There’s a Steven Weinberg quote that my atheist friends like to trot out (and I’m likely equally guilty of sharing).
With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
The problem is though that there really aren’t just “good” and “evil” people. Never-minding shades of grey, you have good people who do good and bad things, often depending on their hormones, their mood, peer pressure, and a variety of other causes.
This is why restorative justice programs are so important. Prisons are a very easy way to turn a “good” person who made a mistake into an “evil” person. Instead, by having the perpetrator own up to their crime and learn from it, we can begin to make better citizens, less likely to reoffend.
Go read the latest on the Rationalist Association blog for more about the success of restorative justice programs in some of America’s highest crime districts.
Critics deride restorative justice as the soft option, letting criminals off the hook, but in fact it can’t work without perpetrators acknowledging and taking responsibility for what they have done. “This is not a mediation,” explains Denise Curtis, Program Manager for the Restorative Community Conferencing program in Alameda County, “which usually operates on the assumption that no one is wrong or right. Here the message is ‘You have to make things right.’”
It’s a cultural change that takes time to build. But, according to recent data, it has led to dramatic reductions in fights, aggressive behaviours and suspensions where it has been implemented. The goal is to break “the school to prison pipeline”.