians! Convenient! I’d also like to see more of this "good bit" (or "some") social science on this topic.

Mr. Moser: Your suspicion (speculation) that "religious people who live in a highly secularized society are probably more morally upright than those who live in ones where religion is the norm" strikes me as a pretty mushy conclusion (were one to draw it), begging for some more well-defined concepts. You seem to be contrasting "highly secularized society" with "one where religion is the norm." Don’t both of these describe, say, The United States, or really, even places like contemporary Poland? Also, it would appear that, if your suspicion were to be borne out, it could also possibly serve as an argument (to reduce crime and/or deviant behavior) in favor of maximum religious pluralism and diversity within a society, one in which EVERY religious person must necessarily be part of a group outside the mainstream, having made a conscious decision to follow their particular faith. No one would be blindly following along, simply going through the motions. Of course, I guess this wouldn’t apply if by "religious people" were are only talking about Christians.

So, a book about a single instance of murder among some Mormon lunatics invalidate any correlation between Christianity and pro-social behavior? Mr. Jeffries, that’s REAL scientific thinking there. You must have lots of edumocation!

John, assuming you are the professor named John Moser at Ashland University, I’ll tell you want you tell your students...look it up for yourself. Don’t ask me to do your homework for you. This journal is available digitally and I’m sure Ashland’s resources allow you to access it.

As far as church-state relationships, my initial post was to defend Mr. Masugi from the accusation that a correlation exists between Christianity and the prevention of sex crimes was "cheap and offensive." Hardly. As I said in my initial post, I won’t comment on proselytizing at a military academy...I need more info.

John, assuming you are the professor named John Moser at Ashland University, I’ll tell you want you tell your students...look it up for yourself. Don’t ask me to do your homework for you. This journal is available digitally and I’m sure Ashland’s resources allow you to access it.

Actually, Dain, I’m telling you what I tell my students when I suspect that they haven’t actually read something that they are citing--"what is the author’s conclusion?" You said in your earlier post that it took you two minutes to find this. Finding it is one thing, reading it another.

As for Mark Ibold, I’ll agree that what I said was "mushy." It was merely a hypothesis based on economic thinking. If one raises the cost of a certain behavior, the number of those who engage in that behavior is likely to fall, but those who continue to engage in it are likely to be those most committed. Lower the costs, and the numbers will increase, but the strength of the commitment will drop. To be a Baptist in the rural South (or, I might add, a Jew in Israel) requires little effort compared to, say, being a Baptist (or a Jew) in the former Soviet Union.

I understand that anecdotal evidence is virtually worthless here, but I relate the case of my grandmother. She grew up in a highly Catholic environment, in a family of regular churchgoers who lived in a community of regular churchgoers. In other words, she knew virtually nothing aside from the Catholic Church. To the end of her life she prayed the rosary, and after her health prevented her from going to church she had a priest come in regularly to give her communion. But she once told me that she didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul: "when you’re dead, you’re dead," she stated.

If Mr. Ibold wants a policy recommendation from this, I’m afraid I will have to disappoint him. I was merely expressing my skepticism with an idea often advanced by my fellow conservatives--that by bringing religion back into the schools we can solve America’s moral crisis.

I guess this wouldn’t apply if by "religious people" were are only talking about Christians.

I resent your suggestion that I might believe this. However, it raises an interesting point. Is Satanism not a "religion" of sorts? What about Wiccan paganism? I know of some atheists who are so fervent in their unbelief that that they might be characterized as religious as well.

Back in the 60’s, there was a great deal of research conducted on the relationships among religiosity, prejudice, authoritarianism and many other social values. Some of this may sound familiar: Gordon W.Allports "The Nature of Prejudice (1954), The Berkely Group (Adorno, Fenkel, Brunswick, et al.) and their monumental work on the Authoritarian Personality, Milton Rokeach (1960) on the "Open & Closed Mind" and Harvey, Hunt, and Shroeder, who conducted a number of studies on Belief System Theory, including four belief systems, one of which they called "Extrapersonalism," which has a great deal in common with Authoritarianism, Rokeach’s "Dogmatic" type, the Berkely Group’s "High F" (F stands for Fascism, and they meant an authoritarian personality.)

Here is what I remember from all of this, and what I believe remains unchallenged by more recent literature (look, if you want, for Bob Altemeyer’s three books on Right-Wing Authoritarianism. A recent one is a 1996 book entitled "The Authoritarian Spectre).

For a long time, the psychological research was coming up with no clear picture of a relationship between criminality, prosocial behavior, antisocial behavior, and religiosity. Allport discovered the key, when he distinguished between instrumental religiosity and (what I think I remember as) intrinsic religiosity. Instrumental religiosity is characterized by those who use religion as a tool for self- or group- advancement. They wear their religion on their sleeves, so to speak, for approval, affiliation, and social influence.

That leaves those who practice religion for its spiritual benefits, and out of a sense of faith and "real" religion. These are the people among whom we find the correlations that Dain describes. If we include the instrumental persons, then the correlation goes away, since they actually contribute to a positive correlation between religiosity and exploitation of others.

This presents an interesting picture, at least to me. First, it explains the paradox of the Jim Bakkers and the Jimmy Swaggerts. To some extent, it may explain the more disturbing problem of priests who molest children, since there is an ingredient of authoritarianism in the multiple causation model. That is, priests who join the priesthood out of a "true" sense of "priestly values" are not likely to contribute to the problem. But those who join in order to benefit from a derived power and influence over others, may well contribute to the problem. It might also explain some differences between fundamental Islamic terrorists and fundamental Islamic nonterrorists.

Now, we might address the question of military figures who identify publicly and loudly with religious groups. Why do this, if it is not to borrow the status and influence that goes with the "righteous"? But, having done so, it puts such persons in the instrumental category.

The recent (1990’s) resurgence of research on Authoritarianism, by the way, sees it more as a social value than as a personality characteristic. The difference is important. Social values are learned, can change, and vary regionally and socially. Personality characteristics are relatively inflexible, and should not vary systematically with region, or with cultural change.

No need to resent anything, Mr. Moser. I wasn’t at all making the suggestion that you were likely limiting the group "religious people" to Christians, only pointing out that my own interpretation (of your speculation) wouldn’t apply if ANYONE were to make such an exclusion.

What I DO suspect however, is that this more-religion-equals-less-crime hypothesis might be abandoned by Dain and a lot of NoLeftTurners if pushed by American Muslims, for instance.

Why fight about religion? We can all get along and just revel in the glory that is the new Batman movie!

Dain, have you read the book or just the blurb? I suspect the latter, because the book describes much more than just one incident. It actually makes a pretty strong case (based on lots of that stuff they use in science- evidence) that there’s a correlation between being Mormon and being violent, and that those moral guys running the church have done much to protect their brethren.

Furthermore, you ignored the rest of my post. Please explain to me WHY being religious would prevent you from engaging in "deviant practices."

Here’s a review of the literature that suggests that involvement with religion reduces the incidence of youth crime. For a list of one of the author’s other publications in this field (I read a few of them some years ago, but can’t lay my hands on them now), go here.

Whether this has anything to do with events at the USAFA is another story, but Ken’s general intuitions strike me as plausibly supported by the available research literature, as summarized by Johnson (who is no slouch in this field). This says nothing about the mechanisms whereby this relationship works, and offers no predictions for the situation at the USAFA.

Sigh...I really don’t have time for all this, so I’m going to try to do it economically. Hang on.

Mr. Jeffries...of course I didn’t read the book! Why based on a single case study. As for Mormonism, many would argue that it is a Christian heresy. Despite that, do you have any statistical proof that Mormonism leads to deviant behavior or crime? You people demand of me but you don’t demand of yourselfs. For shame.

John...I skimmed it. I understand the methodology (could be better, could be worse). There are a number of other studies, some of which are cited by this one, and some of which I have read. You said you who welcome such studies...all I’ve done is to introduce one to you. It’s an invitation to enlighten yourself. If you’d like to start a new thread I’ll invest more time in it. can you tell if your student read something or not if you haven’t read it yourself?

Mark...I knew someone would accuse me of petitio principii. That’s why I cited a study that looks for a correlation between two objective measureables (crime and church attendance). But as for your broader point, the same logic would not apply to all religious people. If someone believes in Christ and makes His teachings central to his life, we really wouldn’t expect that person to kill, rape, sodomize, etc. For Muslims, however, parts of that religion COMMAND killing and various other forms of disrespect. So, my statement stands...we really shouldn’t expect TRUE Christians to engage in antisocial behavior, but that logic doesn’t say much about the link between other forms of religion and behavior.

I meant "yourselves" ... don’t stone me! As I said, I’m short on time.

And you meant measurables too, minus the second ’e’, right?

Yes ma’am. Sorry.

So if I decide to believe that this man Jesus of Nazareth was actually the Son of God, that he was conceived and born without any sexual intercourse taking place (this before test-tube babies!), that he walked on water and turned water into wine, and that he died on the cross for the sins of humanity, but then he came back to life, the chances of me committing a crime will go down? I mean, really, guys, I’m asking you - in all seriousness - drum up some of that COMPASSIONATE conservatism, and tell me why you can’t be more understanding of folks who find it just a little hard to believe this story? Even if religious belief DOES prevent or reduce crime, how does that overcome the hurdles that a lot of people find in believing the basic tenets of Christianity, and why should anyone believe them? There’s lots of talk at this site about reason and logic and rationality, but it seems that a lot of your social and political ideas stem from something fundamentally irrational. But anyway, seriously, I don’t know why anyone would want to push their religion, either personally or through government programs or whatever - it’s such a DEEPLY PERSONAL choice to accept and believe this stuff. Can’t you understand that some people just find it hard to believe this, and aren’t ever going to?

Dain, that’s enough quarreling with the boys for the day! Time to wash up and come in for supper!


No one is asking you to believe something you find incredible, only that you be open to the possiblity that, in some cases, being embedded in a religious community actually helps some people resist the "temptations" of crime that might otherwise be irresistible. In some cases and for some individuals, faith-based approaches to social and individual problems may be effective where secular approaches are not. Supporting a plurality of approaches to these problems may be then be "good public policy," worthy of being supported even by non-believers.

And nothing in my argument, by the way, requires that the programs "worthy of support" be limited to those run by Christian faith-based organizations. I think that supporting a wide array of religious and non-religious programs that aim at purposes that it is legitimate for government to pursue is perfectly consistent with the First Amendment.

Listen, I can’t mom’s calling me in for dinner. But, M.E.S., all those things you list as incredible...why do you find them so? Why are they less credible than the materialist/ Darwinist view that "stuff happens." How about this for incredible -- a mouthy carpenter runs afoul of the Roman/Jewish authorities and gets himself croaked. His followers start preaching this weird stuff about "do unto others" and "give unto Ceasar" and "love your enemies" and other such nonsense. A couple of hundred years down the road this man’s legacy takes over the Roman world, eventually becoming the world’s largest religion (nominally, at least) and leading to lots of other unlikely things like individualism, gender equality (relative to other religions, at least), and global capitalism (if Max Weber is to be believed).

Come on, M.E.S.! You expect to believe all that junk? All because of some dude who got himself crucified? Pretty unlikely.

I thank both Dain and Joe Knippenberg for pointing me toward some relevant studies. I promise, I’m not trying to pick any fights here. As I’ve said from the start, I’m not surprised to see some correlation between religious commitment and avoidance of deviant behavior. I’ll bet that if we were to study it, though, we’d find that those who have read and understood Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, have spent more than four years studying classical piano, or have mastered Latin all are less likely to commit crimes than those who have not done any of those things. In short, I would suggest that those who commit themselves to any sort of disciplined lifestyle--and any serious religion would fall into that category--are less likely to commit crimes than those who do not. If we are then to speak of the "root causes" of criminal behavior, then, we must place simple aimlessness and lack of purpose high on that list. Religion is one means of remedying that, but it is hardly the only one. Now, perhaps this is something on which we might all agree?

John...I doubt it. Lots of professional people engage in deviant behavior...everything from recreation drugs and swinging to white-collar crime and insurance fraud. Perhaps what you are point to is intelligence, and indeed there is a correlation between criminality and intellect (negative, and you might suspect). But commitment to Christianity is a deeply moral commitment to do well by your fellow man and to refrain from "sinful" behaviors of all types. Not all religions encourage this, nor do most professions stress such a broad-spectrum morality. I do believe that deeply-held Christian beliefs can transform lives.

And, before anyone goes labeling me, I’m not a particularly devote Christian, but I do respect the message and the people, and while I’ve seen some negative aspects of Christianity, I’ve also seen lots of good that is unique to the belief system.

I find it amusing that Dain addressed H. Langdon Jeffries as "Mr. Jeffries," whereas John Moser and Mark Ibold are more casually addressed by their first names. The way people work just cracks me up...

That’s easy to explain. I think "Mr. Jeffries" is a pseudonym. Perhaps I’m wrong about that...just a hunch.

Well, you should have put his name in quotes THEN, to express your hunch. Your sarcasm was way below radar; I thought you were just being unusually polite since he has a fancy-sounding name.

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