So, it seems to me like alcohol, particularly in large quantities, just exacerbates (or disinhibits) a person’s existing personality characteristics. If someone is already belligerent they’re likely to get in a fight, if they’re happy and mellow they’ll be more happy and mellow, and so on.
And it seems to me as though religion serves a similar role, in that it disinhibits people and lets them take their existing characters to much more extreme lengths than they would feel able to without religion. If they’re good, loving, caring people – and I have many wonderful Christian friends who are – their faith supports them in that and gives them extra avenues and communities in which to enact it. On the other hand, if someone is fanatical, or judgemental, or filled with hate, or scared of their own sexuality… they can find a branch of religion that will allow them to take those things to extremes… even to the extent of killing or dying for them.
Religion claims to be about stories of transformation… but it seems as though sometimes it’s more about the same kinds of energies being directed in slightly different directions: the most fanatical sinners become the most fanatical saints, but they’re still fanatics, and their faith just allows them to go to extremes.
Atheism and humanism, by contrast, seem more modest, and to keep people to less extreme attitudes and behaviours. That’s a generalisation, and I know someone will be sure to throw communist atheism and purges at me. I guess in a sense it’s a matter of definitions and semantics, but to me by the time you get to a place of killing for a lack of ideological purity, you’re back around to religion in some form.
As I said above, I’m not saying that religion is always, or even on balance, a negative force in the world. There are many medical missionaries and people running orphanages and soup kitchens, enabled by their faith, as well as smaller but still very important embodiments of grace. But I do think the analogy with alcohol is at least of passing interest…