Both long and short term history teaches us that religion does at least as much harm as good; serving, as it does, as a vehicle for fomenting hatred, strife, suffering and the most brutal wars. By its rigid and exclusive nature religion is an unreliable vehicle for promoting universal love among mankind.
Never mind that religion is borne of the ignorance and superstition of the ancients. Never mind that a large part of its heritage derives from the perceived need and desire of those ancient politico-priests to control the people and extract from them wealth and power, if religion worked for the overall benefit of the common people its worrisome heritage could perhaps be overlooked. Overall it has not and will not serve the realistic needs of the common man. Most western religious systems follow essentially the same pattern; the system enunciated in the Hebrew Old Testament that serves as a model for all.
The Hebrew religious system, by design created an outlandish fictional story of a vast complex world inhabited by a wide variety of living things, the creation of which was attributed to a powerful, omniscient, omnipotent being who lived above all and yet was every where at the same time. He was depicted as vengeful, selfish, egotistical, murderous, jealous, downright mean, mean spirited and not at all pleasant or lovable. The politico-priests commanded the common man to fear, love, worship and sacrifice to this god in order to keep him from pouring out his wrath, which he was wont to do, if he felt slighted in the least.
From this harsh, brutal and unloving system came a reformer, Jesus, who tried to modify it by introducing love and caring for ones fellow man. His teachings were later used to reestablish the old system wrapped in new clothes. The politico-priests co-opted the system and made it to suit their needs–and so it remains two thousand years later.
The system is, if nothing else, ingenious in controlling people and their resources through fear of a god that will subject them to horrific everlasting punishment if they do not obey what is demanded of them by the system. Since it is a mythical system it is not difficult to depict it as on the brink of collapse and at the same time the collapse never comes. The system is perpetual, assuring its creators that they have made a wonderful long-term investment.
The religious system (meaning all religions sharing the common themes discussed above such as deities that demand obedience and sacrifice) makes the system work using several schemes or ploys. A central ploy is to depict the most outlandish scenario possible and then challenge the common man to accept it through exercise of his faith; faith being generally the equivalent of trust in the truth and integrity of the system and particularly in the truth and integrity of those who created it.
The larger and more complicated the hoax the easier it is to sell. When the common man is ignorant he is enthralled by, submissive to and impotent before, the politico-priest. In the pre-Christian days of the early Hebrews, the early Christian era and later the Islamic era, conditions were ideal for hoax creation. Taken as a whole, religion is then the greatest hoax ever perpetrated upon mankind. The ancients sealed the hoax with the claim that god dictated the system.
The hoax was bold and challenging. God was said to have created everything including man who had superior intelligence and ability to use logic and reason; yet, man was ordered to suspend his natural abilities in favor of faith. It was a very successful, if cynical, stroke.
Karl Marx has been vilified for saying that the end justifies the means. When he was challenged on this statement he is reported to have asked those questioning him — if not the end then what does justify the means. The answer, of course, is nothing but the end justifies the means. That, however, is an incomplete answer. There is also the truth that not all means are justifiable.
Religion is the means to what end? The end is control of wealth and power. It has always been thus. Before the birth of the United States, religion and the state were a combined force that maintained extraordinary control worldwide. Separation of church and state gave us a respite, but now we are returning to the old controls with the weight of the corporate world added to the lethal combination.