We live in a time in which people very similar to me criticize organized religion for the evils it causes. I ran into an article that challenged that claim. The rejoinder it provides, though, is not to dispel the claim, but to instead point the finger at secularist regimes.
I've been known to say that some secularist ideologies provide excuses to justify murder, while religion provides actual motivation. For instance, this essay pointed out that
"The fact is that more than 100 million human beings were killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in the last century."This is accurate. At the same time, does such a secularist ideologist say 'Oh my goodness, there is no God! That makes me want to kill innocents!' Not exactly. Does a religious fanatic say 'Oh my goodness, I get dozens of virgins of my own if I destroy evil westerners! That makes me want to kill evil westerners!' Actually, yes.
However, it is not the religion or even the fact that this person is religious that deserves condemnation. The individual who wants to kill others in the name of his religion is simply operating on evil desires. He was not raised responsibly - he was told that killing others for the greater good of God was a good thing to do. When a religion teaches such things, we can criticize such a teaching, and the religion for teaching such a thing.
Bigotry is morally impermissible. Classifying all religious people in one bunch and calling them nutcases is inadvisable and, more importantly, false. Blaming them for all atrocities in the past (the strawman that the essayist raised in his introduction) is very inaccurate as well.
Just One More Motivating Factor
There are enough motivating factors for evil. Religious and secular people alike experience drives for power, money, fame... these things are not just excuses that 'allow' people to justify their evil actions - these are reasons for action. Religious beliefs can provide similar reasons for action.
Remember, though, that desires are what drive people to action. Beliefs shape what people do to accomplish those desires.
My parents are both religious people, but their convictions do not cause them to do evil. In fact, they're both basically saints. The reason for that is that their desires drive them to do good things: to provide for their children, to help others, to promote cooperation in the community, to responsibly educate, to exhibit honesty and integrity. Their beliefs influence how they go about this. My mom told me the other day that she originally wanted to enter the ministry because she 'wanted to help people.' She didn't - she's an educator - but this goes to show that she was raised with the desire to help people, and the belief that religion was necessary to fulfill that desire.
That right there is another reason to criticize religious teaching - the indoctrination that only religion provides a path to helping others and/or behaving ethically. Some teachings are good, admittedly - the poor and the helpless are to be helped, peace is an ideal, self-control and honesty... so criticize the teaching, rather than the religion or the religious.
To the author of the essay: The title of your essay was 'Religion is not to Blame,' yet you did nothing to demonstrate this. You simply pointed a finger and said 'Well, secularist ideologies killed more people!' If this was your point, then yes, religion is still to blame. Just because something else killed more does not make the other more blameworthy. Cancer and AIDS have killed more; does that excuse the actions of religious and secular persecutors?