The non-basis of faith

It’s worth saying this as many times as possible: Faith is nothing more than precisely belief without evidence; it is an entirely random basis for beliefs, actions, and behaviors. If you don’t believe me, just look at the results of a recent study on faith-based programs and religious belief amongst the overwhelmingly Christian prison population in America:

Serious criminals co-opt religious doctrine to permit, and even encourage, their illicit activity, a Georgia State University study shows.

Titled “With God on my side: The paradoxical relationship between religious belief and criminality among hardcore street offenders,” the research was co-authored by Georgia State criminologists Volkan Topalli, Timothy Brezina and graduate student Mindy Bernhardt. It was published in the journal Theoretical Criminology. Their findings have policy implications for correctional faith-based reforms.

“Offenders in our study overwhelmingly professed a belief in God and identified themselves with a particular religion, but they also regularly engaged in serious crimes,” said Topalli, an associate professor in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. “Our data suggest that religious belief may even produce or tend to produce crime or criminality among our sample of hardcore street offenders who actively reference religious doctrine to justify past and future offenses.”

The criminals who were studied were not in prison at the time of the study and the sample size was small (48 individuals), but the findings were compelling. These men had been through the system, been preached to through faith-based programs and other religious inmates, and they had come out none the better. I’m not sure I necessarily find it convincing that prisoners with these experiences would become worse than those without such experiences (again, the sample size is small), but I highly suspect that prisoners who went through philosophy- and reason-based programs (if such things actually existed) would come out far, far better people.

The authors note their results do not indicate these effects accrue from the content of religious doctrine. However, it is important to consider their policy implications.

“The growing correctional reform of faith-based programs encourages inmates’ participation in prayer, Bible studies and religious services,” Topalli said. “To the extent that some offenders misinterpret or distort religious teachings to justify and excuse crime, program facilitators may benefit from this knowledge and work to challenge or correct these errors.”

One must wonder how this could possibly be fixed. Sure, we could drill dogma and traditional doctrine into these prisoners, arbitrarily declaring that their current interpretations are wrong, but that’s hardly objective. Indeed, whereas modern day religion is, partially, just a reflection of secular morality, there is no good justification within the context of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion for such declarations. This inability to offer a basis of reason is most clearly the mark of faith; nothing in any religion stops these prisoners (or any other person of faith) from believing in absolutely anything.

Faith just isn’t a valid basis for belief.

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