A new study suggests religious belief is used to rationalize criminal behavior. The study suggests criminals manipulate religious messages to support their behavior through "purposeful distortion or genuine ignorance."
The study also suggests at religious belief does not deter criminal behavior, as is often thought to be the case.
The study’s lead author, Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University, said in an interview on Monday, Feb. 18, that inmates interviewed for the study were able to rationalize and excuse their criminal behavior by manipulating religious doctrine.
The findings of the new study may have important implications for how faith-based services are administered in the future within the corrections system. Topalli suggests that prison ministries shouldn’t just be about presenting religious doctrine, because inmates tend to use religious teachings to excuse their criminal behavior.
About prison ministries, Topalli said:
“People have to understand that presenting religious doctrine to people isn’t enough to change their behavior.”
The new study was published this month in the journal Theoretical Criminology, in an article titled “With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders.”
The study consists of interviews with individuals actively involved in serious and violent street-level crimes, including drug dealing, robbery, carjacking and burglary. Almost all of the criminals interviewed professed a belief in God and identified with the Christian faith.
Study researchers conclude that criminals will often employ “elaborate and creative rationalizations” to reconcile their belief in God and their criminal behavior.