How Should We Respond to the Argument That ‘Just Because Christians Do Wrong Doesn’t Mean Christianity Is Wrong’?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses the idea that, yes, Christians do wrong, but that doesn’t invalidate Christianity! Or does it?…:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

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.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Can work the other way. Just because Christians may do the right thing doesn’t mean that Christianity is right

    • Gringa123

      Exactly, the two questions are mutually exclusive.

  • Baby_Raptor

    “Just because Atheists do wrong doesn’t mean that Atheism is wrong.”

    • ShoeUnited

      Bad equivocation. Atheism doesn’t give you any morality guidelines. That’s not its job or its definition. Religion does. And part of its job and definition is moral guidelines. Which it does not succeed at.

      • Baby_Raptor

        I wasn’t claiming it did.

        I was just thinking of the constant “You don’t believe like us and therefore you’re going to rot in hell!” remarks, and other things along those lines.

        • ShoeUnited

          Oh, your ambiguity threw me off. Sorry about that.

  • Glasofruix

    If your mythology was true there wouldn’t be wrong doing christians.

  • Jasper

    It does disprove a few of their core concepts. For instance, that religion/Christianity makes people be good and behave.

    Instead, what they have to retreat to is the concession that it’s the people who decide to be good and behave… and the religion is incidental.

    • Hugh Kramer

      The fact that this argument implies that religion is almost incidental to whether or not people decide to behave well IS one of the big points against it. The counter-argument that it makes more people behave better than otherwise is one that is testable and that should be brought up whenever it is made. That’s because by every individual or societal measure of well-being (divorce rates, crime rates, teen pregnancies, etc.), religion has either a neutral or negative effect as well.

  • viaten

    Peoples behavior, good or bad, doesn’t make any point of view about the nature of the world right or wrong. Views are right or wrong for their own reasons.

  • corps_suk

    Doing wrong as a person and being wrong as a belief are two totally different things.
    Its the same when they say, oh the teachings of christ are timeless so why not follow him.
    I can be good to my neighbor without an overlord teaching it to me, being good for goodness sake is far more moral to me.

    • The Other Weirdo

      There was an article recently(here or on Unreasonable Faith, I can’t remember) about a Christian disagreeing with exactly that point. You do what’s right because God commands it, which is right, not for its own sake. which is wrong.

  • Jim Charlotte

    One argument I often hear from Christians is that Christianity transforms and changes lives anecdotally – “I was a bad person but Jesus makes us better” argument. If Christianity does transform lives for the better, and offers better morality, then why are Christians really no better than non-Christians? For example, compare divorce rates. Compare teen pregnancy rates between very religious states and less religious states. Look at polls that show that evangelical Christians in America support the use of torture more than any other demographic. Compare crime rates of very Christian nations like the US and non-religious nations like Japan. If Christianity had an impact on lives and morality, then wouldn’t predominately Christian populations be more moral than predominately non-religious populations?

  • ShoeUnited

    It’s funny, the preview image has a person with tattoos holding a Bible thingy. Leviticus 19:28

    While I don’t usually blame them directly, there’s still the mental hurdle of giving money and fawning over cults of death, hate, and ignorance. I don’t hate christians, but I question how much they like humanity.

    • Pofarmer

      “but I question how much they like humanity.”

      Oh, hell. Go to the Catholic blogs on Patheos. They don’t like humanity at all.

  • primenumbers

    Well it does mean Christianity “doesn’t work” and hence can be discarded.

  • PsiCop

    There are a couple ways to look at this.

    First, Christians themselves trumpet their religion as transformative. It changes people, and makes them better than they would be without it … supposedly. A common canard is that Christianity makes people “moral.” If Christians themselves can’t or won’t live up to this, what does this say about Christianity?

    Following this, if Christianity were truly divine in nature, founded by a benevolent God when he walked the earth some 2 millennia ago as Christians believe, then Christianity ought to have some power to actually make its followers better. That they don’t, suggests this isn’t the case.

    But really, the bottom line is this: Outside observers can only know what “Christianity” is, or isn’t, by watching Christians. What they say and do reveals its nature. Their words and actions are evidence of the social and psychological value of Christianity as a religion. It isn’t wrong to judge Christianity poorly based on the failings of its followers. It might be the greatest things since sliced bread, but if its own followers can’t or won’t live up to its ideals, what good is it?

    • Alierias

      “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

      • The Other Weirdo

        I’ve heard that quote many times, but I’ve never understood how he knew that.

        • John Secular Smith

          It is fairly easy to compare Christians today to the literary figure, Jesus Christ, from the Bible.

          • C Peterson

            Yeah. Mostly, Christians today are nicer than the Jesus of the Bible, who in addition to being something of an asshole, was seriously screwed up. If Christians were too much like Jesus, we’d still be in the dark ages.

  • AntieQ

    Yes, Christians sometimes do bad things in opposition to the teachings of the bible and that can be attributed to the fact that people are not perfect. However, how do they explain the truly horrible things that Christians do/have done precisely because they are following the teachings of the bible? The former just plays right into their whole “We are all sinners” ideology, but the latter would certainly serve to invalidate Christianity as a moral guide.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    The good things about Christianity religion are not unique to religion, and the things that are unique to religion, are not good.

  • Gus

    Just because Christians do wrong doesn’t mean Christianity is wrong. To think otherwise would be fallacious. However, the relative extents to which Christians and atheists do wrong should point out that Christianity does not lead to more moral behavior among people, and that atheism does not lead to less moral behavior. This doesn’t mean Christianity is wrong, but it means that claims that Christianity is necessary for morality, that it provides an unwavering moral compass, or that it generally makes people behave more morally, are obviously false.

    What makes Christianity wrong is that nearly every claim that the Bible or Christian theologians have ever made that could be evaluated by scientific or historical study has been shown to be false.

  • Gavin Michael James

    According to the Christian worldview and the Bible, God desires for Christians to be holy (1 Peter 1:16) – which means “set apart” not perfect, because a perfect being that demands imperfect beings to be perfect would be ridiculous – John says things like “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone
    does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the
    righteous” (1 John 2:1)

    The argument should not be made that Christians are morally superior in behavior or that a majority of the elements of Christian morality can’t be reasoned out apart from divine revelation or that non-Christians can’t do good things (“Even the demons believe [in God]“; James 2:19). Any sense of superiority in Christianity or Christian ethics is in the higher standard of behavior and practice, an ideal rooted in the ideal of a morally perfect infallible Being. The forgiveness and grace of God is what perfects mankind; one cannot hope to achieve that apart from God.

    • blasphemous_kansan

      “The argument should not be made that Christians are morally superior in behavior or that a majority of the elements of Christian morality can’t be reasoned out apart from divine revelation or that non-Christians can’t do good things…”

      Agreed! Please let us know when loud and influential Christians stop making these derogatory arguments on a daily basis. That will be a great day.

      “Any sense of superiority in Christianity or Christian ethics is in the higher standard of behavior and practice, an ideal rooted in the ideal of a morally perfect infallible Being.”

      Good to know! So smug and superior-acting Christians don’t really think they’re better than everyone, they just are better and they just seem to be stuck up their own asses to the rest of us? So Christians are better because they’re better. Well, who could possibly argue with that evidence-free delusion of grandeur? Armed with this revelation I will never again be offended when a Christian directly insinuates that I am worthy of eternal suffering or non-equal rights.

    • Fentwin

      “Any sense of superiority in Christianity or Christian ethics is in the higher standard of behavior and practice”

      I wish you had used this as your first sentence, then I wouldn’t have had to read most of your drivel.

    • GCT

      Any sense of superiority in Christianity or Christian ethics is in the higher standard of behavior and practice, an ideal rooted in the ideal of a morally perfect infallible Being.

      So, it is morally perfect to be bigoted towards gays, atheists, etc?

      The forgiveness and grace of God is what perfects mankind; one cannot hope to achieve that apart from God.

      This makes absolutely no sense and is a non sequitur. Mindless drivel might sound good when you wrap it up in the catch-phrases of your religion, but it does not make for a compelling argument.

  • Al Dente

    My reply would be, no Christianity is wrong because it is absurd and has no evidence of its veracity.

  • R Rose

    The claim is that Jesus has the power to change lives. Either being a Christian and being inhabited by the holy spirit makes you a better person or it does not. If any religious group could show that the members of their faith is more ethical on average than other groups they might actually be on to something. It’s no proof of god, but it would be valuable info anyway. Thus far, it seems doubtful that Jesus can even teach them simple manners.

    • Captain Cassidy

      My feelings exactly. I think it’s perfectly fair to criticize and bring up Christians who are behaving in supremely horrible ways. They say they’ve got a god infilling them and informing their thoughts and behavior. Their behavior in the aggregate says otherwise. They’re not even up to the level of just being decent people, for the most part. Look at statistics in Christian-heavy states and religious zealot-heavy countries. Crime rate is worse, education is worse, you name it, there is *nothing* going on there that recommends their religion. If those states/countries were bastions of education, grace, safety, and all those other things, at least their religion would have something to recommend it. I wouldn’t think it was true or objectively real, no, but at least the lifestyle would make clear that Christianity works on the individual and societal level. But these places are instead filled with dysfunction, violence, predation, and evil, and every single person reading my words knows of a bunch of times when Christians have done something dishonest, hurtful, or hateful just in his/her eyeshot.

      They want to have it both ways: when they’re “witnessing,” then yes, their god is wunnerful and makes them better people, but when caught doing something hypocritical, they whine that they’re only human. I can find ways to be a better human on my own, thanks.

      • Ella Warnock

        Many christians subscribe to the idea that the way they live their lives is their “witness” to others, as in “People will look at my life and wonder how they can get what I have.” What I never said out loud, even when I still considered myself christian, is that I most assuredly did NOT want whatever it was they had. Most of them were pretty good examples of exactly what not to do.

        • Captain Cassidy

          I think that’s why so many of the loudest voices turn out to be the biggest hypocrites.

  • C Peterson

    I think what often happens to people when Christianity takes them over is very sad. Sometimes they grew up being told that a specific (Christian) moral code was “right” and everything else was “wrong”. Because much of Christian morality is unnatural, people tend not to follow it. So they are conflicted- they do what seems right, but the voices of their parents and priests echo from the past: “Bad!” If they return to their Christianity, they are now “better people” only because they are in a cult that is telling them so, that is telling them that their previous behavior was immoral, when it may well have been substantially fine.

    You can’t be truly moral following somebody else’s code, only your own, arrived at by careful thought and reflection. That’s one reason why I would never trust a Christian (or most other religionists) to consistently act morally. As soon as they encounter a situation outside their narrow code, they are likely to flounder.

  • Ed

    Any epistemology built on a foundation of authority, feeling, tradition and revelation, especially when those standards are held inconsistently, is unreliable. The fact that there are religious people who behave ethically really is no more relevant than the propositions that even a blind squirrel will find a nut occasionally.

  • Daniel Brown

    Heroine doesn’t do wrong – if it just sits there untouched. But as soon as a human uses it, it’s trouble.

  • TiltedHorizon

    ‘Just Because Christians Do Wrong Doesn’t Mean Christianity Is Wrong’

    There is no need to face the reality that Christianity did not or could not prevent it’s adherents from “doing wrong”, it just means those ‘sinners’ are not “True Christians®”. Piety is spiritual Teflon; nothing sticks.

  • Pattrsn

    I think you’d have to relate the “wrong” things that Christians do to exactly what is wrong about Christianity. You’d have to point to something that is wrong or dangerous about Christian ideology and then point to the actions that are a product of this belief or ideology. And also I think you’d have to look beyond Christianity, to explain why Christianity is wrong as an example of myth based ideology, how like all the worst of the myth based ideologies, the utopian ones such as communism, libertarianism, or any religious ideology, Christianity refuses to allow the core myths to be questioned. It’s exactly this refusal to allow the questioning of myths, and the subsequent need to respond to the failure of the core myths, when contradicted by logic or reality, by the constant creation of other myths that is the problem.

    An example being the creation of the communist/satanic conspiracy to explain the science behind climate change as it threatens the core myth of the redemptive power of the “free market” and why human civilization is facing an existential threat yet it’s not mentioned in biblical prophecies (not yet anyway).

  • Richard Wade

    You are what you do, not the thoughts you think, or the principles you say are important. Your actions are what make you real in the world. So if you believe in the principle of compassion, and you think compassionate thoughts, BUT your actual behaviors have an overall character of indifference, insensitivity, callousness, intolerance, unkindness, cruelty, or even brutality, then that is the kind of person you are, not a compassionate person.

    The same holds true for institutions. A religion is what its practitioners do, not what it says. Christianity has many principles of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love written in its scripture, but when that book lies closed while its readers are out interacting in the world,

    all the pages of that book are completely black.

    The actions of Christians are what make Christianity real in the world, what defines it as the kind of thing it is. Christians can think all sorts of compassionate thoughts, can revere the principles of compassion and love written in their book, BUT if the overall character of their actual behaviors is one of indifference, insensitivity, callousness, intolerance, unkindness, cruelty, or even brutality, then they as the physical manifestation of Christianity make it what it is.

    Additionally, if they passively tolerate those reprehensible behaviors in their fellow Christians who use scripture to rationalize and justify those behaviors, then they are still not making Christianity a compassionate and loving thing. By their sheepish unwillingness to confront and openly object to their brethren’s negative behaviors, they tacitly contribute to the negative reality that Christianity is in the world.

  • James Nimmons

    TO all the true scotsmen…take your faith back..wrest it from the hands of the majority which misrepresent you.

    • The Irish Atheist

      I think you’ll find that the more violent and vicious factions of Christianity are the ones that are following their Bible more accurately.

  • The Irish Atheist

    Shameless plug, but I actually wrote a blog post on this exact subject and was rather proud of it. So here are my thoughts.

  • SGHeathen

    On the surface, no, but yes. The truth value of a person’s beliefs cannot be deduced from his actions. Except in some cases. Lets say someone believes that God has a property of never letting him lie. He intentionally lies. We can safely say such a God does not exist. Some atheists do good, some bad. So do religious people. A typical Christian believes that God is omni-God. So here comes the Problem of Evil. How can anyone do wrong if omni-God exists? Let alone somebody who pledges allegiance to the omni-God? The syllogism goes like this

    1. Christian does wrong

    2. Problem of Christian doing wrong
    Is God willing to prevent Christian doing wrong, but not able?Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?

    3. Christian’s God doesn’t exist.

  • RowanVT

    I mostly agree… but also somewhat disagree.

    A lot of christians claim that christianity is supposed to make people better. They claim the moral high ground. And then people atop this supposed moral high ground do things like rape children, or steal, or murder. So now we see that christianity doesn’t do what many of its proponents claim. It doesn’t make people better at all, and that chips away at their claim that christianity is true.

  • Brian T Hall

    this is to the friendly atheist.. Why not make a list of Christian sects that are hurting use.. and make a list of Christian Sects that are on the OK to good list? its just a Idea.. tell me if this is a bad Idea…

  • Brian T Hall

    this is to the friendly atheist.. Why not make a list of Christian sects that are hurting us.. and make a list of Christian Sects that are on the OK to good list? its just a Idea.. tell me if this is a bad Idea…

  • Anna

    I think we need to point out that it’s completely irrelevant. We’re not atheists because Christians do bad things, and we wouldn’t become Christians if they only did good things. We’re atheists because we believe the supernatural claims they make are wrong, specifically, that the deity they worship is not real. It wouldn’t matter if every single Christian was a liberal Quaker. It wouldn’t matter if they universally supported LGBT rights and women’s rights. That still wouldn’t make their supernatural claims true.

  • freemage

    First off, there’s two categories of misdeeds pertinent to this discussion: the irrelevant, and the derivative.

    Irrelevant misdeeds are simply actions that any person might have done in the same position. Derivative misdeeds stem directly from the believer’s faith.

    A Christian politician who is caught stealing money or hanging out with his secret Argentinian mistress (that phrase will NEVER cease to amuse me) is a good example of an irrelevant misdeed. It shows merely that there’s no transformational magic that occurs upon becoming a Christian. Since that’s not a universal claim made across the various sects (and, in fact, some directly dispute the notion that they become better people by having faith), it doesn’t really damage the claim of Christian validity.

    OTOH, when a particular sect advocates or commits acts that I find reprehensible in and of themselves, all in the name of their faith, then I would say that such a derivative misdeed DOES invalidate at least that particular sect of Christianity. If you’re teaching lies to children about evolution and homosexuality, because your faith demands it, then your faith is invalid.
    Of course, this is a silly discussion, because first, we have to pin down the definition of ‘Christianity’. Are we talking just the Council of Nicea definition, or are we sticking with a particular sub-set of sects? Do we include the Mormons and JWs? I’ll certainly concede that there’s little in the Nicene Creed that prompts direct ill-action (wars fought over parts of it, of course, are a different matter).

  • alfaretta

    For me, it was a revelation to realize that U.S. movements I admired who based their beliefs on their Christian faith (and their reading of the Bible), i.e., abolitionism and the Civil Rights movement, were opposed by — other people who based their beliefs on their Christian faith (and their reading of the Bible).

    Or does anybody actually believe that none of the Americans who were pro-slavery or pro-segregation were Christian?

  • kpax2012

    I’d say “Great. So you can agree that a person isn’t good or bad automatically by the religion they follow? Now you understand how Atheists can be moral without God.”

  • bickle2

    We don’t

    Christianity is wrong. It’s a fraud and a lie, and it requires you to murder people by the million. All religion is wrong

    Instead, We need to take an entirely different tactic

    Those who do not believe their religion completely, black and white, and obey it lost protections of the Constitution. Faith is belief without evidence, and without faith religion is worthless. It’s rraud, it’s wrong, and the big reason why it sticks areound is that there are no consequences. Every Mormon should be arrested for Prop 8. Every Catholic for child rape and so on. You belong to it, you finance it. You’re guitly under RICO laws.

  • Drakk

    Don’t let the argument get sidetracked into this in the first place.

    What Christians do is irrelevant to the fact that Christianity (and all other religions) are false. I’m confident in saying that because of the utter lack of evidence to support any of them. There’s no reason to let them past the “show us evidence” stage when they haven’t actually done it.