04/08/2014 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do Religious People Really Have Better Morals?

Last week I wrote a piece discussing Christianity and morality based on some comments God's Not Dead actor Kevin Sorbo made about Bill Maher. Not surprisingly, Mr. Sorbo did not agree with my thoughts on the topic and took to Twitter to tell me why.

Clearly calling God a "psychotic mass murder" could offend people, and I have no doubt that Kevin Sorbo was indeed offended by this characterization.

Having said that, what Bill Maher was referring to was the biblical story of Noah, in which God floods the earth killing nearly every man, woman and child. Rather than discussing how this should not be considered murder Mr. Sorbo decided to call Bill Maher a "very angry, lonely man."

It seems this was not an instance where Kevin Sorbo felt he could turn the other cheek. Bill Maher's passionate non-belief has no bearing on Kevin Sorbo's passion for this faith. They are both free to have their opinion without there being one side that is good and one side that's evil.

The statement I found more interesting, though, was when Kevin Sorbo said that "morals are declining, the country is going under." That's not what the numbers show. Instead, I found statistics that show crime rates, abortions, teen pregnancy and divorce rates have all fallen over the past few decades. So my question for Mr. Sorbo was, what metric is he using when he comes to this conclusion?

Perhaps given this belief, Kevin Sorbo feels that slight drop in church attendance over the past decade is proof of declining morals. Perhaps the increase in those who describe themselves as atheist and agnostic suggests that moral values are being lost. Or perhaps the possible Bible-defying sin of marriage equality suggests the U.S. has lost its moral compass.

Unfortunately instead of offering some examples Mr. Sorbo chose to take a shot at Detroit.

It seems that Kevin Sorbo feels Detroit could have avoided a financial disaster had there just been greater religiosity in the city. This idea of fixing society through religion is common among believers. Many feel that if more people were religious, the world would be a better place. Obviously this makes sense for these people. If you are going to invest this much time and effort into something that you can't prove exists there should be a payoff for such devotion. There are also those who believe that being religious makes them a better person, so if it works for them it should work for others as well.

But when you are trying to convince people that we have a problem that needs to be solved, it would be nice to have some hard data to support such a conclusion. A quick look at the number of religious people in a city and the crime rate in that city shows no real correlation as some very religious cities were near the top of the list for assault, rape and property crime. State teen pregnancy rates actually seem to increase in states with higher religious participation. The same is true of divorce rates.

Supporters of this meme could point to a study that found that communities with higher rates of religion had less violent crime. The study concludes that this occurs because these communities are "creating a moral climate that fosters respect among neighbors and by helping to form individual consciences of young adults."

Of course you don't have to worship God to foster respect and form an individual conscience, since non-believers are also capable of creating this sort of environment. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros have managed to donate billions of dollars over the years to non-religious charities that attempt to make the world a better place to live without using religion as the catalyst.

"Morality" is a very subjective measure. What is moral at one point in time or for one culture would be considered immoral elsewhere. If Kevin Sorbo believes being a Christian makes him a better person, I imagine even Bill Maher would be happy for him. But belittling Bill Maher or Detroiters for having a different worldview certainly doesn't suggest that Kevin Sorbo occupies the moral high ground he believes his faith creates. Luke 6:37

Previously published in the Detroit News.