Does religion make people better or worse

Dennis Prager writes:

Does religion make people better or worse

“I have devoted much of my life to arguing that religion is the finest vehicle for individuals and societies to become decent, good, moral (you choose the term you prefer). For example, in 2005, I devoted 24 columns to making the case for Judeo-Christian values as the finest system of values ever devised.

However, this advocacy of religion comes with two caveats.

First, the claimed superiority of Judeo-Christian values in no way means that all believing Jews and Christians are good people, let alone better than all other people. There have always been and there are today morally superior individuals in every religion. And there are morally superior individuals among atheists and people of no organized religion.

Second, there is no religion that has not made, or at least enabled, some of its adherents to be morally worse than they would have been had they not adopted that religion.

So our question is not whether there are good or bad people in every religion. The question is whether any given religion is likely to make one who believes in it a better or worse person than he would have been had he not believed in that religion.”

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  1. Jack's Shack September 10, 2006 at 4:55 am


    I can agree with that. I suppose that my main thrust of this and some other recent posts is to point out that a person’s choice of ideology is not the sole determinant of whether they act in a good or evil way.

  2. Stephen (aka Q) September 8, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    The effect of religion is often to intensify people’s inclinations.

    People who are inclined to good sometimes make astonishing personal sacrifices in the name of religion. People who are inclined to evil sometimes feel their religion justifies the most heinous crimes against humanity.

    Mind you, I would also cast the net widely when I refer to “religion”. I’m sure that someone who is utterly convinced of the superiority of atheism could commit atrocities in the name of wiping out religion.

    And I would argue that the person’s atheism is functioning as a religion in that scenario: i.e., as a worldview that renders all other considerations secondary.

  3. Houston September 8, 2006 at 1:31 am

    Peace be upon you and your tribe, Jack.

    Well, you are going all tribal on me here. The only way I know to speak to different tribes is in the language of Hollywood. So there.

    Hey, boys and girls, just because Islam is a cult does not mean that everybody else gets a free pass. Being stupid does not lessen one’s humanity. Israel used cluster bombs on civilians? Let’s all surrender our holiness at the door.

    I’m close to the point where the count of Verona screams, “A pox on all your houses!”

  4. Jack's Shack September 8, 2006 at 12:01 am

    Sorry anonymous, but your statement lacks substance. In short it sounds like it suffers from everything you accuse Prager of failing at.

  5. Anonymous September 7, 2006 at 9:22 pm

    sorry but this essay is a shallow as can be. prager might want to read a book before he speaks. lots of intelligent people have been writing about this – especially over the past five years. i’m teaching a college course right now on war and peace in religions.

  6. Jack's Shack September 7, 2006 at 7:25 pm


    Tikkun olam and tzedakah make a lot of sense to me too.


    He did bash Islam, but right now I don’t have too much of a problem with that. I have grown tired of hearing about the moderate Muslims.

    It is time for them to make themselves heard, but that is a different post.

    What I liked about Prager was that he did a good job of pointing out the obvious. Religious observance is not a guarantee of moral or ethical behavior. It doesn’t mean that you are going to be tolerant, nice and or good.

    You might be, but maybe not. The correlation between the two is not as strong as some would like.

  7. Jewish Atheist September 7, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    That might be the first time I’ve ever agreed with Prager… about anything. Reading the whole article, he does seem to be using this mostly as an introduction to bashing Islam, but I’ll take support where I can get it — especially when it comes from the religious right.

    (Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of Islam — I probably also agree with him that it’s generally worse than Judaism and Christianity, at least at this point in time.)

  8. Stacey September 7, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    Prager is always interesting!

    I can only speak for myself. Because of Judaism’s huge emphasis on tzedakah and tikkun olam, I do think it has made me a better person. I love the emphasis on humanity.

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