I may be coming out of the closet with this one, but here goes. Check out this recent article by Sam Harris, entitled "10 Myths and 10 Truths About Atheism".
I have to share one quote because it's come up in recent discussions with some of my religious friends, who are apt to say, "But look at all the good religion has done."
Sam Harris writes:
"Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.
In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?"
I had a discussion recently with my brother about whether religion is really a force for good in society and whether one's intentions can excuse their behavior. I cited Mother Teresa and how she is lauded as some great and wonderful figure. But is that the case? Were her acts motivated by genuine love and kindness for those who suffer or were they guided by her devotion to and/or fear of some unprovable deity in the sky? I don't want this to be a discussion of Mother Teresa's motives, for no one can know for certain what her motivations were. My point is the question of whether belief in a God is necessary for people to do good.
Religion is such a sacred cow for most people. It seems we can discuss anything else, but when religion comes up, particularly the question of whether God exists, there is a tendency to hide behind the "I respect everyone's beliefs" philosophy. Well, you can tell this is a pretty interesting subject for me these days. I'd love to hear your thoughts, on here or in person.