Criminals and Religion: Explaining the Antithesis

The Antithesis

It is paradoxical that individuals who devote their life to criminality often associate with a religion and put up the notion that they are devout adherents. It might involve regularly attending a place of worship—a church, mosque, or synagogue. In addition, they may observe holidays, festivals, and read religious texts. Many go as far as adorning religious ornaments.

Lifting the Veil

The primary explanation for this oddity resides in the word—compartmentalization. Criminals keep their religious beliefs and practices away from their everyday lives. Thus, while religiosityreligion and crime | Kenneth Padowitz, P.A. | Criminal Lawyers may exist, it exists without substance. Take these scenarios, a man touching a cross hanging around his neck whenever he cursed but has no problem snatching purses or committing assaults. An adolescent takes the time to read a religious pamphlet, but admits to stealing the pamphlet from someone else. The Italian mafia has patron saints, and members of organized crime often build elaborate religious shrines in their homes. The disturbing fact is that they may be sincere about engaging in religious practices and following certain religious teachings. However, it does not translate to how they live day to day nor how they treat other people.

Another explanation is that some criminals adopt religion during periods when they are highly sentimental. These periods may follow the birth of a child or the death of a parent or some life-changing event. Usually, the taking up of religion by a criminal is to reinstate a warped view that in spite of everything, he is a good person. Furthermore, he or she, or the attorney representing the criminal may itemize these religious practices and charitable acts as evidence of good character. It gets clearer when you understand that criminals also treat religion as they do individuals, groups, and organizations. They deviate from the original white-listed purpose and adapt the tool to serve their selfish, reproachful interests.

A criminal would pray for God to help him or her on earth. He or she would ask God to grant him or her success in his or her illegal operation and enlarge his or her enterprise. If caught in a rut, he or she would call on God to get him or her out as when he or she prays for the judge to be lenient in his or her sentencing. However, the most chilling explanation is when criminals use the cloak of religion to perpetrate unthinkable crimes. We have heard instances of clergymen taking advantage of members of their congregation by fleecing them monetarily or in some other form like demanding sexual favors from “bereaved widows and lonely divorcees.” Certain priests have used their privilege to abuse victims. Furthermore, religious teachings offer a potent tool to use in tyrannizing children, spouses, other family members. Religious doctrine has been used as a mantle used to inflict emotional or sexual abuse, demand subservience, perpetrate acts of domestic violence, and impose severe corporal punishment.


A criminal may demonstrate apparent sincerity in espousing noble intentions and being pious. However, this sincerity is short-lived and has limited reach. It certainly fades away when the insatiable egotistical desire for control and power over others set in. Religion may be a good addition to the life of a responsible individual, but for a criminal, it often has negligible or zero positive effect – or may even have the opposite intended effect.