Let me begin with a quote from a recent Paula Kirby piece in the Washington Post:
Religion is one lie after another: the lie of original sin, the lie of eternal life, the lie of hell, the lie of answered prayer, the lie that life can have no meaning without religion, the lie that religion is the source of morality, the lie of creationism, the lie of a spy-in-the-sky who hears your every word and reads your every thought. And to this list we must add the lie that it views men and women as equal. It has got away for so long with the kind of lunatic word-games that allow death-by-torture to be presented as an act of love, and eternal torment in the flames of hell to be seen as a necessary act of justice, that we should perhaps not be surprised that it has also managed to dupe its followers into seeing the systematic suppression and silencing of women as an act of liberation and equality. Nevertheless, it is a lie, like all the others: a cynical and wicked lie. It is time women everywhere woke up to it.
This is an important place to start. Religion is a cynical and wicked lie. In a comment on a recent post Tim Martin asks the question about Gregory Paul’s piece on the Man Cult of the Roman Catholic Church:
A question I have after reading this and Gregory Paul’s piece is, what is the evidence that the church is all about control? I know that they do control people a good deal, and issue moral prescriptions that prescribe how people should act, but how do you distinguish an organization that is “all about” control from one that is not? What would a church look like that is *not* all about control?
What would a church look like which is not about control? Well, the answer is simple. First of all, it wouldn’t tell lies. Second, if it made claims to speak the truth, the question of truth would be seriously asked, and answers to that question would be considered as contributions to an ongoing conversation. Third, it would not exclude from its ranks one half of the human race. Fourth, it would not attempt to have its moral or other beliefs instantiated in law. Fifth, its image would be less important than justice and right. Sixth, no one would be extruded from its fellowship just because that person believed, on reasonable grounds, that certain things are true. Seventh, it would not ossify its beliefs, by claiming them to be contained within a given text or a tradition. If, in fact, critical thought shows such texts to be inadequate in terms of fact or morality, the church would not insist on its indefectibility, but would adjust its beliefs to the findings of critical rationality. To the degree to which any organisation or institution is unresponsive to the demands of critical reason, to that extent that organisation is about control, for it will be necessary to force people to abandon critical reason, and what they understand to be true, in order to maintain the unity and continuity of the organisation so understood.
Take the example of the Roman Catholic Church’s absolute prohibition of abortion and euthanasia, its complete opposition to women in the priesthood, or its stated belief that homosexuality is grave disorder of the human person. No argument will be taken, by the Roman Catholic Church, as sufficient even to raise reasonable questions about these positions. No matter how inherently unreasonable such demands appear, the Roman Catholic Church will continue to adhere to them absolutely. Let me quote here, once again, from the Vatican Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian:
… it is one of the theologian’s task to give a correct interpretation to the texts of the Magisterium and to this end he employs various hermeneutical rules. Among these is the principle which affirms that Magisterial teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its argumentation, which may derive at times from a particular theology. As far as theological pluralism is concerned, this is only legitimate to the extent that the unity of the faith in its objective meaning is not jeopardized. 
The plain meaning of this is that, even when a “truth” of the Magisterium is shown, by theological argumentation, to be false, it still possesses a truth which is superior to that argumentation!
We have seen numerous examples of this intransigence over the last few years. In the United Kingdom, Roman Catholic adoption agencies were closed so that they would not be required to place adoptive children with homosexual couples. In Chile and El Salvador (to take but two examples), under extreme pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, abortion has been made illegal for any reason. In Brazil, abortion is permitted only where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape, and even then, the Roman Catholic Church will excommunicate those who participate in an abortion for those reasons. Notice, this is not simply a matter of religious preference, so that Roman Catholic women are put under the discipline of the church whereas abortion is legal for other women who do not share Roman Catholic beliefs in this respect. No. These are proscriptions written into the law of these countries, and apply to every woman equally.
Nor does the Roman Catholic Church in other countries seek only to convince its own people of the immorality of abortion or euthanasia. In every country where the Roman Catholic Church represents a significant presence, large-scale movements are supported by the Roman Catholic Church to attempt to have prohibitions regarding abortion or euthanasia established in law, or to prevent relaxation of existing laws where law prohibits abortion or euthanasia. In Canada, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, through its bishops’ conference, church press, and almost countless “pro-life” organisations, continues to push its anti-abortion agenda, as well as its opposition to the slightest appearance of lenience regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide.
But notice that, despite its strenuous opposition, there is no rational case to be made for this kind of universal prohibition. It is well-known that, when there are laws prohibiting abortion, women will still seek abortion, and very often these abortions will be furtive and unsafe, and women will suffer as a consequence, even before consideration is given to the criminalising of women who, for whatever reason, find that having a child is something that they do not want at the time. And by controlling women’s fertility, the church is essentially saying that that is what women are for, to bear men’s children. For the Roman Catholic Church even rape is not a sufficient reason to seek an abortion, nor is danger to the life of the woman. This form of control is, therefore, absolute and unbending. For an excellent description of the effect of such laws on the lives of women, the New York Times Magazine article on abortion in Chile, “Pro-Life Nation“, is a devastating indictment of the cruelty of the Roman Catholic control of women.
The very same applies at the end of life, over which the Roman Catholic Church maintains an unrelenting grip. Other churches, which also oppose any relaxation of the laws governing the end of life, leave the matter very much in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, which is known to have an effective opposition to the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia. This is one area where fundamentalist Protestants and Roman Catholics meet on friendly terms. While the Roman Catholic Church holds that Protestant churches are not churches at all, but “ecclesial communities” — what used to be marked in England by the distinction between dissenting “chapels” and the church — they are not above seeking support for their programme of control from such sub-Christian organisations. The Roman Catholic Church is known, internationally, as seeking support for its control over women from Islam as well.
But let there be no mistake about this. The Roman Catholic Church, which presents itself, worldwide, as responsibly critical in its understanding of religious faith, is as fundamentalist as the lowliest snake-handling cult in the Bible Belt of the United States. Its cult of sainthood is built on the absurd belief that it can be known, of a particular dead individual, that this person is already in the presence of god, by the fact that prayers to that person result in miraculous cures. This is based on the completely asinine belief that this is the only way to explain miraculous occurrences, that the person prayed to is able to represent the pleas of the faithful before the throne of god, much like a favourite at the court of the emperor could appeal on behalf on his dependents. To appreciate the complete absurdity of the practice of the canonisation of the dead one only has to study dispassionately examples of journalistic frenzy when a local deceased person is canonised, such as Mary MacKillop in Australia. Occasions of canonisation are carefully staged and crafted lies designed to maintain control over the credulous, in no significant respect different from the Sathya Sai Baba cult in India.
Because religion is a system of lies used, for political reasons, to control the lives and beliefs of others, and is known to be so, it is no longer reasonable to defend the respect that is granted so widely to religion. Given the wide diversity of religions in the world, the chance that any one of them has captured the truth about some non-natural or supernatural realm of being is so vanishingly small as to be simply incredible. Given, also, as Gregory Paul has shown in some detail, that religion prospers where people’s lives are uncertain and unpredictable, it seems clear that religion, while it does perform some kind of psychosocial function, has no bearing on the truth of things. Therefore, even where it may be thought reasonable to permit religion to play a role in the lives of individuals, there is no reason for allowing religion to determine the content of laws or to ground social order. It is high time that religion be seen for the lie that it is, so that people can begin to establish their relationships on the basis of moral and political principles which have a good chance of being reliably based on the nature of the human being, rather than on continued adherence to beliefs for which there is no reasonable basis. It is time to abandon religion as a form of social control, and begin to reorganise societies on the basis of a reasonable assessment of what is most likely to be true.