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.

"You Did a Bad Thing, Mommy": In Which I Tell My Six-Year-Old That I Went to an Anti-Gay Rally as a Teen
The Charleston Shooting and Christian Persecution
An Atheist Parent, an Evangelical Grandmother, and a Six-Year-Old Girl
Conservatives Grapple with Marriage Equality
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.


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