The threat of eternal punishment in Hell is often thought to deter bad behavior and motivate good behavior. Is there any evidence that belief in Hell has these effects? What are the effects of belief in Heaven?
Two social scientists, Azim Shariff (University of Oregon) and Mijke Rhemtulla (University of Kansas), set out to answer these questions, using data from global surveys of religious beliefs and national crime data from the United Nations. Crimes included homicide, robbery, rape, assault, kidnapping, drug-related crime, theft, burglary, auto theft, and human trafficking.
What they found might surprise you.
Nations with higher levels of belief in Hell had lower crime rates, the researchers report. The threat of “supernatural punishment” had the predicted deterrent effect on anti-social behavior.
But beliefs in Heaven had the opposite effect. Nations with higher proportions of people who believe in “supernatural benevolence” suffer higher rates of crime, compared to nations with fewer people who believe in Heaven.
The researchers also looked at the effect of the difference in the proportion of people who believe in Heaven versus believe in Hell. As fewer people believe in Hell and more believe in Heaven, the rate of crime goes up.
So, does this make Hell the ultimate crime fighter?