Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world of vice and sin
And he saw corruption everywhere — except within.
If your work features a religion of some sort, the chances are high that the only characters associated with that religion will be the saintly All-Loving Hero
, the devoted Good Shepherd
, the crude and self-righteous Knight Templar
, and the outright bastard whose piety is nothing but a front
. If they hold a high position in a religion, they're even more
likely to be far worse than everyone else. This is especially true if the cast is a bunch of jerkasses
This one is so pervasive that finding an overtly religious character in media and
making him or her likable without promoting an anvilicious
agenda is difficult. This is especially so if the character is genuine clergy, although you might get lucky with a kind priest or monk of some sort. Don't even think about putting one of these people in a slasher or horror movie, as they are often the first to get killed
in rather nasty fashion
If there are multiple clerical characters and some sort of ranked hierarchy
, the higher ranking members are much more likely to be evil or corrupt
and possibly so because of their high rank.
This trope taken to its logical conclusion gets you the Corrupt Church
that thinks of itself as a Saintly Church
If news coverage emphasizes stories with a priest molesting a child more as opposed to, say, a teacher
, it is because though both hold positions of authority, priests are the ones who claim a moral superiority at the same time.
The exact words "holier than thou" is found in the King James Version of Isaiah 65:
2 I have spread out my hands all day to a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;
3 A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;
4 Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
5 Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.
Subtrope of Pride
. Contrast Eviler Than Thou
, More Hero Than Thou
, Good Shepherd
, and Real Men Love Jesus
. Compare Blasphemous Boast
(in which "thou" is a god) Egocentrically Religious
, The Fundamentalist
, and Hollywood Atheist
. See also Acceptable Targets
, Straw Hypocrite
. See also Rightly Self-Righteous
if the character sees themselves as righteous because they truly are.
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- The Roman Catholics, the Saints and God's Right Seat from the magic side of A Certain Magical Index are filled with this. To go into what they'd do would be spoilers. Really, at least the Anglicans and the Japanese Catholics were pretty honest when they talk to Touma.
- Blue Exorcist: Paladin Arthur Auguste Angel makes sure that everyone knows how great he is.
- The con artist Father Cornello from Fullmetal Alchemist puts on a Good Shepherd front but he shows himself a self-righteous prick to Edward.
- Hellsing has a couple of religious characters which are all Christian. The Hellsing organization is made up of Protestants and mostly not that holy (sans Integra) but the Catholic Iscariot Unit is really into God and even if their badass mascot is rather likable his superior is anything but a Nice Guy.
- Rather unusually for this trope, they're a card-carrying version: as one of the Unit's goals is personal damnation for its members they take pride in the unholiness of their acts in God's name.
- In Saint Beast, being a god and all Zeus considers himself above criticism despite being the most morally bankrupt occupant of heaven and no more holy by nature than any other race.
- The Golden Dragon Filia from the Slayers anime. She was sheltered for most of her life, but even after exposure to the outside world she acts like a snotty brat. When realizes the truth, her mind splinters but she comes out of the experience a kinder and humbler person and so closer to the Good Shepherd.
- Death Note has Light argue that his morals and upbringing is enough to excuse his killing spree throughout the series. Near denies this once he proves Light is Kira and calls him a murderer.
- Another comic-book Catholic exception: Doctor Mid-Nite from the Justice Society of America, who saves lives all day every day, attends church regularly, and is BFFs with staunch atheist Mister Terrific.
- Wilhelm Busch criticized the Catholic church several times in his stories for this. (Busch had witnessed how the pilgrims to a famous Bavarian monastery wouldn't be above having fun in the bushes around it.)
- Implied in Fables: Legends In Exile when describing "The kingdom of the Great Lion fell, and again we did nothing, because we always found the old lion to be a bit too pompous and holier-than-thou for our tastes." This is a Shout-Out (or a Take That) to Narnia.
- Word of God from series writer Bill Willingham is that many readers, both the "Hey, he's hatin' on Narnia!" and "Yeah, you show that stupid Narnia!" crowd didn't pick up the importance of the context this description was given in. Like the "Oddness" of Oz, the "Holier Than Thou" derogatory remarks were the excuse the other Fable Homelands used to justify ignoring the fall of these worlds. He's on the record as stating that he loves the Narnia books and characters. The later arc The Good Prince includes a much more positive cameo by Aslan, and he's on the record as hoping that the rights to use the characters might clear up one day.
- Cardinal Roark of the Sin City story "The Hard Goodbye," who used the mob, a police death squad, and a silent and deadly farm boy cannibal whose proclivities he shared in order to do his dirty work. Too bad he was also The Man Behind the Curtain. However, Marv is shown to be a practicing Catholic as well, and he wears a cross around his neck.
- Averted by the X-Men's Nightcrawler, a charming and playful character who's also a devout Catholic. Though given how many writers' hands he's been through, somebody might have used him to play this trope straight at some point or another.
- Ultimate Universe Nightcrawler declares his friend Colossus an "abomination" or some such when he finds out the poor guy is gay. Then again, everyone is a dick in the Ultiverse and this version of him isn't particularly religious.
- Rev. William Stryker is a more straight example of this trope in the X-Men universe, who is a televangelist and a "devoted Christian" who was willing to murder his own son and wife.
- Joked about in Cartoon History of the Universe during the introduction to Indian religion: Two men standing in the Ganges during the Kumbh Mela:
Man with giant beard: I am holier than thou!
Man with smaller beard
: *enraged, pointing
* What was that?!
Man with giant beard: I said, "I am holier than thou!"
Man with smaller beard: *smiling* Oh, never mind then. I thought you said, "I am holier than a cow."
- In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "I Dream Of Smurfette", Tapper is accused of being "smurfier-than-thou" by Hefty when the two of them along with Handy and Greedy are standing together watching Smurfette go off on her business and Tapper comments on why looking at Smurfette is more important than their going about their own business.
- The Inquisitor Pucci from the 2005 version of Casanova, played by Jeremy Irons. Rather than speaking about forgiveness, redemption, or any attempt to save the souls of those ostensibly under his care as a member of the Church, Pucci's goals all seem to revolve around control. There also appears to be an entire order of nuns willing to add another notch to Casanova's bedpost. When admonished for risking (or perhaps earning, in the eyes of the inquisitor), eternal damnation for a single night with Casanova, the response is "seems fair."
- Marianne and her Christian group in Easy A who protest everything they can think of, such as changing the school mascot from a Blue Devil to a Woodchuck and getting Olive (who accidentally starts and maintains a rumor about being a slut) expelled before "saving" her. Especially frustrating since her boyfriend is actually sleeping with the guidance councilor, who gives him chlamydia. The movie makes a point to equate their views to the views of the townsfolk in The Scarlet Letter (unsurprisingly, since the film is loosely based on the book).
- The 1992 Costner version of Robin Hood, plays it both straight and subverted. The bishop is firmly pro-sheriff, to the point of embracing the sheriff's devil-worshiping religion and even helps marry him to Marian at the sheriff's Satanic altar (despite the latter flatly refusing), and tries to flee with gold when Locksley storms the castle. On the other hand, Friar Tuck, the down-to-earth churchman, is not only wise, sympathetic and friendly, but can drink sacramental wine and beer with the best of them. What's more, he gets so incensed at the bishop's greed and corruption he defenestrates the bishop from a tower with enough gold and "thirty pieces of silver to pay the Devil on your way to Hell!"
- Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010) also features a sub-plot in which the Church is taxing the peasants unfairly. Initially, Friar Tuck is reluctant to help out of fear of persecution, but eventually ends up helping Robin to begin robbing their wagons and stealing the grain back.
- Every single religious character in Saved! is a lying, cheating, hypocrite who is only concerned with their own image. The only decent human beings are hated and ostracized by the religious ones. Incidentally, the movie is set in the modern-day Midwestern United States.
- The movie ends, however, with the lead character, a formerly evangelical Christian who was ostracized by her school's Christian Girl Posse for getting pregnant, realizing that faith is not exclusively the province of fundamentalists, and seeking a more open and accepting form of Christianity which embraces others instead of judging them.
- Every single religious character - except for the main character, her gay childhood friend, and her Love Interest. Also, her mother, while not 100% on top of things, is still very sympathetic and religious.
- Most characters in this movie could be considered religious people. And while some of them use it to justify truly Jerkass behavior (or rather, rationalize the jerkass thing they want to do with a religious excuse), most of them are shown struggling with their faith at one point or another, even the Alpha Bitch.
- In the Woody Allen film Whatever Works Christianity is portrayed as a backwards superstition and the Southern characters who are vocally religious as rubes, who almost instantly (and happily) convert to atheism after the slightest contact with the metropolis of New York.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Frollo thinks that he's better than the rest of Paris' citizens. It's implied that he was willing to free the world of sin and that his way is right.
- In The Dirty Dozen, Maggott tries to justify his murder and alleged rape of women through his special interpretation of Holy Scripture. He's still the most evil character in the entire movie. And in a movie of Nazis vs. criminals, that's really saying something.
- Father in The Sacrament claims to be this. At the end of the film, we see him snorting coke and it's implied he's having sex with Caroline.
- Song at Dawn: This attitude can be found in Marcabu who uses his ballads to scold everyone about how they're failing to live up to God's expectations with their Courtly Love and excess and inability to reclaim the Holy Land.
- Special Circumstances: Soundly thrashed by Barbara. She goes out of her way to avoid such types, detesting the type.
- Downright defied in The Dresden Files by Michael Carpenter, one of the Knights of the Cross. He's strongly religious and unafraid to show it, but is also a genuinely nice guy unless you're a demon or a similarly irredeemably evil being. And even then he's usually at least polite. Harry specifically lampshades that Michael is righteous, not self-righteous, and notes there's a big difference between the two.
- He even tries to offers Nicodemus, a 2000-year-old guy who shares a body with a demon and has killed countless people, a chance to turn back from his evil ways over the phone. Granted, Nicodemus just laughed at him, but he still tried.
- Most of the high-up churchmen in David Eddings' The Elenium/Tamuli series avert this, but one Cordz of Nelan appears for a few pages in The Tamuli. Cordz has concluded that he is "the perfect man" because he follows the Scriptures, leading him to spy on his neighbors for things to denounce at church, and if he can't see in, he just dreams up something imperfect he thinks they might be doing, and denounces them for that. As Eddings put it:
- In The Belgariad Relg, an Ulgo with the ability to pass through stone, aggravates his companions with his incredible self-righteousness. After he's confronted with his own hypocrisy he turns self-hating for a while, but eventually mellows out.
- Claude Frollo, in both the original The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Disney movie. Disneyfication tempers the trope a little by demoting Frollo from Archdeacon of the Cathedral to a judge, and giving the job of Archdeacon to a much nicer fellow.
- This is how Ambrosio in The Monk justifies having sex with Matilda even after he exposed a young nun for having a lover. He's convinced he's just that awesome.
- Both averted and played straight in Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth. Bishop Waleran is a scheming, manipulative, selfish jerk who exploits his office for personal and political gain. The protagonist, Prior Philip, is a humble, genuinely devout man who seemingly has no limit to his compassion. The strongest example is near the end, where after Waleran's schemes come crashing down, depriving him of everything and leaving him a penniless beggar, Prior Philip forgives him and takes him into the Monastery. This is despite Waleran being personally responsible for most of Philip's troubles for over a decade, including the death of several of Philip's friends.
- In The Wheel of Time: The Children of the Light, and many of the Aes Sedai (especially those of the Red Ajah).
- The Children of the Light were a mixed bunch. Eamon Valda was a nasty piece of work, and the Questioners were deep in Knight Templar territory, but Pedron Niall seemed genuine, if a tad cynically pragmatic, and later Galad definitely had his heart in the right place.
- Joseph in Wuthering Heights is a bullying, work-shy and snide man nevertheless full of pious sermons for anyone who crosses his path.
- The saintly Bishop Myriel in Les Misérables is one of the biggest aversions of this trope out there. He donates most of his salary to the poor, lives in humble surroundings so the fancy house designated for him can be used as a hospital for the sick. When he gives paroled convict Jean Valjean a meal and a place to sleep, Valjean repays him by stealing the church's silverware. When the police capture Valjean and bring him back, Myriel lies to them and supports Valjean's claim that Myriel gave him the silver as a gift. When the police let him go, Myriel tells Valjean to sell the silver and use the proceeds to live an honest life.
- Big Bad Dr. Fritz Emmenberger in Suspicion by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt believes his morality to be superior and is disgusted with the lack of faith in anything he sees in his fellow human beings.
- The father of the title character in Colby Rodowsky's Lucy Peale, who regularly gave soapbox speeches about sin in the local town and kicked the title character out of his house because she wouldn't stand up at one of his revival meetings and denounce her unborn illegitimate child.
- The House of Night:
- A recurring theme is that any male character who doesn't worship Nyx is inevitably a misogynistic, bible-toting hypocrite. In particular, the Big Bad of Lenobia's Vow is a Catholic bishop who believes his status makes it okay for him to rape and kidnap a bastard girl (and to use his pyrokinetic abilities to incinerate anyone who objects).
- Female characters usually subvert this trope, being compassionate and even-handed toward other faiths.
- Annals Of The Western Shore: Iddor, son of Gand Ioratth, is really into the holy-war aspects of occupying Ansul. Since his father is an Old Soldier who sees the whole venture as a waste of time he nevertheless has to carry out, Iddor takes every opportunity he can to prove he's a better Ald—he insults and snubs Orrec, who's there as a guest, and stages all sorts of loud, showy religious ceremonies to make his father look bad for being irritated. In fact, the whole reason the Ansul Rebel Leader's plan fails is because Iddor rescheduled a sacrifice solely to piss off his dad.
- Babylon 5:
- Aversions are notable in how systematic they are. No priest—be it Brother Theo, Ivanova's rabbi, or any of the other priests or priest-equivalents passing through B5—is shown to be anything other than a good person following their tenets.
- Delenn is a particularly notable aversion. She is quite religious and is even a nominal priestess. She is also very much a Messianic Archetype. However she expresses her messiahship as a stateswoman not as a religious figure, has a few dark secrets in her past, and so on, and in general does not really reach Mary Sue status. She is seldom particularly self-righteous, for instance she was the one who suggested giving Londo an invitation to the rebirth ceremony.
- On the other hand, it's played straight with some of the more uptight members of the Minbari religious caste.
- An alien couple in "Believers" were willing to let their ill son die rather then submit him to surgery, which was against their beliefs. Dr. Franklin operates on him anyway. It didn't occur to him that the parents would destroy what they now believe to be a soulless zombie of their son.
- In a tragic rather then malicious example, the Markab race died out of plague mostly because they believed that the malady was a divine punishment for debauchery and concealed all facts of contraction out of fear of embarrassment. When the news of the plague spread across the Babylon 5 and the resident Markabs began falling victims both to the disease and angered neighbors, their priest convinced all his kindred to lock themselves in a separate section where they would be untouched by the general corruption and protected by their purity. Naturally, a horde of people susceptible to a respiratory infection gathered closely together in an air-tight space worked out just as well as you'd think.
- Chances are, whenever you see a deeply religious character in Professional Wrestling, it'll be this type of character (Reverend D'Von, Dustin Runnels, etc.). And it's going to suck. This has led some wrestling fans (for example, R.D. Reynolds of WrestleCrap) to argue for strict "separation of church and ring."
- Averted and subverted with Shawn Michaels post-comeback. While known both in real life and his ring persona as a born-again Christian, he never considered himself a role model, instead becoming a Guile Hero who prayed before matches.
- Didn't stop he and Triple H from dumping actual shit on the heads of the McMahons and the Spirit Squad in 2006, though.
- Pharisee in Dino Attack RPG is depicted as a ruthless Inspector Javert-style lawman who believes he has a divine right to impart justice on others. Interestingly, he believes he has crossed his Moral Event Horizon and uses this as his justification for brutally treating violent criminals since he believes that his fate will be the same either way. Averted by Dr. Noomi Shaw, who was written as a sympathetic character specifically to avoid falling into this trope.
- Reverend Ray from Call of Juarez at the end he realizes his holier than thou attitude is the sin of pride and repents.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, if the Faith stat of your party members get too high, they will leave your party for religious reasons and may say they are too pure or such to be with a group that commits sinful acts.
- In Final Fantasy X, several of the leaders of Yevon as a whole fall into this in two ways. First, they are complicit to some degree in the church being a Path of Inspiration working for Yu Yevon. Second, they believe the protagonists to be naive children, and are holier than thou about the nature of the Path of Inspiration.
- Wakka starts this way. Though he's more or less a good guy who has no problems explaining how his religion works to Tidus he hates Al Bhed and reacts very bad to them, saying all the bad things that happen to them are deserved for not obeying Yevon's teachings (though it also has to do with his brother dying while using Al Bhed weapons). Half way through the game he changes his view after he learns more about them and the military force of Yevon attacks their Home, which has to be destroyed by Cid. Also seeing how hypocrite the leaders of Yevon truly are helps.
- Yuna is another aversion: extremely devoted to Yevon (at least until she learns the Final Summoning can never defeat Sin), but she also cares for others to an astonishing degree, and is painfully humble and self-effacing despite receiving the adoration of the entire country because she is going to sacrifice herself so people can live peacefully.
- In fact nearly all the lower level members of the clergy are aversions of this trope.
- Grandia II has High Priestess Selene ( or at least, she gives a good performance as this trope, at first). The first time you meet her, she's considering having an entire village burnt down because a blind child can suddenly see.
- Bastila in Knights of the Old Republic makes a point of being a more perfect adherent to the letter of the Code of the Jedi than everyone else, though by the end of the game Character Development sets in and she becomes a lot nicer.
- Atris in the second game, refers to herself the Last Jedi, since in her mind, the Jedi Exile does not count. She also completely fails to realise she has slowly turned to the Dark Side, while the Light-Sided Exile is closer to a true Jedi.
- In Penumbra: Black Plague, the Tuurngait are an example of this, trying to explain how they're so much better than humanity - after having spent the entirety of the game trying to Kill All Humans. Not a particularly religious example, but a good fit, nonetheless.
- Persephone of Sacrifice justifies this due to the fact that she is a God, and the Goddess of Life and Nature to boot, but she comes off as quite arrogant with her dialogue (the manual's bestiary doesn't help this image) and she is easily just as aggressive and warlike as the evil gods (take note of the fact she's just as quick to shout down the pacifying attempts of James as Charnel and Pyro are).
- Seen prominently in Shin Megami Tensei I and Shin Megami Tensei II. Although the other side's guys are jerkasses, too. The Messians were just jerkasses first.
- “Stop Having Fun” Guys and Scrubs are incredibly venomous towards those who do not play certain video games exactly the way they do, with the former preferring Serious Business tournament-style matches where only top-tier is allowed (as well as any and all glitches and exploits turned into "advanced techniques"), and the latter preferring to use the exact opposite settings and ban everything previously mentioned because they are unable to deal with it. Both sides are incredibly high and mighty about the way they play and view anyone not playing exactly like them as a member of the other group, treating you like the worthless primordial slime you are.
- The Paranids in the X-Universe play this to the hilt. They are a theocracy and consider every other lifeform in the known universe unholy to the point of not allowing any non-Paranid to live on their planetsnote , although not to the point of trying to wipe them all out.
- Angelic characters in Nexus War games have the option of becoming Zealot Angels, who have the power to kill those with gray marks on the Karma Meter without any stain on their own personal morality. Since this clashes with the more tolerant interpretation of Angels portrayed by most players, Zealots tend to be roleplayed as this trope. A few Zealots can learn an additional power, named (appropriately enough) "Holier Than Thou", which allows them to freely attack anyone with lower Morality than themselves - including other angels.
- Juroung from the 2014 Strider styles himself as the "true disciple" of Big Bad Grandmaster Meio, worshipping him as a deity to the point of Undying Loyalty. As such, he enforces his will among those who escaped his dystopian rule, sees himself superior to others because his belief is stronger, and believes Meio's "will" guides him to victory.
- Most higher-ups in the Church of St.Eva from Breath of Fire II are this, preaching about their all-loving god and forcing others to convert, even if it takes some weeks of incarceration until they start praying to Eva out of desperation or, more often, insanity. Its founder Habaruku, goes the extra mile and directly states anyone not in their ranks to be possessed by the devil.
- Kankri in Homestuck is a weird example. He's not devoted to a religion, but to social worker-style psychobabble. As such, he would insist that the tries to be totally non-judgemental, and avoids "trigger words" that might lead others to think, however incorrectly, that he might see them as less than himself in any way. This is a load of crap; he judges everyone, all the time, and is totally oblivious to how irritating they find him.
- Sam from the webcomic Men In Hats.
Gamal: I've been thinking a lot lately about my beliefs, and I'm finding it hard not to wish that I had some faith in God, or religion, or anything, really. Maybe I just want life to be more like when I was a child, back when everything was magical and the world was still mysterious and amazing. But I had to grow up and realize that, although I still know essentially nothing, everything has a logical and sensible explanation, even if I can't grasp it. But with religion you never lose that sense of wonder. The world is always full of magic: There's always something beyond what is seen and understood... Sometimes I wish I could have that.
...And then Sam comes along.
Sam: BURN THE CRIPPLES!
- Seymore of Sinfest is relatively tame as far as most examples are concerned. He's actually a good man at heart, his biggest problem is that his ignorance and fanaticism greatly overshadow his better qualities.
- The proprietors of the "Hell House" in a Halloween sequence in Something Positive are fundamentalist Christians who lead visitors through a haunted house that's supposed to show them the horrors of promiscuity, homosexuality, secularism, and other bogeymen of the religious right, then refuse to let them leave unless they profess Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.note However, the set-up is subverted in that the character who calls them out on their bullshit is himself a devout Christian who is disgusted at what he sees as a perversion of his faith.
- Kore from Goblins. Despite being a Paladin (last of the Gray Paladins in fact) he is by far the most evil thing in the entire series. He attacks peaceful Orcs, Goblins, and other 'unclean' races, without even doing a 'Detect Evil' scan and mercilessly kills and tortures them (including poor Chief). When he found a dwarf child who had been raised by a kindly Orc? He kills said child since he had been 'tainted'. Immediately when Forgath and Minmax show up he begins attacking them even though, due to a misunderstanding, they were attacking the Goblin Adventuring Party just like he was. Forgath decides he has to Hold the Line against Kore so Minmax and the Goblins can escape into a dungeon...
- Averted in Thunderstruck, where the two leads are atheist and Christian sisters. Due to the story's heavy emphasis on how well they complement each other, it's actually necessary for the author to balance their views, and people applaud him for it. Even the religious "good" guys in the series are treated as just as flawed as their secular counterparts.
- Mary from Roomies! very quickly develops into this, frequently lecturing everyone around her, even her best friend, for minor things while hiding the fact that she's a total hypocrite. Her rebooted version from Dumbing of Age manages to be even worse.