Here are just a few recent examples of detestable behaviour which is either justified by religion, or a direct result of its ideology.
A Danish cartoonist who drew a cartoon depicting Mohammed survives an axe attack. He had already spent a few months on the run with his wife due to receiving death threats from critical Muslims. Indeed the controvesy of the Danish cartoonist's depiction of Mohammed caused rioting in Nigeria, during which 16 people died. Two Muslim men were also charged over an attempt to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. He also depicted Mohammed, this time Mohammed's head on a dog. This happened in Ireland, an apparently modern forward-thinking country.
In Malaysia Churches are being fire-bombed by Muslims. Thankfully no-one has been killed. Why are Muslims so upset, because when the Christians publish material in the Malay language they use the word for 'Allah' when they translate the word God, being the word used traditionally in the area for centuries.
Iran executes 2 gay teenagers. One was 18 years old and one was a minor under the age of 18. Interestingly they claimed most young men had sex with each other and they didn't know it was punishable by death.
A dose of irony is provided by the story of Christopher Jarvis. He was hired by the Catholic Church as a child safety coordinator in 2002, he was tasked with investigating paedophile abuse within the church. Jarvis was arrested in 2011 for 'possessing, making and distributing' child pornography images. More than 4,000 photos, mainly of biys aged 10-12, were found to be in his possession. This being the man meant to be protecting them. A report found that children in Irish Catholic-run schools and orphanages were subject to endemic rape and abuse.
When Obama tried to expand hate-crime laws in order to protect those in minority groups, guess who some of the most vocal opponents were, Christian conservatives who feared it would oppress their ability to speak out against homosexuality. Oppressive speech wrapped in a veil of religion is still oppressive speech. A gay-couple were prevented from entering a Church, the Pastor and his deacons even physically assaulted the couple. What makes this even worse is the Pastor is the father of one of the members of the couple. So much for unconditional love hey. More disgustingly the local authorities initially denied the couple the right to file charges for the assault.
There is also the issue of homosexuality in America, awareness being raised after a boy commits suicide who had earlier filmed a clip for the 'It Gets Better' campaign. Evidently things didn't get better for the boy. His story isn't unique, there was a surge of suicides in America due to bullying of gays. This has sparked a debate about anti-bullying campaigns. Religious conservatives argue that anti-gay bullying campaigns in particular are swaying young peoples opinions about homosexuality and its acceptability. As if I, as an individual, can't decide how to live my own life.
In Africa there is a worrying trend of children being denounced as witches by Christian pastors. These children are then often tortured or punished as a form of \"exorcism\" by their family which can easily result in death. This trend is a result of the rapid recent growth of evangelical Christianity. In Swaziland an albino girl was shot and then behaded for witchcraft.Also in Nigeria an atheist organised a conference to discuss child rights and witchcraft. At this conference he was attacked by a group of Christians. At the beginning of the conference the religious protesters raided the venue and loudly disrupted proceedings.
In Nigeria Muslim preachers opposed Polio vaccination programs. There initial fears may have been reasonable with primary tests on the drugs used not being conclusive. They continued their campaign against the vaccine, particularly in the north, where the rhetoric just descended into conspiracy, claiming the vaccine was part of a \"Western plot\". Despite the efforts of those involved the Polio virus, after an initial success in the vaccination program, made a comeback.
In Israel Ultra-Orthodox Jews harassed an 8-year old girl because they felt she wasn't dressed appropriately. Why, because they might be too tempted otherwise and rape her? This isn't an isolated incident of detestable behaviour from certain Jewish sub-sects in Israel either. Some Ultra-Orthodox Jews are picketing a girls' school. They argue their religious modesty is being offended. A singer who performed in front of a mixed-sex crowd, i.e. both males and females, was whipped 39 times by rabbis to make him \"repent\". This punishment has been handed down by a rabbinic court who's founder has said its his stated aim to \"bring Jews back to religion\". In Brooklyn Hasidic Jews are abusing young boys. The article is an uncomfortable read about how Diangelo has tried to overcome being raped at age 7 in his local synagogue's mikvah. NYC authorities said they will shut down a bus service run by Jews if they don't stop making women sit at the back. These Jewish men really seem to lack self-control don't they?
National Geographic reports on women being killed for family \"honour\". This is said to have happened even in countries which are apparently more forward-thinking, such as Great Britain, Italy or Sweden. The article goes further to say that this part of a much deeper problem of how women are viewed and treated in various societies and is something that religion has clearly been complicit in. Just last year nearly a 1,000 were killed in Pakistan. A Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has said women should wear a niqab that only reveals one eye. He suggests showing two eyes encourages women to wear eye make-up and therefore be attractive to the opposite sex, because again, men clearly can't control themselves!
A NYC cab driver was violently attacked simply for being a Muslim. The perpetrator slashed him several times in the throat with a pen knife. Thankfully the cab driver has survived this ordeal.
Death threats aren't solely the purview of Muslims, Christians can stoop just as low. An American Atheists' Communication Director receives death threats after an appearance on a Fox news show.
A doctor who performed abortions was shot to death in Kansas. Admittedly Dr. Tiller did perform late-term abortions.
In Pakistan a Christian family is burned to death after allegations that the Koran had been defiled. Because we don't need actual evidence or anything like that!
These are all relatively recent events and I feel that I have not unfairly picked on any one religion in particular. I admit I have only talked about Judaism, Christianity and Islam but these are the main religions that influence my western culture. This also barely scratches the surface of some of the behaviour that is seen.
How can religion be said to be a force for good when all this happens? Whilst there are good people doing good things, this is more an homage to the innate good within humans. For the most part we want to help people. Something I haven't mentioned above is the situation where parents refuse to get medical help for their children because they believe God will cure, thus causing immense suffering for their children, or even worse death.
All that religion does is label people and thus divide them into groups, giving more ammunition to intolerance. An excuse to not help someone. This agenda is pushed mainly by the extremists within a religion; but why aren't they being called out for this? Surely moderates must take some of the blame here? By pushing religion as something to be respected they give a cloak for the extremists to hide behind.
What annoys me is the 'intellectual immunity' that religion enjoys. If I attack religion based on the above then someone might defend it with the excuse that the perpetrators were acting as an individual, and I should denounce the behaviour of only that person. Religion is not an individual endeavour. It is a communal activity in which religious ideology is passed from one person to another. The faith of one member is supported by the rest of the group. This necessarily contradicts the idea of individual conciousness.
My liberal values require that I respect someone's right to be religious, to tolerate their choices. I do not however, have to respect the religion itself just because you believe in it or that it holds great value for you. I do not respect wilful ignorance. I do not respect hatred or bigotry or misogyny. I do not respect oppression or intolorence. I do not respect religion.