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Templeton Report
News from the John Templeton Foundation
June 29, 2011

Is God an Effective Crime Fighter?

By Rod Dreher—Director of Publications

More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More

Research indicates that the more involved people are with religious life, the less likely they are to fall into criminal behavior. Criminologist Byron R. Johnson, whose new Templeton Press book More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More documents this phenomenon, admits this is something of a social-science “dog-bites-man” story.

“My grandmother would say that this book doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know,” Johnson says. “But to many out there, especially in policy circles or academia, they’ll be surprised that the [research] results are that strong.”

In More God, Less Crime, Johnson, a Baylor University Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the school’s Institute for the Study of Religion, summarizes decades of research into fighting crime and delinquency through faith-based approaches. In the overwhelming majority of cases, writes Johnson, social scientists have found that religious engagement can be a critical factor in combating criminal behavior. 

“Thousands of published studies across a diverse range of disciplines find religion, no matter how it is measured, consistently related to positive and beneficial outcomes,” Johnson writes.

And yet, despite impressive evidence that spirituality is an effective crime-fighting tool, scholars have remained largely disinterested in exploring these findings, he says. Johnson blames it on a lack of religious awareness, and even outright bigotry, among the academic class. In More God, Less Crime, he gives a startling account of how anti-religious prejudice nearly sidelined his own early academic career, and advises young professors to get tenure before identifying themselves publicly as religious believers.

Though his book is well-grounded in research data, Johnson never loses sight of the human stories behind the facts and figures. He tells inspiring tales of programs like Amachi, a Philadelphia-based initiative partnering religious and secular organizations to provide mentoring for children who have a parent in prison.

VIDEO: Bryon Johnson
VIDEO: Author Byron Johnson

Amachi works so well, Johnson argues, because it builds on the particular strengths of both religious and secular approaches. Not only do secular folks need to overcome their suspicion of religious believers, he says, but the faithful should not fool themselves into thinking that they can provide criminals with everything necessary to turn their lives around.

“I’m not saying that all we need is God, and everything’s fixed. There are all kinds of issues that predispose people to lives of crime and delinquency,” he says. “Prisoner re-entry is a bigger problem than the faith community can tackle by itself. And that will be a hard pill to swallow for some of them, because for them, it’s always about God.”

Johnson hopes More God, Less Crime will encourage faith-based organizations to continue working on anti-crime programs, and to be more creative in their outreach, as well as more comfortable working with secular groups seeking the same goals. And he hopes the book will also change the way social scientists approach the study of crime and criminal social dysfunction.

“If you look at most textbooks on criminology and criminal justice, the word ‘religion’ won’t even appear,” he says. “But yet there’s so much going on, and this evidence that people have to contend with. I’m hoping in some way that it’ll cause a shift in the field.”

Since its May publication, More God, Less Crime has received high-profile attention, including reviews in the Wall Street Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and appearances by Johnson on national broadcast media, both secular and religious. Templeton Press editor-in-chief Susan Arellano says that Sir John Templeton would have been thrilled by Johnson’s work and the attention it’s getting.

“Sir John was keenly interested in how belief affects behavior, and supported many research projects—including some of the research highlighted in Byron’s book—examining the connection,” she says. “He would have been gratified to have seen the impressive, data-driven case Byron makes for the powerful role religion can play in reducing crime.”


Holes in the Heart of the Universe

Photo: NASA

Which came first, galaxies or black holes? That’s one of the fundamental questions of black hole physics—and now we are much closer to having an answer.

Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to peer farther into deep space than ever before, scientists have uncovered the first direct evidence that from its early days, the universe was pockmarked by black holes, which grew right along with their host galaxies.

"Until now, we had no idea what the black holes in these early galaxies were doing—or if they even existed," said Ezequiel Treister of the University of Hawaii, lead author of a study that appeared in the June 16 issue of Nature. "Now we know they are there and they are growing like gangbusters."

Yale University cosmologist and study co-author Priya Natarajan told the Christian Science Monitor that the finding presages “a really large leap in our understanding” of how the first supermassive black holes came into existence. Natarajan, who is an adviser to the John Templeton Foundation, added that the origin of the “seed black holes” that eventually grow into galactic giants remains a mystery.


Free Markets are Morally Good


Three years ago, the John Templeton Foundation put this question to a number of eminent thinkers: Does the free market corrode moral character? The Foundation compiled and published the thought-provoking answers from thinkers as diverse as economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Tyler Cowen, philosophers Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michael Walzer, and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as part of JTF’s Big Questions series.

Now, building on that remarkable conversation, JTF is helping the non-profit Washington-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation launch The Morality of Free Enterprise Project. It’s a global education initiative designed to explain and promote the idea that capitalism both depends on and reinforces morally responsible behavior. The effort will translate, publish, and distribute books and pamphlets on the moral worth of free markets, sponsor essay contests, and produce online teaching videos, like this one on the morality of profit.

The Morality of Free Enterprise Project is funded in part by a $150,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation. JTF also sponsors under the Atlas aegis the annual Templeton Freedom Awards, which recognize exemplary programs by private, non-profit think tanks that promote the principles of a free society. Deadline for applying for this year’s contest is July 8.


Starting Purpose-Driven Careers

2011 Simon Winners

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a national educational organization, recently announced the winners of the William E. Simon Fellowship for Noble Purpose. The awardees were recognized at the Philadelphia Marriott on June 14, in the presence of special guest Dr. Jack Templeton.

Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the three annual fellowships recognize graduating college seniors who are pursuing lives dedicated to and distinguished by honor, generosity, service, and respect. The top award is $40,000 with two additional fellows receiving grants of $20,000 and $10,000 each.

This year, Eastern University's Evan Hewitt won the top fellowship. He is putting the $40,000 award toward establishing the first public library in Rwanda. Kristin Hall, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, received a $20,000 fellowship, which she is using to support Generation Enterprise, a microbusiness incubator she founded to train at-risk urban youth to become socially responsible business owners. Third place winner Jonathan Naber, a recent University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate, is committed to developing low-cost, highly functional prosthetic arms for amputees in the developing world. He will dedicate his $10,000 Simon Fellowship award to fund long-term usability tests in Guatemala for artificial arms developed by Illini Prosthetic Technologies, a non-profit organization he and other engineering students founded.

Click here to download a PDF of our 2010 Capabilities Report or request a print copy from communications@templeton.org.

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