A sign on an Indian wall.
There's quite a bit of evidence to suggest that religious belief generally makes people a little more cooperative - at least, within the tribe, - self-controlled and law-abiding (though globally the evidence is mixed on the latter point).
The really interesting question is why. Is it because religion instils moral codes, making people more virtuous? Or because it instils fears of divine punishment for misdeeds?
A new study suggests the latter. It found that a widespread belief in hell leads to a lower crime rate - while a strong belief in heaven predicts a higher crime rate. Here's the abstract:
Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative ‘prosocial’ behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior. Here, we investigate these effects at the societal level, showing that the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates. These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality.
Perhaps when we read about the latest example of some awful crime we should complain by saying, "This country is going to heaven."