Monday, February 01, 2010

Breaking news: Priest does something wrong!

What makes a news story interesting? One thing is if it is unexpected (e.g., man bites dog rather than dog bites man.) When it comes to religion and crime, this means that its very "interesting" when people who we don't expect to do wrong actually do so.

Here's a fine example. I read in the paper recently about a Catholic priest in Illinois who shoplifted butter and a sofa cover at Walmart. He also switched pricetags on a pricier item.

According to this site, there is over 30 billion dollars of retail loss every year, probably a lot from shoplifting. So why in the world would a newspaper in Connecticut publish information about a minor shoplifting case in Illinois?

The media's proclivity for highlighting religion-crime stories skews people's perspective on the matter. In fact, studies have found that religion is associated with less criminal behavior, and I would venture that priests shoplift less than most segments of society. Still, from the media, we can incorrectly conclude that religion is associated with high rates of crime.

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