I wrote the post below in May of 2009 shortly after yet another Catholic abuse scandal emerged. It is a shame to find that it is still relevant in 2018 because so little has changed. After some minor editing to improve clarity and correct a couple of typos, I figured it was time to share it again.
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.- Steven Weinberg
When I think of the latest Catholic abuse scandal in Ireland, the torture of children accused of witchcraft at the hands of Christian pastors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the myriad of other atrocities committed by Christians, or even the many atrocities contained in the "holy" bible itself, I find myself thinking that Weinberg was right. History shows us that humans are capable of all sorts of despicable acts. We do not need religion to do these things. But again and again, we find that religion is associated with many of the worst. Superstition itself poses a danger to humanity.
Oh, and let's get the favorite Christian objection about Hitler, Stalin, and the like out of the way at the outset. The myth about Hitler being an atheist has been thoroughly debunked. By continuing to repeat it, one merely shows willful ignorance. Hitler was not an atheist. But what about Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot? While they may have been atheists, they were obviously not motivated by atheism.
What I am saying here and what I think Weinberg was referring to, is not the claim that religion is somehow responsible for all the world's ills. That would be far too simplistic. I am saying that there are aspects of religion which are dangerous and which seem to allow even worse behavior on the part of the actor. Dehumanization is an excellent example. Religion is not required for it to occur, but religion does appear to be associated with the nastiest forms of it. Belief in hell is another good example for many of the same reasons.
I do not believe that the disappearance of religion would leave us with a perfect world. Many problems would remain. I do believe that the disappearance of religion would lead to many improvements though.
H/T to Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker