I am an atheist and a materialist by belief and disposition. I readily criticize religious institutions for specific practices and policies. I delight in proposing sociological explanations for religious phenomena.
Nevertheless, I have very little sympathy for, or common cause with, those evangelical and dogmatic New Atheists who attack religious faith as such, blame religion for the world’s conflicts, and seek to abolish religion from the face of the Earth.
Some of my best friends are theists. Some great champions of social justice have been theists. Theism is not going away any time soon. And I don’t think that symbolic violence against religion as such does anything to advance the cause of democracy, human rights, human security, or socialism for that matter.
I think that the root causes of “religious” violence are economic and political (sometimes micropolitical), which is to say: practical, not ideational.
I also think that if religion were to magically vanish tomorrow there would be not one less bit of violence in the world. At best, we might see the causes and goals of violence more clearly, without mystification, for a little while, until new mystifications – non-theistic ones, but just as metaphysical and inarguable as theistic dogmas – emerged to take their place, which would happen within the space of hours.