Goffs School Religious Studies

Topic 4 – Crime and Punishment

Crime & Making Moral Decisions

A crime is when the law is broken.

A law is a rule established by Parliament and enforceable by the police and courts.

Breaking rules or doing some ‘bad’ things may not be wrong. For example, breaking school uniform rules is not a crime nor is cheating on your girlfriend/boyfriend.

As British citizens we have a duty to be law abiding citizens.

Christians accept this. The Bible says ‘obey the authorities’.

People may use their conscience to decide right from wrong. Some say or conscience is using our knowledge of right or wrong to make decisions. It could be due to nurture or psychological. Others say it may be God telling us what we should do. Jewish people refer to it as a ‘fear of God’.

Our conscience might conflict with the Bible or the law. If we need to steal to feed a starving family or the law was racist, we may decide to break the law or religious rules.

However, our conscience might be influenced by friends and loyalties. It might make mistakes.

Therefore, we must take responsibility for our OWN actions. Perhaps ask for forgiveness and repent if needs be.


We must have justice for law to work. Justice means we should all be treated fairly. “There has to be justice…”

A definition of ‘justice’ is the due allocation of punishment and reward’.

Justice can also include social and economic issues, such as poverty, racism and inequality.

Justice  & Christianity

The Bible teaches that God is ‘just’. He will judge your good and bad deeds on the Day of Judgment.

The Bible teaches that injustice is a sin.

The Old Testament (the Old part of the Bible) says punishment should involve retribution, ie. “life for a life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.’

Jesus’ teachings were different to the Old Testament (He appears in the New Testament). Jesus said love should overcome injustice. For jesus, justice needs to be non-violent.

Jesus taught, “Do not judge others so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others’ (Bible). This means everyone should be treated the same under the law.

Unlike ‘an eye for an eye’, Jesus advised He’s followers to ‘turn the other check’ in terms of violence.

Jesus said the Christians should fight injustice. He said he had come to help ‘outcasts’ who are treated unjustly.

Christians such as Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr have fought in racist injustice in South Africa and the USA respectively.

Make Poverty History also showed Christians fighting the injustice of poverty.

Buddhism and Justice

Buddhists believe in showing metta (loving kindness), so justice would be a way of showing metta to victims and their families.

Justice is needed as punishment and reward are a result of karma; all actions have consequences.

Justice could be the process of re-becoming (symbolic rebirth). You life and situation changes as your receive justice for past acts.

Buddhists aim to end suffering. Justice could be part of that process.

Justice through punishment and reward could be seen as Right Action.

Buddhists also believe that social and economic injustice will lead to crime and civil unrest.

A Buddhist would say that economic injustice will lead to inequality. The karmic consequence may be stealing for food or even envy.

Social inequality, especially racism, will go against Right Action and Understanding.


Muslims and Justice

Allah is just. Allah will treat everyone with justice and fairness. This is taught in the Qur’an.

Allah will judge us on the Day of Judgment. Those that are good and just will enter paradise and those that are unjust will go to hell.

Shari’ah law is Islamic Law. Muslims teach that all Muslims are equal under the law. All thieves will have their hands chopped off regardless of status etc.

Zakah – Muslims believe in giving to the poor. All Muslims must give 2.5% of their income to the needy. In this way they fight the injustice of poverty.

Muslims believe in is unjust to charge interest on loans etc. You are making money out of the poor. Some banks offer Islamic bank accounts where interest is not paid.

Aims of Punishment

Protection – where the punishment protects us from the criminal. Prison is an example of this.

Retribution – where the punishment allows the victims to ‘get their own back’. An example is the death penalty – this could be seen as ‘an eye for an eye’.

Deterrence – where the punishment puts others off committing the crime. In some Islamic countries, shari’ah law is followed strictly. A thief may have his (or her) hand cut off. This is done in public so everyone can see!

Reparation – where the punishment gets the criminal to fix or pay back what they have done. Community service for vandalism is an example.

Reformation – where the punishment reforms the criminal. It should make them into a better person.

Vindication – where the punishment fits the crime and people feel they have justice. For example, you would give a tough sentence to a violent criminal, but not for a speeding ticket. The law needs to be respected and must be fair!

Death Sentence – ‘Capital Punishment’

Capital punishment is where a criminal is killed by the authorities (government/state) for their crime.

It still exists in 71 countries around the world, including the USA,China, Iran and Japan.

The UK has abolished (no longer uses) the death penalty.

Arguments for:

It protects us as the criminal is no longer alive and cannot hurt us.

It is a deterrence and puts criminals off crime.

It allows retribution – victims’ families can get their own back.

Some Christians agree with it as the Bible says ‘an eye for an eye’, which suggests you can take a life for a life.

Christians may also argue that, “those who live by the sword die by the sword” (Bible).

Buddhists may agree because it is the criminals karma. A consequence of there actions.

Buddhists may also agree because crime may results from the 3 poisons (greed, hatred and ignorance). These will lead to negative consequences.

A Buddhist may see the killing of a dangerous criminal as Right Intention.

Islam (shari’ah law) allows the death penalty for murder (an, in some countries, converting to other religions and even homosexuality). The Qur’an also uses the phrase ‘an eye for an eye’.

Arguments against:

The person might be found to be innocent later on.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

In the USA capital punishment does not reduce crime.

It is inhumane. No form of capital punishment can be 100% painless.

Some Christians say that the Ten Commandments mean cannot kill – “Thou shall not kill”.

Christians believe you should “love you neighbour”.

Jesus forgave His executioners. Christians should forgive. Perhaps reformation, repentance and quilt should be encouraged.

Buddhists would be against as it goes against the 1st Precept (not to harm life).

Buddhists would see it as going against Right Action as it involves killing.

The executioner will get bad karma and a poor rebirth.

Islam allows the murder victims family to ask for ‘blood money’ instead of killing the criminal.

Religious offence:

This is where you break religious rules. An example would be breaking the Ten Commandments. For example, ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’, which is blasphemy. Someone might say ‘Oh my God’ without really talking about God. Some religious offenses are against the law, such as ‘Thou shall not murder’, but some are not, such as ‘thou shall not commit adultery’.

In Buddhism this may include breaking the 5 precepts or going against the Eight Fold Path.

In Islam, religious offenses include going against shari’ah law. This includes adultery, homosexuality and converting to another religion.

Drugs & Alcohol

What are drugs?

  • A drug is a chemical that alters the body or has a reaction when taken.
  • Some drugs are taken for medical reasons and to improve health and well-being. These include antibiotics, which are taken for infections.
  • Some drugs are abused and used for reasons other than health.
  • Some drugs are called ‘social’ or ‘recreational’ drugs. These are taken for a ‘buzz’ or for a ‘high’. Some are legal, such as alcohol, and others are illegal, such as cannabis. People take ‘social’ drugs with friends.

Alcohol and the Law

  • You have to be 18 to buy alcohol.
  • You cannot drink and drive (there is an alcohol limit).
  • You cannot serve or sell alcohol to a drunk person.
  • You cannot be in charge of a child under 7 if drunk.
  • Pubs need licences to sell alcohol on there premises.
  • An ‘off licence’ has a licence to sell alcohol to be taken off the premises.

Effects of Drugs

  • Different drugs have different effects.
  • Caffeine is in tea and coffee. It is a stimulant that keeps people alert and awake.
  • Alcohol is a depressant. Although it relaxes people, in the long-term it causes depression. It makes people drunk. They can lose control and have accidents.
  • Cannabis is often taken as a relaxant. It can be taken for pain relief or for a high. It can cause long-term mental health issues.
  • Cocaine is a stimulant that lasts for 30 minutes. It is highly addictive and expensive. It can lead to heart problems and convulsions. An overdose can kill.
  • Heroine is an opiate. It relaxes people and relieves pain. It is, however, highly additive. It causes dangerous withdrawal symptoms, which make people sick. An overdose can kill and diseases can be spread through dirty needles as most addicts inject the drug.
  • All drugs can ruin family life as the pressure on loved ones can be very difficult. It can also lead to financial ruin (money problems).

Classification of Drugs

  • Drugs are classified into A, B and C categories. A is the most dangerous with the hardest punishments.
  • Class A drugs include heroine, cocaine and ecstasy.
  • Class B drugs include cannabis (weed) and amphetamines (speed).
  • Class C drugs include anabolic steroids and tranquilizers, such as vallium.
  • Class A punishments include up to 7 years for possession and life for supply (dealing).
  • Class B punishments include 5 years fo possession and 14 years for supply/dealing.
  • Class C varies. People can get 2 years for possession and 14 years for supply/dealing. However, if a doctor prescribes a drug like steroids, it is not illegal to have it on you.

Religious Teachings on Drugs

  • The Christian Bible teaches ‘you body is a temple of the holy spirit’. This suggests you should treat it with respect as it is God made and holy like a temple.
  • The Bible says, ‘Thou shall not kill’ (10 Commandments). Taking and dealing drugs can lead to death and violent crime. Christians would be against this.
  • The Bible says Christians should ‘obey’ the governing authorities. This suggests they should follow the governments laws, especially on drugs.
  • Jesus taught people to ‘love their neighbour’. Selling illegal drugs is not a loving thing to do.
  • The 10 Commandments states, ‘Hounour your mother and father’. This suggest ruining a family through drug use is wrong.
  • However, Jesus healed the sick so He would not be against using drugs as medicine to improve health.


Buddhist Teachings

  • The 5th Precept is to avoid intoxicants.
  • Drugs can kill you. This goes against the 1st Precept – avoid harm.
  • Drugs affect your mind. This prevents Right Mindfulness.
  • Being on drugs or drunk can lead to bad karma, such as falling over, and even a bad rebirth or re-becoming (you may end up paralysed).
  • Selling drugs harms others. This goes against Right Livelihood (occupation).
  • If drunk, you may say things that upset others. This will go against Right Speech and the 4th Precept.
  • The Buddha told Sigala to avoid these kind of things and to care for his family.
  • Addictions can be seen as greed (one of the 3 poisons).
  • Additions cause suffering (dukkha), which Buddhists seek to avoid.

Muslim Teachings

  • Islam teaches that a person who is not sick does not need medicine (drugs).
  • Taking drugs is forbidden under sharia (shari’ah) law, which is Islamic law.
  • The Islamic Holy book, the Qur’an, states, ‘Do not make your own hands contribute to your own destruction’. This suggests you should not ruin your body with drugs.
  • Islam teaches that Allah gave you a body. It is HIs to take away, not the drug users.

Reclassification of Cannabis

  • In 1971 cannabis was classified as a class B drug. It was considered dangerous and was seen as leading to other drugs – a ‘gateway drug’.
  • In 2004 it was re-classified a class C drug because it was seen as less dangerous than other class B drugs. Although dealers could still get time in prison and you could still get arrested for having it, police started issuing ‘cautions’ (warnings) or fines. Young people got sent for rehabilitation with Youth Offending teams.
  • However, in 2008 the government decided it was too dangerous to be C. This was partly because skunk cannabis (stronger cannabis with more THC) was becoming popular.

Arguments for cannabis being a class B drug

  • Some people say cannabis should be a class B drug because it causes mental health issues. Over 1,000 people get psychotic illnesses from taking it.
  • It is also a class B drug because 500 people a week are admitted to hospital for taking it.
  • It is considered a gateway drug – it leads to other, more serious, drugs

Arguments for cannabis being a class C or even legal drug

  • However, others say it should be C because it is less dangerous than other class B drugs.
  • Some say it should be legalised as it is no worse than alcohol and tobacco.
  • Some people argue that if it is legalised the government can tax cannabis and put money into the NHS and education.
  • It grows naturally, like tobacco.
  • Rastafarians believe that the Bible says God created ’herb’, which means cannabis is OK, but not other drugs.

Helping Addicts

Both Christians and Muslims help addicts.

The Parable of the Lost Son (Bible) often means we should forgve and help those that have made mistakes.

Jesus said ‘love your neighbour’ (Bible), which includes addicts.

Jesus wanted to help ‘outcasts’, which must include addicts.

The Salvation Army and Quakers (both Christian groups) help drug addicts, especially on the street.

Buddhists aim to prevent suffering.

Buddhists want to show metta and compassion to all living things.

Helping addicts will be Right Livelihood.

Muslims say Allah takes mercy on the merciful. It is merciful to help addicts.