“The law against murder is the number one thing preventing murder.” – Louis CK
Violent crime is a part of everyday life. It could happen to you or someone you know. Go on, take a second and think of an example. You most certainly have one. And you wonder “How could this happen? What kind of a monster would commit such a crime? Is he not at least scared of getting caught – by the police or the victim’s friends and family?”
As normal citizens we seek deterrents against violence. We know there are some bad people out there and they need to behave. To an extent, we know that they need to be scared straight. When a criminal knows he will go unpunished, he is much more likely to commit the crime. The stronger and more certain the punishment, the lower he will act on his evil impulses. No deep psychological finding there. Throughout our history, God has acted as an effective deterrent. He is the top cop.
We’ll take as read that God is a creation of humanity. It is an adaptation to strengthen the bonds within groups. Part of that strength comes from a belief that God is watching us and knows our inner most thoughts. People took an initial concept of God as something that was in control of nature and expanded its role into a force for monitoring your actions and even your intentions. God soon became a way to keep people in line. If the tribe elders cannot watch you all the time, they can at least say that God is watching you. This will help to keep you from considering mutiny, assaulting fellow group members, or defecting to another group. These were tribe-undermining activities that people did when the idea of God was developing. Tribes that would survive mutiny, and limit internal violence and defection needed to implement technology. That technology was God.
God and his church play several roles in the lives of groups. In the course of history, there have been moments when the need for a particular role is very strong and others when it’s lower. Author, Nicholas Wade explains that the stronger that need is, the more we should see religion flourishing. The lower the need, the less religious practice we should find. For instance, God and the church have played the role of supporter. They will help you and give you hope when times are tough. Wade points to the welfare system in Europe taking over the “support” role of the church. He explains how this could be a reason for the falling number of church goers and detachment from religious faith. With a less effective welfare system in the US, religion still has an active role in supporting Americans, both emotionally and on a more practical level – especially those in poorer areas. Should the American government adopt a more effective social support system, we would expect the role of the church to decline.
So what about the role of watch dog? As technology helps to make law enforcement more effective, we should expect the role of God to diminish. What’s more, as we move into a more inclusive society where people are more naturally nice to one-another, we should also see a diminishing of God’s role in keeping us “good of heart”.
Many studies look to find a correlation between the effects of religion on crime rates. Most religious groups will be happy to show that crime drops as religious participation increases. But another valid question is how religious participation is affected when crime drops. If there’s no crime, do we need religion?
When it comes to violence, technology is helping us catch criminals. By killing anonymity, technology tells us who is who and who does what. Be a jerk online and people know who you are. All those obnoxious YouTube comments are not helping their owners. Facebook is such a superficial fake environment exactly because everyone knows they have to stay in line because their friends and family are watching. Oh the offensive things I would like to say on Facebook but don’t! And it’s not just online that traceability is getting more effective. The use of DNA in forensics is making it harder to be a criminal. Leave a hair or a finger print at a crime scene and you’re screwed. They’ll find you.
The vices of theft, violence, and general dickishness are being sorted out by technology. Thanks to digital tracking, video surveillance, and DNA matching, it’s getting harder to commit a crime without being caught. Yes, we’re all up in arms about being watched all the time, but that’s not the point. It’s happening. We are being kept in check by technology and this is leading to more effective law enforcement and lower crime rates. Even businesses are under increased scrutiny to see if they are doing “the right things”. God can take a well-needed break. In the future, people will continue to behave better not because God will smack them, but because technology will catch them.
How will God fare in the coming century with his work being outsourced and automated? It takes effort to convince your flock that there is an all-powerful being watching over them. For a long time that effort was rewarded with compliance. As information spreads, convincing the people is getting harder and as technology gets better, the reward of compliance is getting cheaper. If these things really match up, we should see God slowly being relegated to a more passive existence.