Diary

Is poverty the root cause of crime? No, the lack of a moral foundation, values, and social support system is

Recently I read an article by a man I follow on twitter who I admire and respect.  His name is Ed Latimore, and he’s a boxer, studier of physics, and writer.  He’s a deep thinker who has a lot of wisdom for someone his age, and growing up in poverty and without a stable two parent family, like he did, I can relate to a lot of what he says.

However, due to my Christian faith, I see the world in a fundamentally different way than he does, and for this reason I often find myself disagreeing with his ideas on various topics.

Recently, he wrote about his experience growing up in “the hood”, and the lessons he learned from that.  He made five points, and I agreed with all of them except one, which was that most violent crime is done for monetary reasons.  I strongly disagree with this because I think Ed has it upside down.  I felt the need to explain why I see it differently from a Christian perspective, so what follows is my response to this particular point in his article.

 

 

For years we’ve heard liberals make the argument that radical Islamic terror isn’t really driven by what Islam itself is all about and its core teachings, but rather, it’s being driven by the fact that many young muslims are growing up in poverty and are joining radical terrorist groups simply to try to escape poverty or express their anger because of it.

Conservatives have always pointed out that this is an absurd argument, because we know that there are many madrassas in Muslim countries around the world that have imams who brainwash children and teach them to hate all infidels (non-Muslims), especially Jews, and that fighting and killing them in jihad is a noble thing they should get involved in when they grow up.

In fact research shows that Muslims who grow up with wealth and a proper education are more likely to commit acts of terrorism than their poorer and less educated peers.

So this has very little to do with poverty, and everything to do with the lack of the right moral foundation and Judeo-Christian values.

 

In the black community, poor kids aren’t necessarily being brainwashed, but instead are being taught nothing at all, which can be just as dangerous, because then the kids are influenced by their peers and what they see in the popular culture, which is a culture of death.

 

My opinion on this topic is informed by the bible, which says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. Many people think it says money itself is evil, but it doesn’t say that.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter if one is rich or poor, one can desire money in both situations.

 
I think the truth is that even when a poor kid in the hood steals something valuable, and even if his motivation is to sell it and make more money, it’s not because of the money itself that he’s doing it.  Rather, it’s often for deeper psychological reasons, such as to gain acceptance among his peers, or to fill the void that was created in his life by not having a father growing up.  This doesn’t justify his immoral behavior, but many times it can explain it.

The fact that boys who grow up without fathers are much more likely to commit violent crimes, even when compared to boys who are just as poor as they are, suggests that these crimes weren’t committed because of their lack of money, but rather, because they weren’t affirmed by loving parents, weren’t accepted by friends, or had other emotional/psychological needs that weren’t being met.  They use violence as a subconscious way to express themselves and their anger from being abused, neglected, or just not having meaning, purpose, and direction in their lives.

Of course there will always be a certain subset of the population who are born with genes that predispose them to violence and sociopathic behavior, and for these people, even being raised by loving parents and having everything they need in life often isn’t enough to prevent them from giving in to their dark tendencies.

But even these boys are much less likely to go down the wrong path when they’re surrounded by good influences instead of bad ones, or none at all, regardless of whether they’re poor or not.
In fact, one study showed that in general rich people desire money even more than poor people even though they have more of it because what they already have makes them obsessed with it and greedy for more.

 

In terms of the problems within the inner cities in America, I think the high rates of robbery, gang violence, and other crimes are merely a symptom of the problem, which isn’t poverty.  Poverty surely makes it worse, but I don’t believe it’s the primary driver of the problem.

Rather, it’s the lack of morals and values taught to these kids, and a lack of family and social support networks that would provide stability in their lives.  If they had those things, they’d be far less likely to steal and commit other crimes.  In fact the research backs this up.

When you compare kids who grow up without fathers who are in poverty to those who are still poor but have a stable two parent family, the latter group have much lower rates of high school drop out, drug use, violent crimes, and more.  There is a lot of research to back this up.  In fact Rick Santorum wrote an entire book on it, called “It Takes a Family”.

 

Think about it, why has the crime rate among blacks risen so much since the 1960s?  Are black kids poorer now than then?  Definitely not, in fact even the poorest kids these days have far more in terms of food and material things than even middle class kids had before the 1960s.

So what changed?  It’s simple: starting around the 1960s, the family in general, but especially the black family, began to disintegrate, as this research shows.  Marriage rates plummeted and out of wedlock birthrates skyrocketed.

I believe there’s a direction connection between the breakdown of the black family and the epidemic of violence, crime, and generally bad behavior among young black men and women today.

The fact that many of them are also poor just highlights this reality and excacerbates it, but isn’t the root cause of it.

 

The relevant question is, does poverty make people more likely to commit crime and in general make them more prone to all bad behavior?  I think the answer is clearly no, and once again, the statistics and evidence bear this out:

 

“Juveniles of upper socioeconomic status are just as likely to engage in delinquent patterns of behavior as those of lower socioeconomic status, but they’re driven by different things,” Piff added. “Lower socioeconomic-status juveniles report that alienation and ostracization from communities and increased need leads them to commit certain types of transgressions, while wealthier adolescents report increased willingness to take risks and an increased sense of power and entitlement.”

The research simply doesn’t support the idea that when you have less money it makes you more likely to do bad things than people who already have enough money to meet their needs.

“When it comes to notions that lower-class individuals are more likely to engage in violent crime and criminality overall, “when I dug into research on how violent offenses vary according to socioeconomic status, a lot of the findings were counter-stereotypical — it’s really a mixed bag, and not as consistent as you might think,” Piff said. “There’s no correlation between per capita income and per capita violent crimes and property crimes.””

In the New Testament Jesus had very strong words about how wealth affects one’s ability to be a good person and get into heaven:

“When the young man heard this, he went away in sorrow, because he had great wealth. 23  Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”…

Why does Jesus use such a vivid analogy here?  I think it’s His way of saying that the reason it’s so hard to be wealthy and holy at the same time is because a rich man is under constant pressure to maintain his wealth and possessions, and that constant need for supervision creates a distraction that eventually consumes him and takes his mind off of God and the needs of others.

Also, wealther people have more time to focus on themselves and their needs and desires compared to poor people, who have to spend most, if not all of their time struggling to survive.  So when you’re spending more time pleasing yourself and focusing on your desires, naturally it’s going to create at least a tendency to become more self-centered.

This isn’t to say that all rich people are selfish or worse than poor people, or that it’s impossible to be a good and selfless person and also be rich.  I’m simply saying wealth often gets in the way of living a life of simplicity, humility, and sacrifice for others-  in other words, the kind of life Jesus lived and called on His apostles, and by extension, all of us to live.

 

 
The bottom line is that money is simply a tool that can be used for good or evil, but contrary to what many seem to think, having more of it actually doesn’t make you happier.  To the contrary, it has a tendency to make you more paranoid and obsessed with losing it, which in turn tends to make you bitter, angry, selfish, and envious of people with even more money than you, even if you have a lot.  The envy in turn makes you greedy and desirous to make even more money, while maintaining what you have and not losing the social status that comes with it.

The only way one can be happier with more money is if one regularly gives it away to those who need it more, or spends it on things other than one’s own selfish wants and needs.

For kids growing up in the hood, it’s important that they escape poverty, but it’s even more important that they are taught the values and beliefs that will allow them to succeed in the world and live a meaningful life that’s focused on God and others rather than themselves.  This is what will bring them true happiness and peace and allow them to live lives full of meaning, purpose, and passion, not money and all the supposedly good things it brings with it.