Crime and Character: The Overwhelming Evidence

Updated Jul 10, 2011
Crime and Character: The Overwhelming Evidence

Despite the fact the US has been enduring tough economic times, recent statistics show that crime rates have been falling.

Obviously, this flies in the face of the liberal belief that the cause of crime is poverty. And one liberal columnist, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, dared to look at the facts and ask the question, "Did Liberals Get It Wrong on Crime?"

Cohen has this to say about falling crime rates: "Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty," which was his view at one time, he says, "have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be" Cohen continues, "as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed."

That's not bad news. It's great news! When it comes to the cause of crime, liberal ideology cannot resist the overwhelming evidence.

And I love Cohen's conclusion: "The latest crime statistics," he writes, "strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does."

Exactly. Cohen nailed it. And as you have heard me say many times on BreakPoint, crime is the result of moral failure, of bad character, of wrong moral choices.

But I wish Cohen had gone further. He could have asked what causes bad character, and how do we develop good character?

How do we instill in people the virtues of self-restraint, prudence, charity, hard work? It's never too late for anyone, of course, but ideally, these virtues are inculcated at a young age. And, ideally, these values are modeled and habituated in the context of a loving, intact family, and among the intermediate structures of society—church, civic groups, schools.

That's tough to do in America today, where the traditional family is under assault, and where our schools fail to even discuss old fashioned concepts like virtue and character.

Indeed, if Mr. Cohen wanted to see what's wrong with character formation in our schools, he could walk on over to the D.C. City Council, which decided to buy more expensive condoms to distribute to school kids. The plain old condoms weren't, well, popular or fancy enough. So they decided to hand out a more-expensive, better-known brand.

So, what are D.C. school kids learning? If you've got an animal instinct, there's no virtue in deferring it. Instant gratification is all that matters. Just be sure to protect yourself. And do it in style

It's impossible to learn character in that kind of environment.  We're habituating bad behavior, and then wondering why we get kids without character who end up committing crimes. Or, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his book "The Abolition of Man,": "We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst." 

You are going to hear me talk a lot on BreakPoint about the importance of character. But today, I want you to do two things: First, go to Colson and view my "Two Minute Warning" on the topic of character. It's important. Second, go to the Colson Center bookstore and get yourself a copy of the Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. If I could recommend only one book on the importance of character, the Abolition of Man would be it.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 


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