The main body is a comment posted at a friend’s blog but which I would like to present here too as an addendum to the interesting Munk Debate between Blair and Hitchen but one which has spawned some interesting comment elsewhere.
There are some deeper and interesting questions to draw from this debate. I think the first is that if we agree (broadly) that religion is not a force for good, this does not presuppose that there is no good in religion.
A second might be to ask what are the deeper underlying philosophical questions, values and ideas which we can gain from religion. We should also acknowledge that which we derive from religion are human and that religion is a part of the human nature. This however, does not require a divine being but self-knowledge.
A third would be to acknowledge that religion is not tied solely to the Judaic forms but takes more than Jewish, Christian or Islamic forms. Again, we should recognise in our societies the very traits that we find in religion because religion is (correctly, as the Hitch points out in GiNG) a human creation. The danger in the heart of religion remains the injunctions towards harm, which exist alongside the injunctions towards good. Where Hitch is right is that we need to understand that the injunctions towards kindness are reminders of our better natures but that those towards harm encourage the worst in ourselves.
Religions which discourage the individual will, which command obedience are manifestly harmful where this demand is extended to all. Emphasis upon bodily sin, upon morbid guilt and human innate wickedness without “redemption” harms people, especially children.
As Hitch has put it before: “God loves you, but only if you obey. If you do not obey, then he will punish you.” He’s not entirely right as it seems to me that religion is a strange mixture of the commanding, the beneficial, the myth-origin narrative and moral/social philosophy.
The danger in attempting to banish religion is that the religious, dogmatic instinct is deeply present in our psyches. We have in the West constructed and are constructing dogmatic faiths, whether redemptionist in outlook (socialism) or nihilistic (Nazism, AGW dogmatics). If we can and must develop from this, as Hitch points out, is self-discipline and self-knowledge resulting an open and secular moral education.