Yesterday, Paula Kirby wrote an outstanding article in the Washington Post's On Faith column about religion and freedom. It was an excellent examination of the subject, and it drove the theists nuts in the comments.
Unfortunately, their defenses are about points not brought up by Paula to prove her case. None of them successfully refute her at all. Their objections run the gamut from cites of famous dictators such as Hitler and Stalin to pointing out the positive values that Christianity supposedly teaches. I guess I could say does teach, since the bible does say things such as you shouldn't steal or lie in court or murder people, but the problem isn't with a lack of positive values. Her point is that by adhering to the teachings of a deity, worshiping a deity, obeying its laws and dictates, one is submitting oneself to the dictatorial rule of an unseen, unheard entity whose human representatives are the ones that claim to have the real scoop on what that deity has to say!
It is no accident that all such religions, certainly the Abrahamic ones, are modeled on authoritarian systems of the past, where the elite of the clerics are the ones that claim to have that clear and straight channel to the god's ear and from his mouth to their ears! A hotline, if you will. One might note that it wasn't until the sixteenth century that the bible began to be translated into languages the common man could read. Before that, only priests and scholars could read it, since the languages it was written in were not widely known, indeed, were ancient languages no longer spoken. As a result, only the clerics that could read it knew what it said and had the education to interpret it - which interpretation, of course, was the official church dogma.
The old saying is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A quick scan of religious history proves the point. Not just western history, but all over the place. The Dalai Lama is an absolute ruler in the same vein as the Pope. While the whole world fawns over him as some font of wisdom and bemoan his fate as exile from his country (which IS a true oppression of his people by China, by the way), it is conveniently forgotten that he is an absolute dictator.
The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice. Don't try to tell me that everybody in that society agreed with it and cooperated when they or a family member got picked for the "honor" of taking a message to the gods in person!
The Egyptian Pharaoh was the head of his people and their religious leader too. How many Egyptians died building the kings' heavenly abodes? How many were killed to protect the locations of those tombs?
Ancient archeological sites are rife with tombs, being a huge repository of ancient artifacts that tell us about our ancestors. Many of them in ancient civilizations included human sacrifice, where servants of the kings were killed and buried with them to serve in the afterlife.
Islam may not have the hierarchical structure of christianity, but it does give its clerics an absolute authority over his followers, and there exists a tradition of combining secular authority with religious authority in ways that the west tossed aside hundreds of years ago. Yet, today, Iran is a country ruled by clerics. Clerics that want nuclear weapons!
Our opposition to religion isn't that it is automatically an immoral belief system, but that the organizations that are spawned by religion to serve their gods always devolve into organizations that inevitably seek secular power. That secular power is always used to protect itself and to suppress opposing belief systems.
At such times, freedom dies, as it will die in this country unless we stop the theists' attempts to turn this country into what it never was.
Paula's essay is at the Washington Post's On Faith web site: