The most recent (Aug/Sept 2011) edition of First Things (which I heartily recommend) had a couple of articles that shed light on the practical benefits of education within a religious institution, and on higher education today, two subjects I spend much of my time thinking about. You might expect this from a journal the central focus of which is “religion and public life.” But the convergence of the two articles struck me.
In the first, the monthly “The Public Square,” the new editor, R. R. Reno commented on recent debates at Harvard about the place of religion in the general education curriculum of our current universities. According to Reno, psychologist and popular author Steven Pinker argued against the inclusion of a course on reason and faith, claiming that the belief in the influence of faith “is an American anachronism,” and that western society is “moving beyond it.”
A few pages later in an opinion piece “The Religious Antidote,” Byron Johnson a professor of social science at Baylor, and author of More God, Less Crime, argued that in an analysis of 273 studies of crime and religion, 244 (90%) of them showed a beneficial relationship between religion and crime. That is, where religion is part of the life of youth, for example, there is less crime. And where faith is part of rehabilitation programs, they are more successful in reducing crime and recidivism. He even mentioned the benefits of restorative justice programs which FPU’s Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies has championed.
I have heard this kind of analysis confirmed by Fresno Police Chief, Jerry Dyer. He is very open in his public comments that the faith based institutions in the city are effective in reducing crime and helping youth and adults out of gangs, crime, drugs and into healthy lives.
If indeed western society is moving beyond the anachronism of faith and religion as a social good, it seems we should plan for more prisons and invest in security companies. On the other hand we might follow the open-mindedness of religious researchers and faith based universities.