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Religion and Crime in American Cities

Updated on October 17, 2014
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Religion and crime in urban America

Religion is often considered to be a force for good. It restrains passions, gives moral guidance, and generally keeps people on the straight-and-narrow. Without religion, it is argued, standards for personal behavior disappear or greatly decline. Violence and theft rise amidst moral confusion. The decline of religion is often cited as a major cause for violence and crime in American cities. The reality is far more complex. In fact, the reality of crime in US cities paints a totally different picture.

How Crime Rates are Reported

Crime rates are given per 100,000 residents.

For instance, in the San Antonio MSA, the violent crime rate was 484 offenses per 100,000 population in 2010.

Cities not included

Major metropolitan areas not included in this analysis are: Indianapolis, Portland (OR), Charlotte and Birmingham. These areas did not have data for any crime.

In addition, these MSAs were excluded from the violent crime analysis for lack of data: Oklahoma City, Chicago and Minneapolis.

And the New Orleans MSA was excluded from the property crime analysis for lack of data.

Crime and religion data for US cities

This analysis uses crime data from these sources:

  • The violent crime rate by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) for 2010, from the FBI
  • The property crime rate by MSA for 2010, from the FBI

And this data is used to measure religiosity:

  • The Barna Group's ranking of the most "Post-Christian Cities in America" for 2013
  • Gallup's religiosity by MSA for 2012
  • The "Adherents as percentage of total population" for MSAs from the 2010 US Religion Census from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB)

According to the FBI, "violent crime" includes crimes such as murder, rape and assault. "Property crime" includes theft, burglary, arson and related crimes.

The Barna Group conducted a survey with 15 questions measuring a person's level of Christian belief. The topics include whether the individual believes in God, whether they identify as atheist, whether they have donated money to a church in the last year, and whether they have read the Bible in the last week.

The Gallup survey asked Americans if religion was an important part of their daily life, and how often they attended religious services. Based on this, it identified the percentage of each metro area that was "highly religious."

Finally, the ASARB uses the total number of adherents in every religious group (including Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other non-Christian religions), as reported by officials in those religious communities, to get the ratio of adherents to total population in each MSA.

The New York City metro area has the lowest property crime rate of any large metro area.
The New York City metro area has the lowest property crime rate of any large metro area. | Source

Religion and Violent Crime in US Cities

First, we look at religiosity and rates of violent crime. Remember, the hypothesis of many religious advocates is that crime will increase as religion declines in urban America.

Chart 1 below shows the claim of the religious advocates is false for violent crime. The correlation between the Adherents Ratio (the percentage of the population that is claimed by religious groups) and the violent crime rate is about 1%. This is certainly not the negative correlation we would expect if crime falls with higher religion. We see that as cities become more religious, violent crime does not decrease.

Correlation between Adherents Ratio and Violent Crime Rate in US Cities (1)

Source

Relationship between Violent Crime and Religiosity

Now let's look at religion and violence from a different perspective. Chart 2 below shows the correlation between the Gallup survey of MSAs and the rate of violent crime.

Once again, we see there is no negative correlation between religiosity and violent crime. In fact, there is a 9.5% positive correlation between violent crime and religiosity. If anything, the relationship is the opposite of what religious advocates claim, according to this chart: as religiosity increases, violence may increase.

But without question, religiosity is not correlated with lower violence in American urban areas.

Correlation between Violent Crime Rate and Percent of Population that is Highly Religious (2)

Source
Source

Property Crime and Religion in American Metros

Now let's look at property crime. Chart 3 below shows the correlation between the rate of property crime and the percent of the population that is "highly religious."

Once again, we do not see a negative relationship between crime and religiosity. More religion does not correlate with less crime. In fact, to the contrary, we see the strongest relationship of all: a 27% positive correlation between religiosity and property crime rates.

(Note: The property crime-violent crime correlation is about 17%. Fascinatingly, the property crime rate has a stronger relationship with religiosity than it does with the violent crime rate.)

Correlation between Property Crime Rate and Percent of Population that is Highly Religious in US Cities (3)

Source

Secularism and Property Crime in American Cities

Finally, let's compare property crime to the Barna measure of "Post-Christianity."

Consistent with the rest of the data, we do not see a positive relationship between secularism/ lack of Christianity and crime. The Barna metric is a measure of the lack of Christianity, and is therefore a religion-negative measure.

Chart 4 shows that as post-Christianity increases, there is not an increase in property crime. In fact, to the contrary, it decreases. There is a 21% negative correlation between post-Christianity and property crime.

Correlation between Property Crime Rate and Non-Christianity in US Cities (4)

Source

Less Religious Cities Do Not Have More Crime

The data shows that cities do not experience more crime as religious belief declines. In fact, by some measures, the opposite seems to happen: as religiosity declines, crime declines as well. There is generally either zero correlation, or a positive correlation, between religiosity and crime rates in American cities.

Why might there be a positive correlation? There are many possible explanations. Both religious devotion and crime are highly influenced by poverty. Poor people tend to be more religious, and they tend to commit more crimes.

Crime sometimes causes religion: misfortunate and difficulty in life, losing a loved one or being the victim of violence can cause people to turn to a higher power or to their religious beliefs for comfort.

And in some cases religion can cause crime: religious beliefs can inspire people to commit hate crimes (against homosexuals or members of competing religions, for instance), and traditional beliefs about family and gender roles can breed domestic violence.

US Metropolitan Areas used in this analysis

(click column header to sort results)
Metropolitan Statistical Area  
Violent Crime Rate (2010)  
Property Crime Rate (2010)  
Raleigh, NC
242.6
2442.6
San Jose, CA
264.5
2256.4
Richmond, VA
269.3
2542.9
Hartford, CT
297.4
2532.7
Cincinnati, OH
314.1
3340.7
Rochester, NY
317.1
2826.6
Austin, TX
327.9
3792
Virginia Beach, VA
336.9
3482.6
Denver, CO
337.1
2771.4
Seattle, WA
353
3905.8
Salt Lake City, UT
355.5
4457.5
Riverside, CA
368.5
2694.6
Columbus, OH
369
4259.7
Phoenix, AZ
370.8
3534.6
Providence, RI
371.4
2531.8
Dallas, TX
372.6
3607.3
San Diego, CA
378.5
2206.4
Washington DC
380
2550.6
New York, NY
391.9
1719.1
Louisville, KY
395.2
3519.5
Boston, MA
406
2189.5
Atlanta, GA
413.8
3462.6
Cleveland, OH
415.7
2835.6
Los Angeles, CA
442.6
2277
Kansas City, MO
461.3
3476.1
Milwaukee, WI
464.1
3360.3
New Orleans, LA
466.5
NA
Sacramento, CA
478.1
3106.6
Buffalo, NY
483.7
3099.5
San Antonio, TX
484
5233.1
St. Louis, MO
497.4
3159.5
Tampa, FL
500
3387.2
San Francisco, CA
529
3107.8
Philadelphia, PA
551.8
2662.7
Jacksonville, FL
557
3772.4
Miami, FL
609.2
4155
Orlando, FL
613.7
3594.5
Houston, TX
620.7
3943.9
Detroit, MI
635.4
2950.3
Nashville, TN
643.2
3388.9
Baltimore, MD
685.3
3090.7
Las Vegas, NV
763.4
2921.9
Pittsburgh, PA
793
4611.4
Memphis, TN
1006.5
4624.8
Oklahoma City, OK
NA
4208.6
Chicago, IL
NA
4453.4
Minneapolis, MN
NA
2894.2
Source: FBI data

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    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      21 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Maybe the correlation between property crime and religiosity has to do with religion-inspired vandalism? I've been the victim of religion-inspired vandalism multiple times as have many of my lgbt friends.

      I'm actually surprised the correlation between religion and violent crime is so low. Then again, I've been living inside a skewed sample by having gay friends and taking in homeless people. I've known a lot of people who experienced violent attacks from religious people because I associate with a lot of people in demographics they tend to focus on hating, like lgbt people, poor and homeless people, and non-Christians.

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR

      secularist10 

      4 years ago from New York City

      American:

      Thank you!

      Usually when people say "American" they are referring to the United States (as opposed to other countries in the Americas such as "Mexican," "Brazilian" or whatever).

      D William:

      Absolutely. It's a long road but we can all get there, step by step.

    • d.william profile image

      d.william 

      4 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      American too:

      As a fellow "American" and also a citizen of our "Global Society" i contend that this problem is not confined to America - North or South.

      It is a global problem in which religions contribute to the majority of crime and hatred for all the reasons cited in this great article.

      If children were taught about love, tolerance and acceptance of other people, other cultures, and respect for the religious beliefs of others instead of hatred for anyone that is against our personal religious beliefs, 99.9% of global violence would fall along the wayside.

    • profile image

      American too (not gringo) 

      4 years ago

      Excellent article! but that's not America! that's only NORTH America (US). So.. wrong article title

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR

      secularist10 

      4 years ago from New York City

      Indeed, poverty has a strong correlation with religiosity. Typically the poorest and least educated are among the most devout, which ties right into crime rates and anti-social behavior.

    • profile image

      Bill 

      4 years ago

      In the modern age, religions are forcing the naïve (children and poverty stricken) to believe in God, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This bullshit makes people feel crazy and angry.

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR

      secularist10 

      4 years ago from New York City

      Josh, you might want to read the article before commenting on it.

      First of all, if you would just read ahead a few sentences after the passage you quoted, you would find that I wrote:

      "The reality is far more complex. In fact, the reality of crime in US cities paints a totally different picture."

      Throughout the entire article I consistently show that religion and crime/ violence share a correlation that is precisely the opposite of what is commonly believed by many religious people.

      At the end of the article I also write:

      "And in some cases religion can cause crime: religious beliefs can inspire people to commit hate crimes (against homosexuals or members of competing religions, for instance), and traditional beliefs about family and gender roles can breed domestic violence."

    • joshabrams1980 profile image

      Josh Abrams 

      4 years ago from Israel

      You say in the beginning of the article that "Religion is often considered to be a force for good. It restrains passions, gives moral guidance, and generally keeps people on the straight-and-narrow".

      And I am asking, what about crimes done in the name of religion? They are the most severe and terrible crimes. View the history of humanity and you will discover how many crimes were committed under the guiding force of religion

    • profile image

      Bill 

      5 years ago

      Facts kick ass. Do one for Christianity vs. I.Q.

    • f_hruz profile image

      f_hruz 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Yes, I can see where especially social psychology would be a good place to start a broader analysis of how various traditions and religions exert more or less individual stimulation for a greater cultural, political and economic engagement in their respective societies.

      The modern consumer society doesn't have the best results either, in this respect, even if it is largely secular.

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR

      secularist10 

      5 years ago from New York City

      I can't think of any off the top of my head that look at that specifically as you've described it.

      I did write a series of hubs ranking various religions on a "humanist scale" which included measures for material wealth, openness to new ideas and physical safety (here is the one for Christianity: https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Humanists... )

      For a lot of these kinds of questions, we have to cobble together multiple studies that each contain bits and pieces of the total picture. That certainly would be the case for what you're describing. It sounds like a combination of several data sets from psychology and economics would be necessary for that.

    • f_hruz profile image

      f_hruz 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Thanks, very well put!

      Would you know of any major studies in the US or, even better if they were conducted on an international scale, which try to estimate the negative consequences in economic terms of such passive religious hopefulness versus a more practical, action oriented mentality to try to do the right things through advances in science, education and positive social change on an every day level?

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR

      secularist10 

      5 years ago from New York City

      A lot of people think "well, they're just praying" or "they're just attending a religious function" and so on, so what's the harm.

      But as you say, these behaviors and beliefs really do have real-world consequences. What we believe has consequences. The things we do with our time have consequences. And magnified over populations of thousands or millions of people, it will affect the course of entire societies and cultures.

    • f_hruz profile image

      f_hruz 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Many aspects of religion which cross the limits of reality are especially damaging because they create the illusion in some peoples minds, a non existing deity can make anything possible.

      I see such unreal believe systems as a major limitation in the mental and emotional development of many members of these religious groups, may they be muslim, jewish or christian.

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR

      secularist10 

      5 years ago from New York City

      D william--thanks a lot. And those silent moderates give cover, wittingly or otherwise, to the extremists and fanatics in their respective traditions. Since there is no way of proving or disproving any religious claim, faith often becomes a slippery slope toward violence and destruction.

      Jabel--Thanks a lot, I appreciate.

      F_hruz--Glad you liked it. More and more, the data and statistics on a variety of scales (on the local, national or global scale) are becoming irrefutable that religion does not have a meaningful positive impact on crime or safety.

    • f_hruz profile image

      f_hruz 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for a very good analysis ... the links between poverty, poor education, religious believes and criminality were quite clear to me intuitively.

      It's very re-assuring to have it presented so convincingly on the basis of current data!

    • jabelufiroz profile image

      Firoz 

      5 years ago from India

      Good study. Voted up and useful.

    • d.william profile image

      d.william 

      5 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      voted up, useful and interesting.

      Great article. Much of the violence we see in the world today is caused by religious "radicals", and those radicals (zealots) are present in every religious denomination, sect, cult, etc..

      This type of emotional damage done by religion on its followers should be addressed and brought out into the light of day, much more often.

      I believe the fear of exposing these negative traits regarding religion is NOT brought out more out of fear by the participants in those religions. They are taught that any type of negative behavior towards their respective cults/religions will bring down the wrath of God upon them. And sadly, they are so brainwashed they actually belief it.

      I also believe that religions cause more negative impact, than positive, on society as a whole. Although, some do good deeds, those good deeds are also being done by non-religious entities as well.

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