Tuesday, 6 January 2015


I was shown this. And I rolled my eyes.

I've heard it all before, had that discussion a few thousand times.


Crime? You really want to go there?


I was unable to get data on how many ordained ministers commit crimes, but it's not exactly a secret that plenty do.


Morality has nothing to do with religion. NOTHING. Oh sure, many religions preach morality. And that's about as far as it goes.

Anyway, back to the video. Apparently this gentleman is curious how people know how to behave without religious leaders telling them what to do. I've heard that question many times, and here are a few suggestions to start you off.

Common sense

The Rule of Law was invented for political purposes, not moral or religious purposes. I've nothing against the Rule of Law, humans seem to need it. Societies with a poor system of law tend to do badly. But religion did not invent the idea that it's wrong to kill and steal. Quite the other way around. Religions were created to implement these laws, by threatening eternal punishment to offenders. Did it work? Nope.

Despite thousands of years of religions and their laws, we still have crime, actually. Despite those religions affecting culture and government policy for generation after generation after generation, people still misbehave. People with devout religious beliefs still steal, rape, and kill. In fact most wars in history have been "in God's name". It's an excuse, for sure, but they were supported by the church.

Why are people good or bad?

Well, thankfully this question puts me right back on track for my topic of the week (and of my forthcoming book, nudge nudge).

Mostly, it's intelligence, frankly. Intelligent people are aware that if we are "good" then society is a better place to live in. A society of "good" people tends to thrive. Have you visited crime ridden areas? Not pretty. No fun.

Then, there's mental health. Any defect here can compromise intellect. A person who "knows better" behaves badly because his twisted rationality has decided this is the best choice for him. Substance abuse, which is a type of mental illness, plays a huge role in crime, not just in the dysfunctional behaviour of users, but in the cost of obtaining their drugs. Addicts inevitably must steal or trade, and trading often involves violence when things go awry.

And there's vices. The churches love to talk about these, but they haven't cured them. What is a vice anyway? It's a character flaw. We all have them. A temporary lapse of intellect and sanity allows them to become reality. Greed. Lust. Wrath. Even pride can lead to crime. These aren't bad people, these are people who made a mistake, a bad choice.

As a professor, a highly educated man, and a well-travelled man, surely Mr Christensen is aware of all of this. When he or anyone asks "How do people know how to behave without religious guidance?" what I seem to be hearing is this instead: "I am afraid, that without the fear of God, I'd behave badly."

I may be wrong of course. But this gentleman in particular was born into his particular religion. He doesn't know life any other way. Perhaps that limits his perspective. He may also be conflating having been raised in a large, good, happy, functional family with his religious upbringing. I'm a little bit biased on this of course, but I believe that large, good, happy, functional families tend to turn out good people.

He's also never experienced poverty. Poverty remains one of the main reasons people turn to crime. It's only 100 years or so since western society automatically equated crime with poverty, but it took them a ridiculously long time to realise that if you lessen poverty you lessen crime. And this idea still hasn't really caught on.

Finally, you'd think an educated man would know that education is the other big key to reducing crime. Investing in the education of the masses is the best investment you can make, and while churches could, theoretically, help there, they generally don't. That isn't their real function, after all.

The reason most people behave themselves, most of the time, has nothing to do with churches or police forces. It's because human nature is actually not as bad as all that. Those who "stray", those whose moral compass is off, are actually the minority. We are NOT born sinners. We are born sponges, we soak up everything we see around us, and atheists learn morality JUST FINE.

When people decide to commit crimes, they don't think about their fear of God OR the police. If these deterrents really were as powerful as that, they'd work. They don't! Even where the death sentence is still in place, people still commit the worst crimes. And people steal right out of the collection boxes in churches.

When people behave themselves, it's because they are sane, wise people who have made good choices.

If religion is what makes Mr Christensen NOT go around committing crimes, then I hope he sticks with it. Whatever works. Same applies to anyone else that feels they need churches to keep them out of prison. Don't miss a Sunday! If that's what you need to behave, carry on.

But most of us are quite able to behave ourselves, thank you very much.

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