After thinking of all the bad things that have been motivated and influenced by religion I would have to conclude that the idea of religion is neutral. To understand life and the universe from a metaphysical perspective and to let that understanding guide you is a very human and a very legitimate aim even in the 21st century.
Why then does a metaphysical understanding of the universe and a life aligned with that understanding engender such atrocities as the Crusades, Christian persecution, and American slavery? I believe the answer is to be found in the lack of legitimacy for other illegitimate yet altogether frequent human pursuits: the pursuit of power and money.
Religion by itself is neutral but it has been used to justify the domination of one group over another and the amassing of resources for one particular group. What better way to provide legitimacy for conquest and oppression than by covering it up with the idea that “God told you so” (think Crusades, Manifest Destiny, Jihad, Atlantic Slave Trade, Third Reich etc.)
In actuality, it is not only covering up the illegitimate pursuit of power and money (money and power are also not bad in and of themselves) but it is also covering up something else that is altogether too human…an overwhelming sense of insecurity and insignificance. On a small scale I have witnessed this in church settings where an insecure person tries to justify everything they do (especially when it is in opposition to someone else’s desires and needs) by saying “God told me so”. On a larger scale, this sense of insecurity and insignificance is what causes people to do insane things in the name of religion. To gain significance and security religious adherents have ostracized others, practiced murder and torture, sent flaming emails, and acted like overall rude jerks. Now these actions can all be done without religion but human beings find legitimacy for these actions in religion. It has been used as a mask for our dysfunction. Ironically, this sense of insignificance and insecurity is one of the things religion is supposed to solve. Religion is designed to give legitimacy to our existence. There must be a reason why it doesn’t scratch the itch we have had since the beginning of time. Any thoughts?