If you have a Google News Alert for “LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm” like I do, you probably saw the large number of articles describing how sales of new baptisms slipped again in 2008. (I was unable to find any good statistics on sales of pre-owned baptisms.)
And if you are a scholar of religion like I am, you probably ran to their website so you could download the data and play with it in Excel. You probably also hunted down some UCR data on crime. You probably started searching for correlations. And you were probably surprised to discover that higher Baptism rates mean higher murder rates!
Now, whenever we discover a relationship like this, we need to be careful. In general, correlation does not imply causation. There are certainly other options available for explaining this relationship:
1. Reverse Causation
If you flip the graph, you could construct the alternative hypothesis “murder causes baptism”. However, dead people cannot be baptised (unless you are a Mormon, which most Southern Baptists are not). QED.
2. Third factor causes both
Maybe Global Warming is responsible. After all, when it’s hotter, the blood gets angry. And also when it’s hotter, the cool dip of a baptism seems more appealing. Some NASA data should clear things up:
Looks like that doesn’t work either.
If this weren’t a religious phenomenon, we could chalk it up to “coincidence”. However, as everyone knows, a coincidence is just “god’s way of remaining anonymous” (as opposed to everything else he does to remain anonymous, like being invisible and silent and imaginary). In the land of religion, there are no coincidences!
4. Both cause each other
Maybe there’s some sort of physical law linking both, like “Joel’s Law of Murder and Baptism”: M = sB + G, where s represents sunspots, and G represents god’s wrath. If this were the case, increasing the murder rate would necessarily increase baptisms too.
Clearly there is room for further research here. Nonetheless, my preliminary Sunday-morning social science makes one thing clear: Baptism kills!