I continue to have this internal debate over the idea of the direct "harmfulness" of religion.
Many atheists claim that religion, in and of itself, is harmful, not only because of what some religious adherents do in the name of a particular religious deity or figurehead, but because of the negative influences it can have on their day-to-day decision making (for example: praying for healing instead of visiting a hospital).
I always wonder, however, with humans being the way they are, if there was no religion, wouldn't there most likely be some other harmful political or social ideal that various groups would follow with just as much fervor?
You have a point, Mike, in that of course there are other destructive ideologies that people can adopt. However, it is not as though the presence of religion prevents them from arising, Nazism got along just fine with the German churches.
I would put it this way: the problem is not belief in gods per se, nor is it even the broader system of religions in general. The problem is FAITH. Faith is a great evil that underlies Nazism and Stalinism just as much as it underlies religion.
For this reason, I believe that if religion, which explicitly names faith as virtue, encourages and glorifies it, were somehow eliminated (not that I think it will be) the other irrational and destructive systems of thought would also decline. Faith teaches people to be credulous, and the evil among us will always exploit credulity.
But I will say, this is a battle that will have to be fought anew in every generation. It will never be won for good and all.
I think Janet is correct. As long as faith is upheld by humankind as a virtue, it will remain an anathema to our wellbeing in modern society.