Chapter 6 - From the book: The sign of the last days - when?
Is Today’s "Increasing of Lawlessness" Unprecedented?
NEVER BEFORE in history has there been so much news reporting. And news media TV, radio, newspapers seem to be preoccupied with the bad news. Every day people get their minds flooded with a concentrated dose of the latest miseries and evils in different parts of the world.
"After absorbing the news of today," noted historian Barbara Tuchman, "one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists.... This has led me to formulate Tuchman's Law, as follows: 'The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold.'" 1
No doubt this "Tuchman's Law" at least partially explains the feeling of so many that the world today is worse than ever before and that mankind today faces an unprecedented increase of lawlessness worldwide. Increasing crime is yet another feature graphically portrayed as evidence of the last days by some expositors of prophecy. In Good-bye, Planet Earth, Adventist author Pierson says:
. . . we are witnessing the worst epidemic of lawlessness the human race has ever experienced. Our cities are beset with rape, murder, riots, looting, and arson. (Page 3)
Later in the same publication (page 50) the author quotes from deceased Adventist leader Ellen G. White’s Testimonies, in which she wrote:
The condition of things in the world shows that troublous times are right upon us.... Bold robberies are of frequent occurrence. Strikes are common. Thefts and murders are committed on every hand. Men possessed of demons are taking the lives of men, women, and little children. Men have become infatuated with vice, and every species of evil prevails. (Vol.9,p. 11)
The interesting factor here is that Ellen White wrote these words over 75 years ago and the picture she paints of crime then (about 1910) is certainly every bit as dark as that portrayed by current protagonist of end-times pronouncements. Crime is frequently dealt with in the Watchtower Society's publications, which attempt to give it the greatest proportions possible, since the Society explains Jesus' words about a future "increasing of lawlessness" (Matthew 24:12, NW) as describing one more feature of the supposed "composite sign," the fulfillment of which has been seen only since 1914. Thus The Watchtower of June 1, 1983, pages 5 through 7, states that after World War I "the setting was ripe for an increasing of lawlessness on a magnitude never before beheld," and that mankind since 1914 has seen "the greatest increase of lawlessness in all history." Evidently the Watch Tower Society trusts that the reader will have no difficulty in accepting these statements, because any discussion of the extent of lawlessness in the past is totally missing, and no historian, criminologist, or any other authority is quoted in support of the claim. The Society seems to take it for granted that lawlessness in the past was something rather trivial compared to that of our time. The Watchtower of July 15, 1983, for instance, indicates that the newsmaking incidents of robbery combined with murder are features almost unique to our century:
There was a time when a burglar, or robber, took only valuables. Now they take lives as well. (Page 5)
Such a statement, of course, is nothing but an idealization of the past in order to put a special emphasis on today's lawlessness. Actually robbery accompanied by murder may be found in every age, and it has been particularly rampant in times of famines and plagues. When syphilis scourged Europe in the sixteenth century, lawlessness and immorality saw an enormous increase everywhere. In Rome, for example, `'murder and robbery were quite in the regular course of things."2 Similarly, the generation that survived the Black Death in the fourteenth century witnessed a sharp increase of lawlessness and violence:
A striking feature about the last half of the fourteenth century is the greater amount of lawlessness then prevalent, and the number of out breaks, both popular and intellectual, against authority.3
The simple truth is that violence, collective as well as individual, has always formed an integral part of man's history. In the work Violence in America sociology professor Charles filly points out that "Western civilization and various forms of collective violence have always been close partners.''4 Of the period following upon the French Revolution, for example, he says:
Western history since 1800 is violent history, full enough of revolutions, coupe, and civil wars, but absolutely stuffed with conflict on a smaller scale. The odd thing is how quickly we forget.5
What about today? Most experts seem to agree that for a number of years serious crimes have been increasing sharply in many countries. But is this circumstance really something new and unique to our time? Could it be that many have been given this impression only because of man's forgetfulness, or ignorance, of the past?
Industrialization, urbanization and crime
The Industrial Revolution that set in towards the end of the 18th century
profoundly changed Western society. New machines and the use of mass-production
techniques brought about a growing prosperity in many countries. One consequence
of this was a rapid growth of city populations (urbanization). Many people
in the 19th century, including sociologists, lawyers, judges, and so forth,
feared that these changes would break down the traditional moral and social
checks on man's behaviour, causing increasing lawlessness in society. A
prevalent view in the 19th century, therefore, was that industrialization
and urbanization were necessarily accompanied by rising crime.
To substantiate its thesis of an unparalleled increase of lawlessness, the Watch Tower Society draws extensively upon this supposed connection between industrialization, urbanization and rising crime. Evidently assuming that this idea is an established truth, The Watchtower of June 1, 1983, page 5, states that "the Industrial Revolution and the growing cities" paved "the way for our 20th-century increase of lawlessness," and even claims that "These developments, unique to our modern age, have contributed to the greatest increase of lawlessness in all history."
The facts, however, do not support this explanation. Though seemingly impressive and convincing, it has nevertheless been turned down by recent critical studies.
In the 19th century, the two major industrial countries were Britain and France. To test the theory that industrialization and urbanization breed an increase of lawlessness, the crime rates of these two countries in the last century have been carefully studied. In 1973 criminology historians A. Q. Lodhi and C. Tilly published their study of crime and violence in l9th-century France. Their investigation clearly demonstrated that rising crime did not accompany the growing industrialization and urbanization of this country. In fact, some types of crime even declined during the period! The authors concluded:
The linking of crime, violence and disorder to urban growth must fall into the category of things people simply want to believe, for the belief rests on no substantial foundation of verified fact or systematic analysis.6
The studies of crime rates in l9th-century Britain, the most advanced industrial society of that period, show similar results. "The British data are quite clear as to decreases in official crime rates in the latter half of the nineteenth century," says Canadian sociologist Lynn McDonald in his summary of these studies.7 That crime does not experience a virtually automatic rise with the spread of urban industrial life was also demonstrated by history professor Roger Lane in his study of criminal violence in l9th-century Massachusetts. Rather than rising, crime tends to decrease with growing industrialization and urbanization. Lane explains:
All evidence points to the long-term drop in criminal activity as normative, and associated with urbanization. But the process was not complete without the accompaniment of rapid industrial development also. It was this which provided the means of absorbing raw immigrants, of fitting them into a 'system' which socialized and accommodated them into more cooperative habits of life.8
Thus the claim that the growing industrialization and urbanization of the last century paved the way for an unprecedented rise of lawlessness in our century is confuted by the actual facts. The claim is based upon a theory that, on closer examination, turns out to be scarcely more than a l9th-century myth.
The present "crime wave"
History demonstrates the fluctuating nature of crime waves, their surging
and ebbing, and surging again. The pattern is seldom constant or uniform
in every country. In a number of nations, crime has unquestionably been
on the increase for a couple of decades.9 In Italy,
serious crimes have increased steadily since 1965, and in France since
1970. West Germany has experienced smaller increases from about 1965, while
in England and Wales crime has been growing ever since World War II. Other
industrialized countries, such as Japan, Switzerland and Norway, still
have relatively low crime rates.10
How new, then, is the present growth in crime? Is it as novel or unique as some of the end-times expositors infer?
Attempting to prove the distinctiveness of today's crime increase, The Watchtower of June 1, 1983, on page 7, quotes the British criminologists Sir Leon Radzinowics and Joan King as saying, in their book The Growth of Crime, that "the one thing that hits you in the eye when you look at crime on the world scale is a pervasive and persistent increase everywhere. Such exceptions as there are standout in splendid isolation, and may soon be swamped in the rising tide."
True, these authors, writing in 1977, argue that crime has indeed been increasing in many countries for a couple of decades. They do not say, however, that this increase is unprecedented in history. Commenting upon the theory proposed by certain modern criminologists that 'there is not more violence about, but that we are much more sensitive to violence than were our less civilized ancestors,' the au-thors also admit:
That is all very well if the comparison goes a fair way back.... A longer view, peering into the middle ages, or even the eighteenth century, might well give more substance to the theory. With all our crime, our society as a whole is more secure, less savage, than theirs.... The mere fact that towns had to be walled, that castles had to provide refuge for the surrounding villagers and their belongings, that travelers had to take their own protection with them, bears witness to the constant threat of brigands as well as the needs of warfare. Indeed the two would often be hard to distinguish.11
The end-times expositors we have cited in this book reside in the United States. Doubtless their view of the world is colored by the situation there. The United States, however, is hardly typical of the world as a whole. Perhaps these proclaimers of the end-times realize it, perhaps not, but few countries today compare in violent crime with the United States:
In numbers of political assassinations, riots, politically relevant armed group attacks, and demonstrations, the United States since 1948 has been among the half dozen most tumultuous nations in the world.12
In an article on homicide, the December 1984 Issue of Science magazine
observed that American murder statistics are higher than those for most
other countries. American gun homicide, for example, is "50 times
that of" England, Germany, Denmark and Japanese!13
No wonder, then, that those currently stirring up religious expectations
about the nearness of "the end" focus predominantly on crime
in the U.S.A.
Back in 1970 Hal Lindsey, for instance, saw the increase in American crime as an important sign of the times. In his book, The Late Great Planet Earth, pages 100, 101, he wrote:
A short time ago we saw a graph in a newsmagazine which indicated the climb in serious crime in the United States from 1960 to 1968. If you had been an ant on that page you would have had a very steep stairway to climb each one of those eight years. While the number of crimes in America was increasing 122 per cent, the population rose only 11 per cent. Many people have stopped talking about the 'crime rate.' They now refer to the 'crime epidemic.'
Similarly, in the Watch Tower Society's publications, crime in the U.S.A.
has a central place. It is, in fact, the only country for which the Society
has published crime statistics and crime curves covering a decade or more.14
Few expositors, however, honestly tell their readers that when it comes to crime - as well as to many other things - the United States is not representative of the world at large. But even taken by itself, how true is the claimed enormity of crime increase in that land? How reliable is the evidence upon which such claim is made?
The FBI Uniform Crime Reports
Most of the figures and curves published by the Watch Tower Society
are said to be based upon the Uniform Crime Reports published by the FBI,
the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The magazine which The Late Great
Planet Earth quoted from regarding crime (U.S. News and World Report),
also based its figures on this same source. (See footnote 3, for Chapter
9, of the book mentioned.) These FBI reports have been published annually
since 1933 and include statistics on "serious crimes," namely,
murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and
auto theft, with arson added in 1979.
This might seem to be an ideal, unimpeachable source of evidence on which to base discussions of American crime statistics. It may come as a surprise to many, therefore, to learn in what embarrassingly low esteem the trustworthiness of the FBI reports has been held by many authorities.
Actually, for at least the first three decades after 1933 the FBI's statistics are far from reliable. Until recently, and especially before 1967, sociologists and criminologists frequently debunked them, pointing out numerous flaws in the methods used for collecting the data.
Thus Thornstein Sellin, "the dean of American statisticians," has been quoted as describing the quality of the United States's crime statistics as 'the worst of any major country in the Western world,' while Harvard crime expert Lloyd E. Ohlin described the statistical data as "almost worthless - but it is the only thing there is."15 Were the statistics really that bad? What effect does their trustworthiness - or lack of it have on charts and comparisons with crime in earlier periods?
"The largest source of error," observes the well-known sociologist Charles E. Silberman, "comes from the fact that the Uniform Crime Reports include only those crimes that are reported to the police and that the police, in turn, record and pass on to the FBI."16 The problem here is that the majority of crimes are never reported to the police. Additionally, the police often have not passed on to the FBI all crimes that are known to them. How this allows for manipulation of evidence, and the misleading effect this can create, is explained by Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General of the United States:
Most crime is never reported to police. And much crime is inaccurately reported. Erroneous crime statistics are often used to create the impression that the new chief is doing a good job, or to support a movement to add more police. Frequently an apparent increase in crime really reflects an improved effectiveness in law enforcement, or in the reporting of crime itself. 17
Changes in crime reporting, then, may create a statistical rise in crime
that does not correspond to the actual fact. As one example, in Portland,
Oregon, in 1973 and 1974 twice as many burglaries were reported to the
police as in 1971 and 1972. This would mean a sharp increase in burglary
during the period. An investigation, however, revealed that burglaries
had actually decreased during those years!'18 Many
other similar cases could be cited.19
Due to constant criticism of its statistics, the FBI has periodically revised and tightened its data-gathering system.20 This has resulted in an increased willingness among police officials to keep better records of crimes and tell all about them to the FBI - thus causing additional "paper increases" in the statistics.21 Nevertheless, at the same time the FBI's statistics have gradually become more reliable. Especially since 1967, when the U.S. government began to sponsor a number of national crime surveys as independent tests of the FBI's statistics, the attitude towards the Uniform Crime Reports has changed. Criminologists now usually agree that despite all inaccuracies, the overall trends depicted in the Uniform Crime Reports during the last 25-30 years are essentially correct, and that the increase in serious crimes since the 1960's is real.22 If that is so, what significance does their earlier, and serious unreliability have? And what is amiss in the use of U. S. crime statistics by some proclaimers of the last days?
The problem lies in the comparison of crime statistics from post-1960 years with those of pre-1960 years. To fail to recognize, or to acknowledge to readers, how unequal the reliability of the statistics for those two periods actually is, results in deception, unintentional or otherwise, for the readers. In the Watch Tower publications the FBI National Crime Reports have been repeatedly referred to or quoted without any such acknowledgement, without a single word of caution. The statistics were even improved upon or "adjusted" - in The Watchtower of June 1, 1983 - to show that "serious crimes in the United States increased over 1,000 percent from 1935 to 1980" (page 6). This statement, and the table presented on the same page to prove it, conceal another fact of the utmost importance: that prior to the increase which set in in the 1960's, crime rates in the United States had been stable or even been decreasing during a whole quarter of a century! That period may, in fact, have been unique in the history of American crime. As crime authority Silberman states:
For a quarter of a century, the United States, perhaps for the first time in its history, enjoyed a period in which crime rates were either stable or declining and in which fear of crime was relatively low. The death rate from homicide dropped by 50 percent between 1933 and the early '40s; despite the FBI's highly publicized gun battles with John Dillinger and other criminals, the rate of other serious crimes (rape, robbery, assault and burglary) declined by one-third.23
As one clear evidence of this decline, we may take a closer look at
homicide, the most serious of the "serious crimes." Homicide
is, in fact, the only crime for which national long-term statistics exist
that are independent of the FBI figures. Carefully kept by the Department
of Health, Education, and Welfare, these statistics are considered "reasonably
accurate," at least from the early 1930's onwards.24
In 1933, as shown by these figures, the murder rate in the United States was as high as 9.7 per 100,000 population. Then it began to decrease, until it reached a level of only 4.5 per 100,000 towards the end of the l950's.25 The increase since then has raised the number of homicides to over 20,000 annually, or to 9.8 per 100,000 population in the early 1980's. A large, certainly newsworthy, increase, truebut this is nearly exactly the same rate as in 1933! Although very high, the present American murder rate is not unique then, but represents a return to an earlier level.26
The weakness of much of the statistical evidence used by proclaimers of the nearness of the end is clear. Yet crime is admittedly high in a considerable number of countries. Does this make our twentieth century distinctive? Is it possible that such high crime rates in the post- period (or the post-1948 period pointed to by Hal Lindsey) have no parallels in earlier centuries?
Crime in the historical perspective
While crime today is given much space in the Watch Tower publications, any discussion of the extent of crime in the past is wholly missing. The same is true of most expositors whose writings tend to whip up a feeling that these are, far and away, the worst of all times. The fact that crime reached high levels in a number of countries in the 1920's and 1930's, and then again in the 1960's and 1970's, does not prove that our century has seen more lawlessness than have earlier centuries. The evidence, in fact, is that crime was very often more prevalent in the past than it is today.
As observed by popular writer Colin Wilson, "the history of mankind since about 2500 B.C. is little more than a non-stop record of murder, bloodshed and violence." Thus he concludes that "human history has been fundamentally a history of crime."27 Not only is this conclusion corroborated by a study of past crime, historians who have delved into the subject also conclude that there is probably less crime today than in the past. Professor John Bellamy at the Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, even says:
In most modern western countries the level of crime has been so re-duced that the misdeeds of the few serve rather to provide the ordinary citizen with escapist entertainment than to instill a sense of fear.28
For those who have been victims of crime or who now live in high crime areas, crime does indeed instill fear. But the fact remains that the actual percentage of the population affected is still not as great as it has been in earlier times of man's history. What a social evil crime often could be in the past is exemplified by Bellamy's own study of crime in England in the period 1290-1485:
In the England of the later middle ages the preservation of public order was very often the biggest problem the king had to face.... Neither before that time nor since has the issue of public order bulked so large in English history.29
In the past, crime and disorder periodically seem to have been more or less out of control in many countries. It was with the growth of industrialization in the last century that the situation began to improve
In the past, crime and disorder periodically seem to have been more or less out of control in many counmes. It was with the growth of industrialization in the last century that the situation began to improve gradually in the western countries:
During the first half of the nineteenth century, all cities were dangerous of Europe as well as the United States. In the second half, London, Paris, and other European cities were bringing crime and disorder under control, while American cities were not - or so it appeared to contemporary observers.30
In the middle of the twentieth century the situation in American cities gave evidence of having changed also. In 1960, crime researcher Daniel Bell, for example, judged that "a sober look at the problem shows that there is probably less crime today in the United States than existed a hundred, or fifty, or even twenty-five years ago, and that today the United States is a more lawful and safe country than popular opinion imagines."31 True, that was written before the most recent crime wave began in the early 1960's. But still in 1978 Silberman, commenting upon the fact that "crime, violence, and lawlessness have been recurrent themes throughout American his" tory," concluded that '`the country was more dangerous in the past than it is now."32 Recently performed long-term studies on crime trends give support to this conclusion, as will be demonstrated in the following section.
The evidence of long-term studies: The United States
While criminologists often point out that there is probably less crime
today than for example in the last century, relatively few thorough long-term
studies seem to have been done that show the trends during longer periods.33
Those existing, though, give a most interesting picture of the
overall trends of criminal activity.
For the United States, there seems to be no national long-term study reaching back to the period before the FBI's Uniform Cnme Reports. But a number of reliable local studies have been done that cover individual cities and states. None of these indicate that crime today has increased above that of the nineteenth century.
No comprehensive crime figures were collected prior to 1933, but studies of individual cities have been made, and they show that crime caracteristically has its ups and downs, rather than a steady growth along with the population. James Q. Wilson, a crime expert at Harvard, has said that the early studies 'agree that during the period immediately after the Civil War the rate of violent crime in the big cities was higher than at any other time in our history. 34
The most recent studies even indicate a sharp decline in some places:
None point to any clear proportional increase in serious crime within particular cities. And the most recent suggest, on the contrary, a some" times striking proportional decrease.35
Crime statistics from the last century are, quite naturally, often very defective, but there are important exceptions. One example is Massachusetts, whose criminal records from the 19th century "are probably better than any kept elsewhere."36 The conclusions drawn from these are, therefore, of major significance:
While all criminal statistics are subject to some doubt, the central conclusion about figures from Massachusetts may be stated with confidence: serious crime in metropolitan Boston has declined sharply between the middle of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th.37
Space does not permit a detailed discussion of the extent of crime in l9th-century U.S.A., but the following quotations from some cities may give a general idea of the situation:
Washington, D.C., just before the Civil War:
Riot and bloodshed are of daily occurrence, innocent and unoffending persons are shot, stabbed, and otherwise shamefully maltreated and not infrequently the offender is not even arrested.38
New York, in the 1850's:
A 'stone's throw' from Broadway, in the 1850's in New York was the Five Points, the most notorious place in the city. 'Policemen entered the Five Points only in pairs, and never unarmed. Respectable New Yorkers avoided the district in daylight.... It was the haunt of murderers, thieves, prostitutes and receivers of stolen goods.'39 Chicago, 1860's to 1890's: In the twenty years after the Civil War, the murder rate quadrupled, far outstripping the growth in population, and muggings were common" place; in 1893, one Chicago resident in eleven was arrested for one crime or another.40
Los Angeles in the 1850's:
In a single Fifteen-month period in the 1850's, a total of forty-four murders were recorded in Los Angeles, then a a town of only 8,000 inhabitants—about forty or fifty times as high as the city's current murder rate .41
San Francisco and the Barbary Coast, 1860-1880:
The Annals of San Francisco, a compilation of contemporary records of the 1860's, reports that in the downtown wharf sections 'no decent man was in safety to walk the street after dark; while at all hours, both night and day, his property was jeopardized by incendiarism and burglary.' From 1860 to 1880, there was not one night along the Barbary Coast with. out at least one murder and innumerable robberies.42
The long-term studies as well as the examples quoted above clearly show that the present crime rate in the United States is not unique in the history of American crime. As Silberman explains, many Americans may have come to feel that way because the present rate was preceded by an abnormally low, perhaps uniquely low, crime rate in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's:
Because domestic tranquility appeared to be the norm, Americans who came of age during the 1940's and '50s were unaware of how violent and crime-ridden the United States had always been. Although they continued to romanticize violence in detective stories and Westerns, an entire gen eration became accustomed to peace in their daily lives. To most Americans, therefore, the upsurge in criminal violence that began around 1960 appeared to be an aberration from the norm rather than a return to it.43
To be sure, most countries have not had the dramatic rise of crime seen in recent decades in the United States. If even such high-crime activity in the United States is not unprecedented, likely even being surpassed in the nineteenth century, we might therefore expect to find that current crime rates in many other countries are even more clearly below their l9th-century levels. Do long-term studies exist to corroborate this?
The evidence of long-term studies: The case of France
Probably no other country in the world can present more reliable crime
statistics for the 19th century than France:
The data available concerning urbanization, crime, and collective violence in France during that period are exceptionally rich and exceptionally uniform, compared with the data available for any part of the world today or yesterday.44
When, therefore, Abdul Qaiyum Lodhi of the University of Waterloo and Charles Tilly of the University of Michigan in 1973 presented their careful study of Iong-run trends in crime in France, covering the period from 1826 to 1962, their results cannot be easily dismissed. And their conclusions about that 136-year period are indeed surprising:
CRIME IN FRANCE, 1862-1962
Over the long run, crimes against properb [burglary larceny, theft] appear to have declined significantly in frequency, crimes against persons [murder, assault, rape] fluctuated mildly without trend, and collective violence varied sharply from year to year.45
While the rate of violent crimes remained essentially stable during the 136-year period, property crimes showed a very marked decrease. As shown by the curve on page 173, persons accused of crimes against property decreased dramatically from 174 per 100,000 population in 1836 to less than 10 per 100,000 in 1962! 46
Although long-term studies covering both the 19th and the 20th centuries are missing for most countries, the trend in France can hardly be unique. The evidence is, however, that the trends have varied, not only from one country to another, but also from one type of crime to another. In some countries certain types of crime have been increasing over the long run, while others have remained rather stable or even been decreasing.47
Some countries with low crime rates today, such as Japan and China, are known to have had much lawlessness in the past, although long-term studies to establish this statistically are lacking. China, the most populous nation on earth, has had a sharp decrease of lawlessness since 1949.48 In the last century lawlessness in that country was much aggravated due to "plundering gangs" that often ravaged some of the provinces. Their activities were greatly intensified during the Taiping rebellion (from 1850 to 1864).49
The impact of "Tuchman's Law"
As the evidence demonstrates, crime clearly has its "ups and downs." The recent "crime wave" is no exception to this rule. In some countries crime now shows a downward trend, having reached a peak in the 1970's or early 1980's. In the United States crime rates have been declining violent crimes very sharply ever since 1980.50 Often people seem to take it for granted that crime must be increasing, even when it is not. As pointed out by Canadian criminologist Lynn Mc-Donald, even scholars have often been so committed to the theory of rising crime that they have been blind to the factual data. Speaking of his own research on the crime rates in Canada, McDonald says:
I know, personally, how long it took me to conclude that post-war crime rates in Canada were not rising (except for minor offenses); I kept redrawing the graphs and recomputing the slopes, thinking I had made a mistake! 51
Why, then, do people seem to take it for granted that the crime rate is rising, even when it is not? Without doubt, sensational, and sometimes distorted, newspaper coverage is to a great extent responsible for this. Commenting on the newspaper headlines about street violence, terrorism, rapes, and so on in Sweden, Johannes Knutsson of the Swedish Crime Prevention Council described "the explosion of violence last summer [in 1983] as 'the journalists' brainchild' . . . The newspapers twist reality, and the politicians, deliberately or otherwise, abet them in doing so." Emphasizing that a number of types of crimes have actually been decreasing lately, Knutsson said that society formerly "used to incorporate a lot more everyday violence.... Criminal violence too used to be more widespread, for example in Sweden at the turn of the century, when there was a lot more heavy drinking." 52
Escalating reporting on crime in the newspapers, then, may be a highly misleading indication of the true state of crime rates today. The validity of "Tuchman's Law" - quoted at the beginning of this chapter - was recently brought out in a study by sociologists Jason Ditton and James Duffy. They found that there is an "over-emphasis upon crimes of violence" in the newspapers, and particularly an "overreporting of crimes involving sex."53 Further, "an increasing body of evidence indicates that people's growing anxiety about crime is not commensurate with increases in crime itself," and that "the fear of crime is currently out of all proportions to its incidence."54 As one example of this they refer to another study that revealed that "In a period when the incidence of violent crime declined by 2.4 per cent, newspaper coverage of violent crime increased by 11.1 per cent"!55 Lawlessness, then, often increases only in the newspapers, and, one may add, in some religious journals and literature seeking to create an excited state of mind regarding claimed fulfillment of a prophetical "sign."
The evidence to support the claim that our century is experiencing increasing lawlessness worldwide "on a magnitude never before beheld" simply does not exist. To the contrary, historical studies, including long-term studies of crime rates in specific cities, states and countries, indicate that there was often greater lawlessness in the past than today in many places. This may well have been true on an earthwide scale, in view of the fact that crime usually increases in times of famine, pestilence and war.
More than this, there is sound reason for understanding Jesus' words about increasing lawlessness (in Matthew chapter twenty-four) as applying, not to the world in general where criminality has always been widespread, but to conditions among professed servants of God, including those within the Christian congregation he would establish. His preceding words indicate this, for he describes what will befall his followers due to persecution and goes on to say that "many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people." It is in such religious context that he then says, "Because of the increase of wickedness [lawlessness], the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:9-13, New International Version) Jesus, in fact, used the term "lawlessness" elsewhere in describing, not obvious criminals, but the hypocritical, dishonest conduct of religious persons. (Matthew 7:23; 23:28) In his parable of the wheat and the weeds he likened such doers of lawlessness to the spreading weeds and said that in the day of judgment his angels would "collect out from his kingdom all things that are causing stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness." Matthew 13:38-41, New World Translation.
Sensationalist newspaper reporting creates a fear of crime that often is
"out of all proportion to its incidence." Pictures like the above on the front
page of Awake! of October 22, 1979, foster the idea that the whole world
is as crimeinfested as certain streets i New York City or other big-city
areas of the United States
The writings of Jesus' apostles amply testify to the growth of wickedness and lawlessness that developed among professed Christians in later years of the apostolic period. (First Timothy 4: 1; Second Timothy 3:13; Second Peter 2:1-3, 10-14, 17-21) When Paul spoke of a coming revelation of "the man of lawlessness" he was not speaking of a source perpetrating common criminal activity such as robbery of physical property, or acts of physical violence such as murder, but of the greatest lawlessness of all, the usurpation of the place and authority that rightly belong only to the supreme Sovereign, God, combined with the religious deception of fellow humans. Paul also warned his contemporaries that "the secret power of [such] lawlessness is already at work." (Second Thessalonians 2:3-11, NIV) The writings of the apostle John in particular show that such increase of lawlessness within the first-century congregation did indeed cause the love of many to grow cold, making necessary John's strenuous urging on behalf of love of one's brother. - First John 2:9-11; 3:4, 10-18.
The preceding understanding of Jesus' words at least is in harmony with the known facts, confirmed by the Scriptural accounts themselves. The same cannot be said for the claims made by those who assert that our day is seeing a Biblically foretold increase of crime of unsurpassed proportions. The known facts are to the contrary.
What authorites say about lawlessness today and in the past
|THE UNITED STATES:
"Crime, violence, and lawlessness have been recurrent themes throughout American history.... the country was more dangerous in the past than it is today."—Charles E. Silberman, Criminal Violence. Criminal Justice, New York, 1978, pp. 21, 22.
"All evidence points to the long-term drop in criminal activity as normative, and associated with urbanization."—Roger Lane in Violence in America (ea. by H. D. Graham & T. R. Gurr), Washington, D. C., 1969 p. 366.
"Over the long run [for the period from 1826 to 1962], crimes against property appear to have declined significantly in frequency, crimes against persons fluctuated mildly without trends, and collective violence varied sharply from year to year."—A. Q. Lodhi & C. Tilly American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 79, 1973, p. 296.
"Do we just now experience a boom period of crime? Well, the answer, to that question lies in the future. But it must be pointed out that in Finland the population had lived through considerably worse periods." -Vaino Rantio, Commissioner at the Criminal Investigation Department in Helsingfors; in Nordisk Kriminalkrönika 1982 (Scandinavia' Crime Chronicle 1982), Göteborg, 1982, p. 21.
"Something we very often forget is that society used to incorporate a lot more everyday violence.... Criminal violence too used to be more widespread, for example in Sweden at the turn of the century, when there was a lot more heavy drinking."—Criminologist Johannes Knutsson in News & Views (an information paper for immigrants in Sweden) No. 28, Sept. 14, 1984, p. 1.
|THE WESTERN WORLD:
"In most modern western countries the level of crime has been so reduced that the misdeeds of the few serve rather to provide the ordinary citizen with escapist entertainment than to instill a sense of fear."— John Bellamy, Crime and Public Order in England in the Later Middl. Ages, London and Toronto, 1973, p. 1.
Comparing our modern society with those of the Middle Ages and the eigh teenth century, the British criminologists Sir Leon Radzinowics and Joan King state: "With all our crime, our society as a whole is more secure, less savage than theirs."—The Growth of Crime. London, 1977, p. 11.
1 Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (London, 1978), p. xviii
2 Matts Bergmark, Från pest till polio 3rd ed. (Stockholm, 1983), p 74.
3 A. M. Campbell, The Black Death and Men of Learning (NewYork, 1931), p. 129.
4 Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. A staff report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, edited by H. D. Graham & T. R. Gurr, Vol. 1, Washington D.C. 1969, p 5. This work will henceforth be referred to as VIA.
5 VIA, Vol I, p. 7
6 A. Q. Lodhi and C. Tilly "Urbanization, Crime, and Collective Violence i 19th-century France:" American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 79, 1973, p 296.
7 Lynn McDonald, "Theory and evidence of rising crime in the nineteenth century," The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, 1982, p. 406.
8 Roger Lane, "Urbanization and Criminal Violence in the 19th century: Massachusetts as a test case" VIA, Vol 2, p. 366. Thus, as Lane points out, "over a long term urbanization has had a settling, literally a civilizing, effect on the population involved." (Ibid., p. 359.)
9 Gwynn Nettler, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, Canada, gives the following overall pictures: "Serious crimes have increased over the past decade or two in rich countries and in poor, 'developing' lands.... During this time, crime has probably declined or remained stable among two different categories of countries: (1) those under fresh totalitarian rule and (2) those that have been able to channel 'Western influence' in such a way that primary group control is maintained."—Explaining Crime, 2nd ea., (New York, 1978), p. 20.
10 Nettler, pp. 20, 21.
11 Sir Leon Radzinowics and Joan King, The Growth of Crime (London, 1977), pp. 10, 11.
The American criminologist J. S. Cockburn, writing in the same year, comments on the present "crime wave" in similar vein: "Crime for our generation has become a common place. Conditioned by a bombardment of criminal 'statistics,' we tend to regard a soaring crime rate and the attendant debates on law enforcement, capital punishment and gun control as the peculiar monopoly of, and to some extent the natural price for, our modem industrialized society. Viewed in a broader historical perspective, however, our preoccupation with crime appears less novel. Most nineteenth century Englishmen were convinced that crime was increasing as never before; eighteenth century commentators were thoroughly alarmed by what they saw as a rising tide of violent criminality; and complaints of the imminent breakdown of law and order punctuated the Middle Ages." Of the increase in crime and lawlessness reported from many countries in the late sixteenth century, Cockburn remarks that "The trends were apparently universal." (Crime in England 1500 1800.
Princeton, New Jersey, 1977, p. 49.)
12 VIA, Vol. II, p. 628.
13 Science, December 1984, pp. 43, 46. Two thirds of all homicides (murder arid manslaughter) in the United States are committed with guns, which is explained by the fact that "Americans own more guns per capita than any other people in the world." (Ibid. p. 46)
14 Although these show terrifying increases, they are also a bit confusing. For the decade 1960 69 the Awake! of January 22, 1970, states on page 9 that serious crimes in the United States increased 88 percent. The Watchtower of October 15, 1972, however, raised the figure for the period to 148 percent (page 614). Still more impressive are the tables shown in the June 1, 1983 issue of The Watchtower, telling that "serious crimes in the United States increased over 1,OOO percent from 1935 to 1980" (page 6). Most of this claimed increase must have occurred since 1960, as the figures given by the Watch Tower Society indicate an increase of only 77 percent up to that year!
15 VIA, Vol. II p. 372. Sophia M. Robinson of the Columbia School of Social Work even stated that "the FBI's figures are not worth the paper they are printed on." (Ibid., p. 372.)
16 Charles E. Silberman, Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice (New York, 1978), p. 448.
17 Ramsey Clark, Crime in America (Cassell & London, 1971), p. 45
18 Nettler, pp. 70, 71. Increasing willingness to report crime at least partly explains the statistical increase in rapes in recent years. The women's liberation movement is supposed to have played an important part in this. (Nettler, p. 56; Silberman, p. 452.) Although a high number of rapes still go unreported, there is also evidence to show that many rape reports are unfounded. Of all rapes reported in 1968, for instance, 18 percent were, on investigation, found to tie groundless! (Clark, p. 46)
19 The example of the New York police reports has nearly become classic: "Crime figures, the FBI thought, seemed remarkably low. On checking it found that in 1950, for example, the number of property crimes reported by the police were about half those reported privately by insurance companies.... Following a survey by police expert Bruce Smith, a new system of central recording was installed.... In the one year following the change, assaults rose 20C per cent, robberies rose 400 per cent, and burglaries 1,300 per cent over 1948 figures. As Smith concluded, 'such startling rises . . . do not in themselves represent an increase in crime, but rather a vast improvement in crime reporting."' (Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology, Glencoe, Illinois, 1960 pp. 138, 139.) Similar improvements in the reporting system have created other "paper increases??' for instance in Philadelphia between 1951 and 1953 and in Chicago in 1960. (Bell, p. 138; Silberman, p. 449.) A different type of artificial crime increase concerned larceny. defined as stealing of property valued at more than fifty dollars. The increase of this crime was for many years partly caused by inflation. Many items, that originally were worth less than fifty dollars, sooner or later passed the fifty dollar limit and so crept into the statistics when stolen. (Clark, p. 53.) Larceny theft was not re defined until 1973.
20 In 1958, for example, the whole statistical system was overhauled, after which the Bureau "doesn't consider the pre and post 1958 figures to be entirely fungible [interchangeable!." (VIA, Vol. II, p. 376.)
21 VIA, Vol. II pp. 380, 381; Silberman, p. 449.
22 V/A, Vol. II, pp. 381 385; Silberman, p. 449. Yet there are still great discrepancies between the FBI's reports and the national crime surveys, that are difficult to explain. (See L. E. Cohen & K. C. Land, "Discrepancies Between Crime Reports and Crime Surveys:' Vol 22 No 4 November 1984 on 499 529.)
23 Silberman, p. 30
24 Silberman, p. 28; VIA, Vol. II, p. 375.
26 Criminal homicide in the U.S.A. passed 20,000 as early as in 1974. As this was twice the number murdered in 1965, the Awake! of November 22, 1975, expected that "there will be over 40,000 killings a year by the early 1980's." (Page 3.) Nothing of the kind took place. The murder rate in the early 1980's was still roughly the same as in 1974. Since then it has decreased!
27 Colin Wilson, A Criminal History of Mankind (London, 1985), pp. 4, 6. True, Wilson also says, with reference to the outbreak of World War II, that the world at that time "exploded into an unparalleled epoch of murder, cruelty and violence" (page 5). This statement does not refer to ordinary social crime, however, but primarily to the bloodshed during the war. As was shown in the chapter on wars, the death figure during World War II was probably unparalleled if measured in absolute numbers, but not if measured in proportion to the entire population.
28 John Bellamy, Crime and Public Order in England in the Later Middle Ages (London and Toronto, 1973), p. 1.
29 Ibid., p. 1
30 Silberman, p. 23
31 Bell, pp. 137, 155.
32 Silberman, pp. 21, 22.
33 Historical criminology is a new discipline. The first conference on the subject was held as
recently as in February 1972. (((Nor disk Tidskrift for Kriminalvidenskab, Vol. 61, Hefte
3. 4., 1973, p. 285.)
34 Attorney Fred P. Graham in VIA, Vol. II, pp. 374, 375.
35 History professor Roger Lane in VIA, Vol. II, pp. 359, 360.
36 Ibid., p. 360.
37 Ibid., p. 360. The most comprehensive study; "covering the years from 1849 to 1951, shows a drop of nearly two thirds in those crimes which the FBI classifies as 'major.'"
38 Silberman, p. 22. The quotation is taken from a report by a U.S. Senate committee investigating crime in the city.
39 Bell, p. 155
40 Silberman, p. 23.
41 Silberman, p. 23. This means a murder rate of 440 per 100,000 population annually!
Today, when the average murder rate in the U.S. is about 7.9, Detroit has the highest, with
a Mte of 39 per 100,000. As this ranks among the highest in the world, Detroit has been
given the title `'murder capital of the world." (Nettler, p. 24.) Yet this is very much below
the rate of many cities and places in the past. In the period 1680 1720, for instance,
Corsica had 900 homicides annually in a population of 120,000, which means an annual
rate of 750 per 100,000 inhabitants! (P. Arrighi, Histoire de la Gorse, Toulouse, 1971,
p. 275.) Some states in l9th century America had a murder rate that surpassed that of
Detroit today. In his study of murders in Texas from mid 1865 to mid 1868, Barry A.
Crouch shows the annual murder rate in this state to have been at least 40 per 100,000
population during this period. (]ournal of Social History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Winter
1984, pp. 218, 219, 229.)
42 Bell, p. 156.
43 Silberman, p. 3 l. Compare also page 19.
44 Lodhi and Billy, "Urbanization, Crime, and Collective Violence in 19th century France:' American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 79, 1973, p. 297.
45 Lodhi and Tilly p 296.
46 Lodhi and Tilly, p. 301. Since 1970 serious crimes have been increasing. (Nettler, p. 20)
47 In Sweden serious crimes showed a very sharp increase after about 1950. The careful study by Hans von Hofer, published in 1984 and covering the period 1750 1980, reveals that thefts passed the 1850 level in about 1950 and then increased sharply for two decades. Murder and manslaughter, too, have been increasing in Sweden since World War II, but still are much lower than in some periods in the 19th century. As compared with the last century, assaults show the most conspicuous decrease. (See Hanns von Hofer, Brott och straff SCB, Sverige, SCB, Stockholm, 1984, pp. 5:6 and Diagram 3:3 and 5:5.) The increase in thefts may partly be due to increased reporting. Hofer points out that, after the intro auction of householder's comprehensive insurances, these have been built out especially since the 1950's, embracing 91% of all households in Sweden in 1978. As the insurance companies pay only in cases of thefts reported to the police, the number of reported thefts has certainly increased sharply since the 1950's. On the other hand, Hofer notes that there is a lot more to steal today than in the past. About tray of the 515,000 thefts reported in Sweden in 1981 referred to motor vehicles, bicycles, and shoplifting. (von Hofer, pp. 3:2, 9f) Recent studies indicate that violent crime usually decreases with higher economic development, while property crimes tend to increase. (The Development and Change magazine, Vol. 13, No. 3, July 1982, pp. 447 462; Sociology and Social Research, Vol. 70, No. 1, 1985, pp. 96, 97.
48 The increase that began in the end of the 1970's has since been stopped by the application of more severe measures See the Awake! July 8, 1974, pp. 5 9, and March 8, 1984, pp. 29, 30.
49 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, I 5th ea., 1980, Vol. 4, p. 360.
50 Time magazine, April 8, 1985, pp. 35, 37. In Sweden the curve of serious crimes began to show a downward trend in about 1970. (von Hofer, page 5:6 and Diagram 5:5.)
51 Lynn McDonald, p. 417. An increase set in in 1966. (Nettler, p. 26.)
52 News & Views (an information paper for immigrants in Sweden), No. 28, Sept. 14, 1984, p. 1.
53 Ditton and Duffy, "Bias in the newspapers reporting on crime news:' The British Journal
of Criminology, Vol. 23, No. 2, April 1983, p. 162.
54 Ibid., p. 164.
55 Ibid p. 164.