The massive crime bill that lawmakers passed last fall contains a chilling confession: They haven't a clue what causes crime. The bill earmarks several billion dollars to create a host of national commissions, task forces, studies, advisory boards—and even a presidential summit—all to study the causes of crime. The tragic irony is that we're spending billions of dollars asking the wrong question. The question we ought to be asking is, What causes virtue? Why do most people, most of the time, refrain from crime? Answer that question and we can begin to solve crime.
History is littered with failed explanations of crime. In the nineteenth century, Cesare Lombroso believed criminals could be identified by physical features—sloping foreheads and long arms; but no physical trait correlates universally with criminal behavior. In this century, sociologist Edwin Sutherland blamed crime on the influence of bad environments; but many criminals ply illegal trades chosen on their own. Marxist analysis blames poverty for crime; but wealth is no guarantee of virtue. During the 1977 New York City blackout, most looters were employed workers who didn't need the things they stole.
After an exhaustive 17-year study, psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson and psychologist Stanton Samenow concluded that all the standard explanations of crime are dead ends. Their own work suggests that crime is rooted instead in the way people think. Our thinking guides our choices; choices become habits; habits create character. They write: "Even when a specific crime, such as assault, has not been planned in advance, it is a matter of a criminal's responding in a habitual manner."
This approach aligns squarely with biblical teaching: ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more