Micah asserts that I think religion is pure evil:
It’s concerning to me that many atheists I’ve conversed with (and for those who do not know me, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that I am, in fact, firmly an atheist myself) wish to paint particular (or all) religions (and/or their practitioners) in black-and-white. If no good ever follows from religious belief, while of course evil does and has demonstrably followed therefrom, it follows that religious belief (at least those which have demonstrably resulted in evil, which doesn’t necessarily include all religious beliefs) is pure evil. Nothing is pure evil; not one thing. It may certainly be argued that religious belief, and in particular, certain religious beliefs, produce more evil (much more evil, even) than good; and even that the beliefs themselves are therefore evil. But nothing is evil in all of its aspects. Nothing in life is ever that black-and-white.
This is not quite the case. First, I say that some religious belief is simply vacuous; vacuous is not even bad, much less evil. Secondly, I assert that some religious belief is caused by one's beliefs about what is good; that sort of belief per se is bad or evil only to the extent that one's bad or evil beliefs, not one's good beliefs, are causing one's religious beliefs. I criticize the practice at a more abstract level — I think it's always bad to justify any practice, however otherwise good, by virtue of submission to authority — but a religious belief caused by a good belief is not itself bad. To say that no good — and much bad and sometimes evil — follows from religious belief is not to say that religious belief is universally bad.
However, I do think that religious belief is never good. If I thought it were sometimes good, then I would sometimes be religious. But I'm never religious; where religion isn't bad, it is — in my not-at-all humble opinion — simply irrelevant, meaningless, ludicrous or just dumb. So Micah is not too far off the mark.
More importantly, though, I think Micah is conflating bad with evil. Shooting yourself in the foot is bad. Shooting someone else in the foot is evil. I think religious belief causes the most harm to believers themselves. I also think that most clergy are just as deeply deluded as their followers, and sincerely (but mistakenly) believe they are doing their followers good, not harm. Still bad, still dumb, but not evil. For me to call something evil, it must not only cause harm, but intentionally and knowingly cause harm to others.
I'll deal with the more substantive criticism of Micah's post later this week, but I'll say this now: Religion is often evil, usually bad, and never good.