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 anyway.
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. If you see one of these people in a slasher or horror movie, don't get too attached 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, one reason is because though both hold positions of authority, priests are the ones (usually, but not always) who claim a moral superiority at the same time.
Note: Despite the above text, this trope is not limited to religious people, as refers to anyone, religious or non-religious, who considers themselves morally superior to others and this traits has been seen in people (in fiction and real-life) of any and all ideologies.
The exact words "holier than thou" is found in the King James Version of Isaiah 65:
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.
No Real Life Examples, Please! Nearly everyone in real-life, religious and non-religious, is like this at some point and who is displaying this behavior is often subjective; for example, it has seen much overuse as a blanket accusation against religious people.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dragon Ball Super: Zamasu believes that he's more right than his fellow gods since he's willing to do something about the mortals who misuse the knowledge of the gods while they sit back and do nothing. This includes murdering his fellow gods since they wouldn't agree with his ideals and would try to stop him.
- 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.
- Michael from Innocents Shounen Juujigun is convinced that he's the paragon of Godly behavior, and that his rules are as good as law. . . . and that anyone who rejects the standards his church sets deserves to die. He also believes that he is the true chosen child of God, not Etienne, and that the latter is nothing more than a heretic for even assuming he can take that role.
- 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.
- 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.
- Galactus is occasionally written like this in regards to his rightfullness in eating planets. He's also a rare justified example, as Galactus is destined to one day use the energy from the planets he destroyed to ensure that the universe gets reincarnated, and is imperial to keep the balance between Eternity and Death.
- 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 The 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 Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, Raven Hex frequently harbors delusions of being the greatest proponent that witchcraft has ever seen. This was proven wrong when she tried to rally all of the many covens together, and most of the other witches refused to listen to her bullshit.
- The Commonwealth in Batman: Holy Terror is an theocratic empire that took over the United States and sees its brand of Puritanism as real Christianity, as they spread it by dominating Catholic nations in the Western Hemisphere such as Brazil and Peru.
- 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. Tapper, who is a Christian that is far from the type who would exemplify this trope, simply comments on why looking at Smurfette is more important than their going about their own business.
- In the Worm fanfic Recoil, Taylor Hebert travels back twenty-two years and gets to know her paternal grandmother rather better than she had originally. This sweet old lady is fervently Christian, and equally fervently anti-gay. The latter causes a few problems later on ...
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Frollo thinks that he's better than the rest of Paris' citizens - even though the Archdeacon has to stop him from committing infanticide in the first ten minutes. He even starts his prayers by mentioning how proud of himself he is, without ever noticing the irony.
- In Loving Vincent, Louise Chevalier is a churchgoing Christian, and also incredibly judgemental towards Vincent and the unruly youths of Auvers.
- 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."
- In Daddys Dyin Whos Got The Will, Lurlene Turnover is a minister's wife who uses her supposed devotion to her faith to make herself feel better about the fact that she and her husband are nearly broke after years of poor financial decisions.
- 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.
- 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 1991 Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There is an interesting portrayal of this in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. On one hand, it is Played Straight with Sir Thomas Bertram, who remains an innocent and is Incorruptible Pure Pureness, but despises anyone he sees as inferior, doesn't try to hear their justifications, and ends up an Accomplice by Inaction to his daughters's selfish antics and to his sons's self-destructive behaviors because he doesn't want to accept that, maybe, there might be a problem he didn't think of. Meanwhile, he forces his niece Fanny to obey him, because he will never listen to a poor girl with no instruction who dares to have self-esteem.
- His niece herself is also a “Stop Having Fun” Guy who sometimes feels superior, but she geniuely loves everyone and listens to their pleas, and Fanny is the only one really trying to control the damage, the only one to see others's Hidden Depths and the only one to always forgive, never lash out, and wish for her beloved to be happy despite her own prospects, and despite all that, she still has cripplig self-esteem issues because she's not sure that she is right, just sure that all the depraved people she has to deal with are not.
- Only a Woman Can Take This Sort of Abuse (Forgotten Realms Spin-a-Yarn story) used this straight and then doubled back: a paladin shrank back from a drow and...
Laeral: ...And you needn't recoil from Qilué. She's personally consecrated to two goddesses and is more holy than you can ever hope to be.
- The spinster Emily Brent from And Then There Were None disowns her maid when she gets pregnant, claiming it's because the girl doesn't fit in her household anymore for not following the Word of God. Said maid is Driven to Suicide and Emily shows no remorse (though she has some disturbing visions in the course of the story). Judge Wargrave finds out, though, and in the mysterious island where action takes place he poisons her as punishment and a part of his Evil Plan to kill everyone.
- Not too surprisingly, the video game chose Emily Brent as its new "surprise" killer.
- Mostly averted in Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries, where devout Brother Cadfael and his fellow Benedictine monks are credibly well-meaning and conscious of their own moral imperfections. Prior Roberts, though arrogant and annoying, also has his good points, and the toadying Jerome is so remorseful as to suffer a nervous breakdown after striking someone down out of anger. Villains occasionally do fall under this trope, but their hypocrisy and/or intolerance is soundly refuted by more moderate clergymen, often using genuine scripture to back up their arguments.
- In Bumped, Harmony is like this, being from the Amish-like cult Goodside. She is convinced that she must convert her long lost twin sister Melody to Christianity and stop her from being a surrogate for a family at age 16. It is revealed, however, that she ran away from her husband a few days after marrying him because she was unsure about women's role in Goodside as (basically) baby makers.
- Both averted and used straight in Discworld books, as everything else. Small Gods centers around the religious country of Omnia, so while most priests are good-naturedly idiotic or afraid, some are genuinely good, and the head of the Quisition is bone-tremblingly evil - but Brutha, the protagonist, is the only person who genuinely believes in Om any more. On the other hand, several decades later, in Carpe Jugulum, Mightily Oats is presented as a literally conflicted priest who certainly wants what's good but can't always decide what that is.
- Mightily Oats is an interesting example, though: unlike Brutha, who is quietly, staunchly religious all the way through Small Gods, Oats starts out a pretty wishy-washy missionary - until the vampires get to Granny Weatherwax, crippling her, and Oats is forced to flee the monsters through the dark forest in a downpour while this nasty, godless old... biddy needles him incessantly about his faith. He finally snaps at her, and she replies that if she had a god who she thought was genuinely good and gave a damn about humanity, her faith would be so fierce it burned, and no argument could make her doubt it. From then on, Oats undergoes a sort of transformation, realizing religion is more than his holy books (which he burns for a very necessary fire) or his turtle pendant (which he shouldn't have hung on such a cheap chain), and culminating in his faith becoming pretty damn fierce indeed.
- The Brontës liked this trope; the schoolmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, in Jane Eyre is a hypocritical clergyman who forces the girls under his charge to live in deprivation and, eventually, disease under the excuse that it is God's will that they be cured of their sins through Christian austerity, whilst simultaneously fleecing the joint and ensuring that he and his family live in obscene luxury.
- In Mysterious Ways: A Divine Comedy, this is played for laughs. Almost the entire angel race fits this trope. Despite being an entirely mortal genus of birds, they claim to be of divine origin, descended directly from the Judeo-Christian God.
- Every angel is given a choice between training to be a "divine servant", or having their wings cut off and their magic stripped away. This is rationalized by the belief that angels are created specifically to act as divine servants, and if they're not going to do that, they don't really need wings or magic.
- Angels also have their own branch of Christianity, characterized by a refusal to allow any non-angels to serve as priests, because they "don't want to hear about God from one of His rejects." To be fair, several of the regular Christian churches have banned angels from even attending mass. (Again, to be fair, it's because of all the incidents of angels accusing the priest of not having proper authority to speak for God.)
- To be fair, they are better at divine magic that other creatures like humans, and they make an effort to lend a hand to those in need. Well, except for non-Christians. Or 'cubi. Or homosexuals. Or anyone that has had recreational sex.
- They also insist that angels only have sex while possessed by the Holy Spirit, so that they can claim God is the father, and they are thus the only true "Children of God".
- The Host has the souls. They see themselves as better than most species, especially humans, as they are peace-loving, refuse to use violence (unless a soul has the job of a Seeker, which includes hunting and finding new host bodies, with violence if necessary) and repeatedly say that they have 'improved' Earth and other planets they have taken over before. The fact that they are blatantly killing off species on the planets never occurs to them as violent or evil.
- In Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents, this seems to be the hat of the Church of Christian America. Notable examples:
- Early in the book, Marcus Duran is rescued by his sister, who is in the process of founding a new religion. He decides to try to convert her followers to Christianity by convincing them that Earthseed is nonsense — without bothering to find out what Earthseed actually teaches. He then leaves, graciously forgiving his sister for the fact that her followers pointed out his mistakes.
- The guards at the Camp Christian reeducation facility are devoted to teaching their prisoners to be good, hardworking Christians. They consider themselves (of course) to be better people than their prisoners — despite making the prisoners do all of the work, and letting several of them die of overwork and lack of medical attention.
- Reverend Chandler Benton likes to preach sermons on the evils of every form of sexual behavior he does not indulge in. His sermons mention, for example, homosexuality. They do not mention rape.
- Later in the book, Marcus Duran, now a minister of Christian America, tries to tell his sister — who was enslaved and tortured, and had her daughter Larkin kidnapped, by members of Christian America — that she should join the church to find her daughter. She doesn't. When he later finds Larkin, he doesn't tell his sister where she is, because he thinks she's better off being raised by emotionally abusive Christian Americans than by her non-Christian mother.
- 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 gives soapbox speeches about sin in the local town and kicks Lucy out of his house because she won'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. In the end the entire race except for a few isolated colonies died off in a matter of days.
- Boardwalk Empire has Nelson Van Alden, an incredibly messed-up Protestant fundamentalist and Prohibition agent; possibly Father Brennan, a Catholic priest with shady deals with corrupt politician Nucky Thompson (and whose influence turns Margaret Schroeder into an Hypocrite Hiding Behind Religion as well); and a rare Jewish example in Manny the Kosher butcher, who kills people with the same facility he offers rabbinical wisdom.
- Caleb, the Dragon to the First Evil in the last televised season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an utterly psychotic, misogynistic defrocked priest.
- Genevieve Holt from the episode, "Where The Wild Things Are". She cuts the girls' hair if they are bad and punishes them by "baptizing" them (putting the young orphans' heads in the bathtub) if they are "unclean". Now a manifestation that was not only a ghost, but a poltergeist that took the form of the raw emotions of the orphans brings those who were attending a party at the Lowell house the same treatment Holt did to the orphans.
- Shirley in Community both parodies and plays this straight; she's the most openly and passionately religious of the study group members, and while, for the most part, she's a likable and friendly person, her beliefs can lead her to get very obnoxiously self-righteous very quickly.
- Robbie's wife's parents from Everybody Loves Raymond. Also, Frank has his few moments and Marie her many moments.
- Played with a little in Father Ted. While Jack is a drunken lech and Dougal a ditz, Ted himself is a bit more complex. Clearly he is interested in fame and money but many occasions show that he at least has faith and often means well; he just is a bit too inclined to follow his baser desires. There is an interview with the creators where they discuss their real feelings on religion. If people haven't watched this, they may assume that Father Ted was an affectionate, if sharp tongued parody.
- Downplayed with the character Book from Firefly. He does have some elements of this trope, such as giving the other characters spiritual advice (and he manages to do so in a way that is not at all preachy) and sticking to Thou Shalt Not Kill even in rather life-threatening situations. Also, unlike most examples of Holier Than Thou, Book manages to make more than a few jokes about religiosity and Holier Than Thou itself: at one point, Inara asks if he's going to preach about the error of her ways, and Book replies: "I just brought you some dinner, but if you'd prefer a lecture, I have a few catchy ones prepped. Sin and hellfire—one has lepers."
- Used occasionally in the Highlander franchise, especially since the various Immortals are either so old they predate current religions, or are vilified and hunted as being witches or abominations. In the fifth movie, Highlander: The Source, one of the protagonists is a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, and is portrayed as a total jerkass. One character calls him out on this, saying something to the effect of, "I met Jesus. He wouldn't like you very much."
- More powerfully averted though, by the character of Darius, the priest of a small church in Paris. It is implied that he himself is not actually a Christian (being more than 2000 years old and born a barbarian raider he wouldn't have run into Christianity until many, many years after he first became Immortal), but he strictly follows both the rule and the intent of the church laws, knowing how important it is to his mortal followers.
- Darius was extremely popular with the audience, and was intended to be a long-term character in the series, but the actor's death at the end of the first season forced them to change direction.
- Kai Winn Adami, the manipulative, power-grabbing (and smug, can't forget smug) spiritual leader of Bajor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Her primary clash with Emissary Benjamin Sisko (besides from the fact he, a non-Bajoran, was given a title and prestige in their holy order that trumps hers), was that his faith and respect for the Bajoran religion was far stronger and more pure than hers was. And let's not forget what she did to her rival for the role of Kai, Vedek Bareil, and her eventual defection to her religion's "devils" the Pah-Wraiths...
- She was also deeply envious that the Prophets would communicate directly with Sisko, while she was never granted such visions despite a lifelong devotion to the Prophets. A good portion of the events in the final season of the show could have been avoided if the Prophets had simply spoken to her.
- However much a smug, self-righteous, passive-aggressive manipulative bitch she seemed to be before, one got the feeling that she sincerely was devoted to the Prophets and to the good of Bajor; that made her defection to the Pah-Wraiths all the more shocking.
- On the other hand, many worshipers of the Bajoran gods tended to subvert this, most notably Major Kira.
- Even more notably, the previous Kai was a saintly woman who willingly remained behind on a hellish world to help its constantly warring natives achieve peace. Not that she had much choice, really, but she accepted it gracefully.
- The Expanded Universe novels include a species of alien that worship an offshoot of the Prophets, murdering anyone who worshiped either the normal Prophets or the Pah-Wraiths as heretics and false believers. Also in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch, we have Vedek Yevir, who has ambitions to be kai. At first he looks like a retread of Kai Winn in some regards (tensions with Kira included). However...he gets better later on, particularly in Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Cardassia, where he has a genuine Crowning Moment of Awesome, and one befitting a religious minister (he talks a 14-year old would-be suicide bomber into standing down).
- She was also deeply envious that the Prophets would communicate directly with Sisko, while she was never granted such visions despite a lifelong devotion to the Prophets. A good portion of the events in the final season of the show could have been avoided if the Prophets had simply spoken to her.
- Justified in Joan of Arcadia, as God is Holier Than Thou, and whatever he told Joan to do was ultimately right, even when it seemed wrong. Most other religious characters are a subversion, offering their interpretations of God in a non-demeaning manner. There was one character in one episode as a response to the priest sex abuse scandal, but he was a short-lived exception.
- Played with in the BBC Robin Hood series. A Catholic bishop publicly accuses Robin and his outlaws of being heretics, as well as anyone helping them. While it seems that he's on the Sheriff's side, it turns out that the Sheriff is blackmailing him. Apparently, the bishop is secretly translating the Bible into English to allow people to read the book themselves without an intermediary providing his own interpretation. Of course, if the truth gets out, the bishop will be excommunicated (or worse). Brother Tuck convinces the bishop to stand up to the Sheriff, who throws the translation into the fire. The end of the episode shows the bishop starting anew.
- In one episode of Seinfeld, Elaine's boyfriend Puddy is revealed to be a Christian. When she asks him if it bothers him that she's not religious, he tells her he doesn't care because he's not the one going to hell.
- In Stargate SG-1, given that the "gods" are usually evil, anyone who's particularly devout toward them is probably evil as well, both in the case of the Goa'uld and the Ori.
- This is averted occasionally, whenever a handful of mooks realizes their gods are shams and switch sides. This is especially true of Tomin, a humble villager-turned-general, who gives a priest an epic verbal reaming over how they're corrupting the Ori religion to oppress and destroy. He was, indeed, holier than thou.
- Also averted in the character of Sam Carter, whom Word of God (i.e., the actress) says is a practicing Catholic and can occasionally be seen quietly praying before the shit really hits the fan.
- Played straight and averted in Episode 52, "Demons". The Canon is a self-righteous (and self-worshiping) witch-hunt leader; Simon is the devout, who stands up both to the corrupt Canon and "the Devil" (actually a Goa'uld-possessed Unas) at the episode's climax.
Unas/Devil: Your God has abandoned you!Simon: My God is with me always. [butt-kicking ensues]
- Senator Kinsey, who loves to tell people how he's doing God's work, even if he has to get in bed with the Devil, said Devil being a shady government agency stealing alien tech and pissing off humanity's only allies.
- The Weaver Family from Season 8 of The Amazing Race. They constantly trumpeted how they were the only team who deserved to win, because they were the only good people on the Race, yet they were that season's least popular team, and were hated by all the other teams because of the way they acted and their general attitudes.
- Charla and Mirna (Seasons 5 and 11) were a less severe case of this, but that still didn't stop them from condemning the other teams for being untrustworthy and back-stabbing them. Season 5 even saw Mirna rant that all the other teams were jealous of them.
- The Dead Zone's Big Bad is a corrupt, manipulative, womanizing sociopath with an encyclopedic memory of scripture who represents himself in public as deeply religious. In contrast, Reverend Gene Purdy is a genuinely religious character who at first seems sinister but over the course of the series proves to be compassionate and well-intentioned, albeit prone to a lot of internal conflict over the ethically questionable decisions he makes from time to time.
- Averted in The West Wing with devoutly-Catholic President Jed Bartlet and Chief of Staff Leo McGarry and devoutly-Jewish Communications Director Toby Ziegler, none of whom are holier than thou (well, Toby might be, but for different reasons). Played straight with some other characters, though, such as the evangelicals from the first episode.
- In some episodes, however, Josh Lyman, a fellow Jew (if a seemingly less-devout one) does note that Toby has a tendency to treat Josh as somehow being a lesser Jew, partly because Toby comes from New York and Josh from Connecticut.
- Averted in the short-lived Threshold where astrophysicist Lucas Pegg was established as a deeply religious person... but a very quiet, private one who looked to his faith for reassurance in the face of adversity (the coming of hostile aliens) and didn't care to push it.
- In an episode where one of the alien-infected humans used a church as a front to work and expose people to the alien virus, the faithful were largely reasonable people, and the reverend was not evil but, instead, greatly confused by the return of a former member who had been reported dead.
- The religious Detective Rey Curtis in Law & Order frequently got very self-righteous and judgemental regarding the people around him and the criminals he investigated. After an extra-marital one-night-stand that almost destroyed his marriage, however, he gradually became a lot more humble.
- Metallica had a song on Metallica (better known as The Black Album) titled "Holier Than Thou". The narrator is accusing the person he's talking to of being this. Lyrics include the lines:
"You lie so much you believe yourself/Judge not lest ye be judged yourself""Holier than thou/You are/You/Know not""Point the finger, slow to understand/Arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand"
- Iron Maiden's "Holy Smoke", a Protest Song about televangelists, depicts them as this, complete with the line "I've lived in filth, I've lived in sin, and I still smell cleaner than the shit you're in!"
- "Witness" by Mindless Self Indulgence:
"Son of a bitch! God likes me! I am the best! Fuck every. Body. Else."
- Parodied in the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Amish Paradise"
"Think you're really righteous? Think you're pure of heart? Well I know I'm a million times as humble as thou art!"
- According to the Orthodox Christianity, the true Christian (saint) is an inversion of it. He/she should come through learning about your sins and leaving by God's commandments and come to the conclusion that you are a sinner, and the worst of them. It's the true (and the first) sign that you do right. They say that is the ideal that we should all be following, if we really want to saved by God. Otherwise, your soul is in GREAT peril.
- Jesus Himself was particularly harsh on Holier Than Thou types, calling them hypocrites who "are like a tomb whitewashed and beautiful but full of old bones and dead people". He tended to emphasize the importance of humility and self-awareness of one's own shortcomings, and often said that those who proudly perform "good deeds" in front of an audience so that everyone knows how good they are will receive no reward in Heaven, having already received all the reward they deserve.
- Chances are, whenever you see a deeply religious gimmick in Professional Wrestling, it'll be of this type(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.
- As you grovel and ask to be absolved of your sins The Apostle Judah Mathew will strike down great vengeance and furious anger and on that day all of his followers will know that he is lord of the ring! In the name of the father, in the name of the son, in the name of the holy spirit and in the name of the apostle, amen.
- "Top Shelf" Troy Nelson uses both philosophical and religious points to argue his case, at times reading directly from the Bible. He doesn't need to be "right" or "holy" to convince himself of his own superiority, they're more like hobbies.
- Kingdom Hearts's Master Xehanort seeks Balance Between Light and Darkness... but is ultimately the worst Dark Is Evil Sociopath in the series, ruining many lives (even his own brother figure's and his pupils') on his trek and just invoking Because Destiny Says So whenever given a Kirk Summation. Hypocritically, he himself sees anyone Light-heavy as this, even if they're Properly Paranoid toward Darkness (which he hasn't helped).
- 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. This pride is the very thing that makes it so easy for the Big Bad to turn her to the Dark Side.
- 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 Star Wars: The Old Republic, antagonistic Jedi faced by Imperial classes tend to be pompous hypocrites who are full of themselves and are always willing to brag about their moral superiority regardless of how you've been playing your character.
- 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.
- In general, Law is almost invariably this while Chaos is "Screw The Rules, We've Got Demonic Powers".
- "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.
- Dragon Age:
- The Chantry has an unfortunate tendency to produce this mindset, as it's implicit in their belief system that theirs is the only true religion. The worst elements of the Templars, the Chantry's military arm, feel that it's their divine right to treat mages however they want - and to execute anyone, mage or civilian, who disagrees.
- Anders can be like this in Dragon Age II: he sometimes acts as if he understands the mage conflict and how spirits work better than anyone, down to berating Merrill for using Blood Magic even though he himself is possessed.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, the first season's Big Bad, Karamazov, seems to believe he's much holier than everyone else, so all he does is justified, despite the fact the Ecclesiarch and the Custodes, the Emperor's personal servants, call him out on his actions. This only fuels his conviction that he is truly the most holy.
- 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.
- 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.
- Gargoyles: Demona, like Frollo, attempts to purge the world of evil and sees corruption in every human (and quite a few gargoyles, too, like Goliath).
- Moral Orel:
- Most of the characters fall under the "piety as a front" version of this trope. They're all really much more concerned with enforcing social norms than any genuine faith, with the (apparently exclusive) exception of Orel himself.
- Rev. Putty seems to be a subversion too, especially as you get closer to the end of the series. He really seems to want to inspire hope and steer people towards a righteous life, but is very understanding of alternate lifestyles and quick to admit he's human. That he has flaws and is just another guy with a job. Putty's Character Development and renewal of faith certainly helps.
- The biggest offender is Miss Censordoll, who believes she she is a god thanks to her sexual organs being removed in infancy and in fact says this verbatim.
Censordoll: I am not "holier than thou", mother... but I am holier than you.
- The Simpsons:
- Despite naming Flanderization and having a bunch of cringe-worthy moral-guardian moments (such as the time he claimed he's so fit and well-built because he constantly runs for the cure... for homosexuality...), Ned Flanders usually averts this trope. He's incredibly nice and compassionate, even to someone like Homer who constantly abuses him, and his faith is shown to be a source of his friendly nature. He's also shown undergoing at least one realistically-portrayed crisis of faith, but still doesn't lose his religion. That said, even his kids are disturbed when he spends untold hours staring at recordings of daily TV shows in search for corruption and anti-Christianity in order to complain about them on the Internet (sadly, some people really do this in Real Life). "Daddy, we think you need a new Mommy..." With that in mind, Flanders DID get more fundamentalist when Maude died, making it a possible example of clinging to Religon in an extreme fashion to get past the trauma and pain of losing his wife. The more time he had to cope, however, the more tolerant he got, even to the point of marrying Edna Krabbappel.
- Lisa is an even more notorious example, even more so than Ned. Over the past twenty years, she's become a Granola Girl, a straw-buddhist, and even a feminist. All of this came from her point of view of everyone else being morons in her eyes. However, she comes off as such a hypocrite that it gets painful to watch sometimes. The episode where she turns into a Granola Girl? It was a life lesson Aesop to teach her to not force beliefs on others. It aired on 1995, and not only did the lesson not stick, she's only become worse as time went on.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: Edd/Double D is the smartest of the three title characters and feels he has the most morals out of all of them due to clearly knowing right from wrong and often feeling ashamed for any wrong doings he and his friends cause. He also is quick to brag about his "higher morals" than his friends and rub it in their faces when they don't listen to him and end up getting in trouble because of it. This has actually led to him betraying his friends a few times due to believing it will teach them a lesson, like voting for Plank over Eddy as King of The Cul-de-sac, delivering Ed and Eddy's report cards to their parents himself under orders from the principal, and aiding Kevin in getting revenge on Eddy for a prank. Eddy eventually calls him out on this in The Big Picture Show, when Double D blames him and all his scams for their problems, stating that Double D isn't as innocent as he always claims to be by willingly participating and building many of their scams, including the one that went horribly wrong in the movie.