Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Crime and Religion.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

A vast literature about crime has been published during the last half-century, and very many of the works recommend religion or the Churches as a preventive agency, yet none of the works, even when written by scientific sociologists, give statistics of the religious beliefs of convicted criminals, or notice that statistics are available, or comment on the fact that crime has in modern times been reduced in the same proportion as religion has decayed. Even the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, to which one would look for an exact determination of this relation, has not a line about it; nor has the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the new Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, the Cyclopaedia of Education, or any other standard work of reference or work on sociology or penology. This refusal to apply the only available scientific test, while general literature and the Press refer daily to the need to sustain the Churches in order to check crime, not only reveals the need of an ampler Rationalist literature, but confesses that the truth would be very damaging to religion. Criminal conduct has the same relation to unsocial (immoral) conduct in general as the visible rays of the spectrum have to the total solar radiation. Its volume, and its increase or decrease, in a community in proportion to the entire population, and assuming that the police and the judiciary institutions are not abnormal (as they are in the United States), are the best positive means of ascertaining the general character of the people and the efficacy or futility of such organizations as the Churches which profess to promote it. The invisible spectrum - unsocial conduct which does not come under police notice - will always be proportionate to the visible. Yet, in all the flood of rhetorical assurances about the service of the Churches, neither Christian nor Positivist nor any other writer ever notices these facts, and the professional sociologist seems to be intimidated by Church influence. The facts, however, are less open to controversy and more decisive than in almost any other field of Rationalist-religious controversy, especially as regards the simultaneous rapid reduction of crime and decay of religious influence.
      The official statistics of crime in different countries since the publication of such statistics began, in the last century, are collected in Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics (1899) and Webb's supplementary volume (1911), which are in every good library. The ten pages of statistics show at a glance, and close examination strengthens the conclusion, that all the rhetoric about the social service of the Churches is false. Such rhetoric has nowhere been more strident than in England and Wales, yet the reduction of crime during the last hundred years of religious decay has been phenomenal. It is obvious that, before the reform (one might say creation) of the police, crime must have been far worse, and we have reliable evidence of this. At the beginning of the century a London magistrate of serious ideals, P. Colquhoun, published a treatise (The Moral State of the Metropolis), based upon police information, from which we see that crime of every kind was several times worse in 1800 than in 1840; and this appalling prevalence of vice and crime was just a continuation of mediaeval life. From 1840 onward we have statistics, and they show a steady and rapid reduction. Convictions in the Superior Courts averaged 21,280 a year in the decade 1840-9. At the end of the century they were reduced by half, and, since the population had doubled and detection was much more effective, this is equivalent to a far greater reduction. They are now about one-third (7,185 in the latest available figures) though the population has trebled. That this is not due to a reclassification of offences is shown by the fact that convictions in the Courts of Summary Jurisdiction have been equally reduced (27,710, in 1840, to about 8,000 a year), and even non-indictable offences, in spite of the enormous growth of city life, show the same reduction. Scotland has much the same record; while Ireland, significantly enough, has not. These are statistics of convictions, and we must remember that only half a century ago far more criminals evaded arrest, so that the volume of actual crime at that time was worse than the figures indicate. As late as 1878-88 the police failed to make an arrest in 1,094 out of 1,766 cases of murder.
      Still more cogent is the social lesson in the case of France, where the influence of the Church has fallen in much the same proportion as in Great Britain, and the State has been fully secularized for nearly half a century. Convictions for grave crime fell from 5,486 a year (183140) to less than 2,000 a year (1910); murders from 500 to 200 a year; the sum of all convictions from 230 to 51 per 100,000 inhabitants. During a half-century after 1825, when the State was still Catholic, convictions for crime increased three-fold, and crime by boys four-fold (Dr. Lacassagne, Revue Scientifique, May, 1881), but since the adoption of secular education, in 1886, the number of boy offenders has been reduced by one half. Since scientific methods of detection were not adopted until 1879 (under the Rationalist Chief, Bertillon), the figures for the earlier period do not give the full volume of crime. In the case of the United States, general statistics are not published; the conditions of public life are favourable to crime, and the abnormal expansion of the population further complicates the problem. It is enough that (a) grave crime is rifest in this land in which the Churches are the richest and most powerful in the world, and (b) a new extension of the police (G-men) made immeasurably more impression on it in five years than the Churches had made in fifty. In Germany, which had until 1918 far more religious instruction in schools than Great Britain or France, the reduction of crime was significantly less; and the figures are worse in Catholic than in Protestant provinces. In Italy, where Papal rule, until eighty years ago, had permitted an appalling prevalence of crime [see Papal States], the anti-Papal Government, after 1870, made a considerable reduction (Mulhall and Webb) until the usurpation of power by Mussolini and his alliance with the Church, when, as the Italian official figures published annually in the Statesman's Year Book (and not noticed by any paper in England) testify, crime nearly doubled in four years, and only about one-tenth of it was political crime. It is an outstanding general feature of the statistics in Mulhall and Webb that Catholic countries have the worst record, and countries (except America) in which the majority never go to church the best.
      Statistics of the religion of prisoners in jail in recent times are scanty and not easy to consult, but wherever they have been published they show that Roman Catholic prisoners are by far the most numerous in proportion to their total numbers in the general population. Fr. McCaffey, Catholic chaplain of Sing Sing (the New York jail), said, in an article ("The Church and Crime") in the (Catholic) Commonweal (December 14, 1932), that on taking a census of the prisoners he found that 855 out of 1,581 were Catholics (and only eight Atheists). The Church which boasted loudest of its character-forming virtue counted less than 20 per cent. of the total population, but nearly 60 per cent. of the jail population; and we shall see [Culture and Religion] that it does not count 5 per cent. at the other and more respectable end of the social scale. Australia and New Zealand confirm these figures. In 1914 the late Chief Justice of New Zealand, Sir Robert Stout, gave the present writer an analysis, from the official records in his department, of the creeds of New Zealand prisoners, and it showed that Catholics, who were only 14.07 per cent. of the total population, were 41.74 per cent. of the inmates of jails. Similar figures have repeatedly and officially been published in Australia. The latest issue of the New South Wales Statistical Register (p. 216) says that, of 1,330 prisoners, 505 were Catholics; and Catholics claim only to be one-fifth of the population (550,000 in 2,600,000). Victorian official statistics (last available 1936) report that Catholics are 18 per cent. of the total population and 29.61 per cent. of the jail-population. It is the same in the other Australian States. The British Government no longer publishes an analysis of the religious beliefs of prisoners, but the chief Catholic centres - Liverpool, Newcastle, and Glasgow - are not conspicuously sober and orderly. It is enough that the available figures, which are ample, consistently make a mockery of the claim for the Churches.


Home Page

Scanning, HTML Rae West. First upload 98-02-08