The “Christianity Makes People Good” Myth

Recently, a Christian friend bubbled to me about her new job at a Christian business, and how wonderful it was to be working in a Christian workplace that even has Christian weekend retreats for its employers and prayer groups, etc. “I think everyone, regardless of their beliefs, would be better off working in a Christian workplace!” she told me excitedly. She knows I am an atheist, but when I told her I disagreed she was honestly surprised.

Growing up, “Christian” was synonymous with “good person.” “Non-Christian” was synonymous with “bad person.” Anytime I learned that someone I had just met was a Christian, I felt an immediate kinship, felt that I could trust that person completely. So it’s really not surprising that my friend would think that “Christian workplace” means “good workplace” and “Christian coworkers” means “kind and loving coworkers.” What surprised me was that she thought that I, an atheist, would agree with her assessment, that it would be obvious to me that Christians are good people and that a Christian workplace would be the best ever. It’s not.

There are good and bad Christians, and good and bad non-Christians

I met a lot of different people in college, and that was when I realized that religious beliefs are often irrelevant to whether or not someone is a good person. I met (conservative Protestant) Christians who were wonderful people and (conservative Protestant) Christians who were self-righteous back stabbers. I met Wiccans, Catholics, Episcopalians, and atheists, and just as with conservative Christians some of them were wonderful people while others were petty or cold. I actually think that, on average, the gay friends I have show more love and kindness and radiate more happiness than do the Christians I know.

“Christian” does not automatically mean “good person.” Christians are no different from any other group – some of them are loving and some of them are hateful, and plenty of them are each in different doses or in different circumstances and at different times. For all their talk of throwing off their sin nature through Christ’s sacrifice and letting Jesus’ supernatural love shine through, Christians are simply human like everyone else.

The “in group, out group” phenomena

In my experience, Christianity itself also tends to creates a an “in group” and “out group” phenomenon, where you are either fully accepted and loved or condemned as lost and a sinner. As an example, here’s an excerpt from a post from last week:

I know a girl who was rejected from her loving faith community when she came out to a mentor as bisexual. All of the women who had loved her and mentored her, the women she had grown up with and admired, suddenly turned on her and rejected her. I know a man who is about to be fired as pastor of his church because he has started wearing his hair long and has pierced one of his ears. He teaches the same doctrine and provides his parishioners with the same love and care he always has, but they have turned against him, holding secret meetings and talking behind his back.

Non-religious groups do the same thing, but religion makes it worse. My bisexual friend’s religious community rejected her because of what they believe their religious book says and my pastor friend found himself rejected because of his church’s ideas of proper religious standards of conduct. Religion adds an air of certainty and an unwillingness to even consider compromise, and that this amplifies the “in group, out group” phenomenon.

Character and morality

I’ve heard people say that young children should be taken to church to give them proper moral standards, or that prayer should be restored to schools in order to help children develop character. This is bullshit. A sixteen-year-old atheist girl named Jessica Ahlquist recently won a lawsuit to remove an explicitly Christian prayer banner from her public school as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion (which it clearly was). How have her Christian peers, taken to church and daily exposed to this prayer, responded? Like this (note: these were facebook and twitter updates, not anonymous) (warning: language):

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”

“literally that bitch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because shes knows someone will jump her #ahaha”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer… #Honestly”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“lol I wanna stick that bitch lol”

“nail her to a cross”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

Did you know that a higher percentage of Christians are in jail in this country than of atheists? Did you know that the most secular countries in the world also have the lowest jail rates? Am I saying that being a Christian makes someone a bad person? No. I’m simply saying that being a Christian does not mean a person will necessarily have good ethics, character, or morals.

Interestingly, the Ancient Greeks saw “ethics” and “religion” as two distinctly separate things. Ethics involved your views of right and wrong, value, and proper activity while religion involved you beliefs about and duties toward the gods. I like this distinction, because it holds true in my own life. “Atheism” describes my beliefs about the supernatural, but it says nothing about my ethics. Rather, “humanism” is the ethical and moral standard I live by. It’s for this reason that I don’t find it surprising that those who believe in the trinity and the virgin birth, etc, might live by a variety of different ethical and moral standards.

Conclusion

Being a Christian does not make someone a good person. It just doesn’t. If it did, Christian history wouldn’t be littered with crusades and the burning of heretics. If it did, Hitler wouldn’t have had millions slaughtered. Being Christian doesn’t make someone a bad person either. If it did, Christian history wouldn’t be littered with saints who started ministries to the poor and reformers who sought to better people’s lives. The fact is that Christians are simply human, just like anyone else.

I do understand why people like my friend think the way they do, of course. They believe that Christianity fundamentally transforms people, allowing them to cast off their “sin natures” and let the love of Christ shine through them. If you believe this, you almost have to believe that Christians on average are better people than non-Christians on average, and in fact, if you find that this is no the case it throws into question your entire belief system. As an atheist, though, I do not believe there is anything supernatural about any religion or its ability to transform people. As an atheist, I do not see Christians as any different from anyone else. But somehow, I don’t think my Christian friend can understand that.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17684892649684706052 Tequilamonky

    I love reading your posts. They are so well thought through and intelligently considered. You may make a statement that seems inflammatory, but always you can back it up. More often than not your opinions match mine…. yet every time you teach me something new.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Ah, yes. This lie was actually the primary reason why it took me so long to stop believing in a god, even though I knew logically that I had no good reason to do so.Now I realize that this is just one of the many hooks that Christianity uses to ensnare its followers. Actually, the very fact that it is even an argument is proof positive that the argument can't possibly be true! That is to say, if a person gets upset at your atheism by claiming that you have to be a Christian to be good (or something similar), they are implicitly stating that it is good to be good, that they want to be good.But if you actually want to be good, what more do you need? Just cut out a step and be good, instead of worrying about this whole complicated belief system on top of that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09371826731550331938 AztecQueen2000

    I've heard the same thing about fundamentalist Judaism

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00373059673228550524 Ragnell

    "Interestingly, the Ancient Greeks saw "ethics" and "religion" as two distinctly separate things. Ethics involved your views of right and wrong, value, and proper activity while religion involved you beliefs about and duties toward the gods."It's weird. As a pagan, I always get asked by Christians how I can believe in/honor gods that behave as terribly as the stories say. I'm not the only one who hears this. Our common reaction is usually to point out just how awful the god of the Bible behaves and that sometimes can lead to an argument. It never occurred to me to point out this huge cultural distinction from ancient pagans, even though it would be incredibly useful to point out (not just to curious Christians, but a few pagans need this spelled out too). It's just something that was folded into the back of my psyche at some point.

  • Caravelle

    “nail her to a cross”REALLY ?Are they familiar with their own religion at all ??

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Those tweets and messages are simply disgusting… and what was that the school prayer banner said: "help us be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win" … yeah, rigth… Hypocrisy at its purest form.

  • Anonymous

    This post is very timely for me. I'm starting to date again after getting a divorce from an abusive "Christian" man. It really bothers me that the first question family and friends ask about potential suitors is always, "Is he a Christian?", as if that's some foolproof test that the guy isn't a creep. Why don't they ask, "Is he kind? Does he treat you with respect? Is he a good listener? Does he tip well at restaurants?" etc. The "Is he a Christian?" screening tool obviously failed me the first time around, and yet they maintain a suspicion of "non-Christian" men who treat me with the utmost respect. Thankfully I've diversified my own vetting process and don't need their input as to whom I date and don't date.

  • smrnda

    As another note, I've read lots of horror stories about abuse of kids in various Christian facilities for "youth with troubles" (vaguely) and how these places (like Hephzibah Home for girls, you can find the former girls webswite http://formerhephzibahgirls.webs.com/) actively seek to avoid any sort of meaningful accountability. I do volunteer work with a secular agency working with kids and that sort of stuff could not happen there – we just have too many oversights. I could contest that once someone believes that their authority is derived from God, there us little limit to the level of coercive authority they feel entitled to inflict on others.

  • Anonymous

    My mother owned a few apartments and when she interviewed people, anyone who mentioned how religious/Christian they were, that was an immediate strike against them. My mother is not an atheist, but she always said to me in her experience the more a renter proclaimed his/her piety, the more likely that renter would turn out to be a deadbeat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11944182376387560776 Andrea

    THANK YOU! I'm SO TIRED of hearing the term "good Christian___ plumber, mechanic etc) Coming from a small town, Good and Christian were synonymous but a large part of those blessed people were cooking meth in the shed in the back. It's maddening how people can get away with so much in these cultures because being "Christian" in a small town like mine is like being in the club, unless you're black.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03935383254039552080 Rebecca

    Anon of 9:22, I wish you the best in your new endeavors in the world of dating. I know exactly what you mean. My poor mother is the bravest, kindest person I know, and she has had far more than her share of heartache at the hands of Christian men. My father and mother were paired up by the church they were both attending, and he turned out to be physically abusive and left her when I was three with three small children. When I was six, she married a man who wasn't a Christian but who respected her – we all loved him. All that began to change when he became a Christian and began to drift towards the far, far, far right. He became evil; he made my father look like a saint. And now my mother is in the middle of another messy divorce, and now she is 51 and alone again. And my stepfather still is convinced he's going to heaven some day…

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    When I left my abusive and cheating husband at age 24 with my three children I officially became a non-person to my church and was told on endless occasions by my loving Christian family that I was going to Hell. As painful and unjust as this might seem to an outsider, it was actually the expected response. I knew nothing but shame and manipulation from my family and church who up to that time was pretty much my whole world. What I did not expect happened when I got my first job. I worked with all non-christians and they were the nicest people! They were curious about me, but I figured they would all hate and judge me when I told them the horrible truth about my selfish act of self-preservation. Another shock. They were actually on my side! They told me I did the right thing by leaving that loser and encouraged me to find happiness in my new life. I was invited places (not dens of iniquity) and my new life was able to begin. Too bad. The Christians were horrible, just horrible.

  • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

    I'm a Christian, and I agree with this post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09075997712868423479 Shianne

    Ditto to what Amethyst said :-)

  • Another Halocene Human

    Just gonna lay this out here:AFFILIATION FRAUDUsing that in-group/out-group fallacy to rip you off. There were some very sad stories about affiliation fraud on the Housing Bubble Blog back in 2006-2008. Scammers would travel from church to church and get people with senile dementia or low IQ to sign over their house out from under them.It also happened by race/ethnicity, as they found mortgage brokers, who had an incentive to lie to customers anyway, were more likely to lie to people of their own race or ethnicity (who implicitly trusted them). Human behavior has an ugly underbelly.There's some great old American folk wisdom about not trusting anyone in business who talks about their Christian faith too much. It's a tell, as this person is trolling for the naive and trusting to take advantage of.

  • Steve Dresselhaus

    I am generally considered by others to be a Christian. I almost always agree with those who categorize me as such. There is great danger in labeling oneself as a follower of any religion, be it Christianity or as a practicing atheist because self lableing indicates, as pointed out by the author of this blog, a certain arrogance and superiority because “I get it and you don’t.” This is true of the the self identifying Christian or the self identifying atheist. Wouldn’t it be better if we let others label us? I think this was what Jesus hinted at when he said things like “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples; that you love one another.” Or when he said “by their fruit you shall know them.” Or when he said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” In the Bible there are two or three lists of character traits that are to be used in choosing a religious leader. Every one of the traits is a character issue that is to be observed by others and in no way is the leader to be a self procalimed specialists. So, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived our faiths in such a way that we left it up to others to give us a label? I should never have to tell anyone I am a Christian; they should be the ones who lable me as such because of how I live. Wouldn’t that be cool?


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