How greater religious literacy could help London’s soaring crime rate

A Police Officer stands next to floral tributes at the scene where a 17 year old girl was shot and killed in Northumberland Park (Getty Images)

What on earth are we going to do about London’s surging crime rate? The ever-provocative Sir Simon Jenkins has a great deal to say on this matter, and despite the provocations, he is right on almost all counts. We certainly need more policemen on our streets to reassure the general public – single policemen, not in pairs and not in cars. And we need (yes, I know I have said this before) to decriminalise drugs.

Drug dealers do not keep records and do not submit statistics, but it is quite probable that most of the knife killings that happen in London are to do with territorial disputes between different drug dealers. Because drug dealing operates beyond the law, the only possible way it has of resolving disputes is through violence. This explains, naturally enough, why the world’s most violent countries are also epicentres of the drug trade and vice versa. It also explains that if you are a law-abiding member of the general public you are unlikely to be murdered unless unlucky enough to be caught in the crossfire of wars between cartels, as happens only too often in Mexico, for example. Indeed the Mexico experience is the one we all need to take heed of. People who think the war on drugs can be won need to look at Mexico, where at least 100,000 people have been killed in recent years.

At the same time as the practical steps outlined by Sir Simon Jenkins, we also need to take some moral, even evangelical, steps. We need to proclaim to all – and this is surely the role of all believers, as well as the role of the institutional Church – that every life is sacred, and that every murder represents a terrible offence against God and an irreparable loss. At present this is not something I am hearing very much. Added to this we need to ensure that murderers face justice in this life, and we need to stress that unless they repent they will face everlasting damnation in the next life as well.

Whatever Eugenio Scalfari make think to the contrary, Hell is real, and it is waiting for those who die in mortal sin. “Woe to those who die in mortal sin!” as Saint Francis, yes, kind and gentle Saint Francis, so rightly pointed out.

Instead of telling it like it is, perhaps for fear of offending people who, if not offended by this, will surely find something else to be offended by, we have soft-pedalled on Hell. The result is that we have given a licence for sin, and allowed the impression to pass that the taking of human life is not perhaps the serious matter it was. In so doing we have made life immeasurably worse for the millions of people who live in communities wracked by murderous violence.

I am completely aware that some of the world’s most violent cities are also some of its most religious: one thinks, for example of Nairobi, full of good Christians and devout Catholics, where going out at night is very dangerous. It would be wrong to equate the rise in murder with the decline in religion: even in London some of the murderers come from communities where going to Church is very much part of the fabric of life. In those communities, Churches may have an important role to play, and may be placed to play it in a way that the police, for example, are not.

It can certainly do no harm to emphasise the sacredness of life at all stages of development, and the dreadful consequences of ignoring this. On 5th May, the March for Life takes place in London. The surge in knife crime in the capital is just another reason among many to be there.