Professor Shariff made a comprehensive analysis of 26 years of data involving 143,197 people from 67 countries and discovered that “a nation’s rate of belief in hell predicts lower crime rates.”1 Imagine that. He also goes on to observe that people with an one-sided idea of a forgiving God that does not punish are inclined to commit crime based on a distorted view of the forgiveness of God.
It is refreshing to see that someone has taken the time to study available data regarding criminal activity and its relationship to the idea of Hell. Shariff affirms, “These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality. Expanding on laboratory research on religious pro-sociality, this is the first study to tie religious beliefs to large-scale cross-national trends in pro and anti-social behavior.”
It is interesting to note that the data does not make a correlation to support the claim that poor people are driven to commit crimes because of poverty. Although this is a familiar mantra espoused by liberals in mainstream media, the truth is that poor people commit crimes for the same reason that wealthy people commit crimes; they have bad morals.
There is an old saying that there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. We might say that the time for playing games is over when faced with death, judgment and Heaven or Hell. Throughout history, men have had an ingrained notion that they will be judged for their actions for which they will receive either an eternal reward or punishment. Death makes us think about Heaven and Hell and these considerations can have a healthy effect upon society.
No one can successfully argue that the notion of Hell is a sufficient deterrent to stop every single person from committing crimes since some are hardened in their ways. However, for a great part of mankind, the idea of eternal punishment is a great deterrent. There is one small caveat: the idea of hell is only really effective when a person makes a serious examination of conscience, which helps the person see his defects and fear their consequences. It would then follow, that the most efficient way to prevent crime would be to promote an examination of conscience and the idea of Hell.
Unfortunately, modern psychologists are not versed in theology. If that were the case, perhaps Professor Sharriff would have designed his study differently. The question should not have been a choice between a punishing and a forgiving God. Rather, it should have presented the balance that has always been taught by the Church; our moral behavior is judged by an infinitely merciful God who punishes those hardened of heart and unrepentant.