Religion Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

David Hayward lays to waste the stereotype that you have to believe in God to be good:

I know some nice atheists. I know some not so nice atheists. I know some nice Christians. I know some not so nice Christians. But, in my opinion and experience, the worst not so nice people are the Christian ones because they use their religion to veil and even justify their not so niceness.

There’s nothing uglier than that.

It’s a simple truth: Religion doesn’t make you a better person. But it often makes you *think* you’re a better person. (For what it’s worth, atheism doesn’t automatically make you smarter than anyone else, either, only more honest in one aspect of your life.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • BobaFuct

    In terms of just general niceness (so not counting the bigotry/hate that comes so easily to religious people) I find that the worst people are the Sunday-only Christians…the ones who go to church because that’s what they were raised with, but who have relatively little in-depth knowledge and don’t really practice their faith during the week. Maybe because this is such a large portion of the general population the odds dictate that most assholes will fit in this category. Earnestly religious people tend to be very “nice” in my experience.

    Actually, I think that those on the more thoughtful ends of the spectrum (devout Christians, active atheists) tend to just be more aware of how their actions affect others and so are generally much more pleasant to be around (again, just from a congeniality/manners/hospitality standpoint).

  • ElRay

    Wow, read the comments on the original posts. Talk about proving the OP’s point.

  • doug105

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

    Steven Weinberg

  • WallofSleep

    “‘Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would
    have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.
    But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

  • Michael W Busch

    That line has problems. Good people can and do do evil things without religion. What religion does often do is place evil things above challenge, making them hard to stop.

  • C Peterson

    “Good people” are those whose good actions outweigh their bad ones. “Bad people” are just the opposite. Nobody is all good, or all bad. All “good” people do some bad things, and all “bad” people do some good things.

    But you’re right that none of this has anything to do with religion, except to the extent that it often creates an excuse for otherwise good people to feel justified in doing bad things.

  • Nox

    Atheism doesn’t make you a better person. But it does give you the option to be a better person.

  • Houndentenor

    Atheism removes the religious excuse for being a horrible person.

  • Houndentenor

    I know some wonderful people and some absolute pathetic excuses for humanity all of whom are religious. all of them feel that they do what they do because of their religion. I don’t think that’s true but I won’t complain to much about the people who are kind and caring and out trying to make the world a better place. There are too few of those to begin with to argue about motives. The others, and they are the ones who will show up here to argue about this, use religion to justify their racism, sexism and anti-gay bigotry which are all opinions they’d have even if they weren’t religious at all.

  • Willy Occam

    This comic reminds me of a funny thing that happened to me a few years back:

    Where I work, there is a parking booth, and for a long time, there seemed to be a revolving door for the parking attendants, most of whom were kind of jerks. One year we got this smiley, chatty guy in the booth, which was a nice change for a while, until I started getting this weird vibe from him after a few obligatory conversations coming and going to work. One day he says to me, “I think I know something about you. You’re such a nice, friendly person… you must be a Christian male.” (This was during the heyday of “The Promise Keepers,” which is why I think he included the gender part.)

    I responded that he was half-right. He never quite interacted with me in the same way after that. I don’t know if it bothered him more to think that I was an atheist or a bald woman with a beard.

  • Bdole

    Conversely, sometimes a Christian/spiritual person seems so smart and logical I think to myself, “they’ll turn soon enough.”

  • Anna

    While I agree with the general sentiment, I also think it would be prudent not to paint with too broad a brush. Many theists sincerely believe that religion has improved their lives and made them better people. They’re likely to hear “religion doesn’t make you a better person” and ignore it, since it seems so obviously false in their case.

    Of course, in the vast majority of cases, they were already good people, but occasionally you do encounter those who converted from “rock bottom” positions and whose lives improved as a result of adopting religion. All things considered, it’s better to be addicted to Jesus than it is to be addicted to heroin. People might credit their religious conversion with putting an end to their criminal activity, substance abuse problems, dysfunctional relationship patterns, etc.

  • Ewan

    “For what it’s worth, atheism doesn’t automatically make you smarter”

    Sure it does. How ‘smart’ someone isn’t about how ‘good’ a person they are overall, or what they’re ‘worth’, but it is about how well they think. Religion scatters ‘Road Closed’ signs all over your mental pathways – there are thoughts you simply cannot let yourself think. Removing those barriers doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the right answer all the time, but it does make you better able to think, or, in short, smarter.

  • Alan Batterman

    Atheists just think that they are smart. How can anyone be sure that there is no intelligent force guiding the Universe? An agnostic is honest. He truthfully states that he is not sure where there is or is not some sort of deity.