Returning to the thesis.
Yes, religion can go wrong, but it won’t always go wrong. In fact, religious views on peace and justice have been as formative, if not more, on our society as the problems have been destructive. Not every person is destined to take religion to its darker places. And as mentioned before, when religious groups go wrong, it’s not so much because of a problem inherent in religion itself, but because of what potentially exists in all people, regardless of religious belief or non-belief. When people attack religion, not only do they ignore the real causes of problems of the world, but they help to perpetuate the problem for the following reasons
1) When you focus the argument on religion, you create an unwinnable argument, and generate unsolvable problems. This is because, as discussed before, the problems are not actually religion itself, but the more human aspect of it, and by focusing on religion, you are ignoring the real problem. It is true that religion supporters can’t fully ignore the violence and bigotry that has happened in the name of religion, but it is also true that the anti-religious can’t really justify calling the Dalai Lama, MLK and Gandhi war-mongering bigots. And while this argument is spinning round and round in a never-ending cycle of finger pointing, the real causes are never addressed. As outlined before, for instance, the conflict between religion and science is not inherent to either, it comes when one or the other violates the boundaries of both. War and atrocity comes from group pressures, leadership demands, othering and “absoltionism.” These aspects are a lot easier to work with because instead finger pointing at “types” of people, you can discuss ideas that lead to actions that cause problems. This is analogous to what is done in therapy. People with mental health problems don’t get better if you label them as immoral, they get better when you ask them to look at the thoughts and behaviors they have that are hurting themselves and others. Similarly, if you want to heal a society, you don’t do so by claiming one group is more immoral than another, but you target specific ideas that lead to harm, such as othering, bullying, blind obedience, etc, that people can change.
2) When you attack religion as a whole, you are attacking all of its members. When you critique a problem existing in some religious groups, however, you can find yourself with unexpected allies. One of the core concepts of intervention in community psychology is that of collaboration, because who presents an idea to a community is just as important as the idea itself. People give more authority to members of their own groups, and so finding that allie is the most powerful agent of change available. The problem with generalizations is that you are ignoring the diversity of a group, and therefore anyone within with whom you could share your ideas for change. Whether or not a group produces violent zealots and society changing peacemakers depends on where the support is within the group. If a group really wants to go to war, they will silence the peacemakers within their ranks, even though you find more discussion of peace than war in most religious texts. When you call all of religion warlike, you are likewise ignoring these peacemakers, and participating in forcing the silence upon them. But if you talk about peace, and not about religion, you will find members within the group willing to listen and work with you towards peace. The current debate over homosexuality is another great example of this. It is true that most people against equal rights for homosexuals make religious claims, but there are real causes of homophobia that science has investigated. What is also true is that there are a lot of religious individuals and groups who are supportive of sexual equality, and have been vocal about it using very coherent and religious based arguments (here, here, and here). But when you claim all religious people are homophobic, you are only acknowledging the homophobes, and helping to silence the dissent, so people never get a chance to here those ingroup views. But if you were to abandon the religion blaming and focus on homophobia as the problem, you end up strengthening internal dissent, and fostering not just change within society, but also the change within the offending religious group.
3) Religions bashers ultimately end up repeating the sins they damn in religion. Are Religion basher’s anti-science? Well, if science has not found religion to blame, are they not putting their own beliefs over science just as much as the creationists? And if their main attack of religion is to attack the literal as being empirically impossible, are they not committing a boundary violation of the two? As for violence, have you noticed the stereotyping, mockery and othering contained in religious bashing? If you think the only difference between right and wrong is the target not the act, then how is this different than any other harassment and bullying that occurs in the world? How can you declare something is wrong when done to one person, but not wrong when you do it to another without giving inherent consent to the problem itself? Finally, as noted in Part III, the main divider between those who use religion constructively and those who use it destructively is whether their orientation is intrinsic vs extrinsic. And as the focus of your beliefs centers on being religious vs. atheist, if you push an argument that your membership gives you automatic superiority, and if you are refusing to look at the common causes of problems that live within us all, how are you not centering the whole focus on the same extrinsic orientation that is associated with problems and not benefits?
So what does this all mean in relation to religion and atheism?
Belief eventually comes down to what your experiences bring you to believe. There are very moral believers, and very moral atheists, just as there are very immoral believers and very immoral atheists.
What this does say is that, when it comes to belief, we cannot say that it definitely does go wrong, as this just perpetuates the problem. Instead, we need to understand why it can go wrong, so we can address the problems, without attacking people if they do or do not believe. In the end, solutions come when you are problem focused, being blame focused just causes more problems.
So lets just stop calling names and start being decent people.