I've been thinking a lot about the notion that the world would be a better place without religion. I was watching Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled," which addresses academe's treatment of researchers who study Intelligent Design, and it set me thinking. I've heard the anti-religion sentiment from many camps, from journalists to academics to entertainers. Citing the many atrocities committed in the name of one god or the other, it is supposed that eradicating religion would enable humans to become more civilized and stop lobbing bombs at one another.
I reckon there is a preponderance of evidence supporting this viewpoint, between the Crusades and the Inquisition and the entire history of the Middle East. One could argue, however, that there have been just as many horrors inflicted by one group of flag-waving humans on another group of flag-waving humans that were not motivated by religion. Pick your communist government as an illustration of this, given their fascist tendency to kidnap, imprison, and murder dissenters. The National Socialist German Worker's Party is also a fair example of this; you may know them as the Nazi party.
Buddhists and Hindus also seem to put a rather large whole in the "religion is responsible for all the bad things in the world" theory. Admittedly, I am not a scholar on such things, and there very well could be some horrible atrocities committed at some point in history in the name of the Buddha or Ganesh. In any case, I can't recall any recent instances of groups of pissed off Buddhists bombing shopping malls or abortion clinics. Also consider that there are many religions not only are non-violent, but also are responsible for much of the charity in the world. Do a Google search on the outreach ministries of the Mennonites and review the long list of community services the church provides. The Salvation Army? Great organization, outstanding charitable works...no guns.
Acts of war and terrorism, whether committed in the name of a god or a political party, seem to stem from the very human desire to achieve some kind of perfect state. Whether the result one seeks is heaven or a perfect society, it seems that once a group of zealots are whipped up in to a fever about the possibility of perfection, they will maim and kill anyone they see as an obstacle to its attainment. If you're a Muslim, infidels stand between you and your 40 virgins in heaven. If you're a Christian in the Middle Ages, dirty Muslim heathens befouling the Holy Land stand between you and the Perfect Kingdom of God. If you're a Nazi, Jews, Gypsies, retards, and other assorted imperfect human detritus stand between you and Utopia. If you're an environmentalist, whaling ships, loggers, and people driving large SUVs stand between you and a perfect, pristine planet. Combine humankind's desire for perfection with a propensity for smug self-righteousness along with some faith, ideology, or creed that accommodates both, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
I'm of the opinion that eradicating religion would not make the world a better place. Making a civilized, rational, and concerted effort to contain zealotry in all its forms, however, would probably work to the benefit of everyone.