Thanks to the likes of Richard Dawkins, and before him Bertram Russell, there is a great deal of tub-thumping which goes on about religion being a great evil.
I've been reading a fascinating little book called "Devout Sceptics" by Bel Mooney, in which the novelist Phillip Pullman says this: "A large proportion of what the Christian Church has done has been intolerant, cruel, fanatical...wherever you look you see intolerance, cruelty, fanaticism, narrow-mindedness. It's an ugly ugly spectacle"
Pullman is largely referring to the past - to the Catholic Inquisition, or to the Puritans of New England. But, when pressed by Bel Mooney, he says, effectively, that he believes these traits are still alive and well in the churches: "not the nice gentle ones who have half empty churches. But the ones who that are full - the evangelicals, the fundamentalists - are full of hell-fire and damnation and fury and vengeance on anyone who disagrees with them"
Well - I want to say to Mr Pullman - I'm sorry if that has been your experience. But its not mine. Ours is a full church (at our last family service, it was standing room only). And we don't do hell-fire and damnation. We do love, and mutual service. As for vengeance on anyone who disagrees with us...I haven't meted out vengeance on anyone who has disagreed with me on this blog (in fact I absolutely welcome disagreement as a way of refining and challenging my own opinions).
No doubt there are corners of all religions which are populated with raving egomaniacs who can't cope with challenge. But the vast majority of churches I know and work with, across many denominations, are primarily concerned with getting on with the task of loving and being loved.
And let's face it...religion doesn't have the monopoly on acts of evil. The French and Russian Revolutions were great experiments in secularization - and look at the atrocities which were committed there. To say nothing of the Nazis.
The real reality is that, according to Gallup, religious people are twice as likely as to be involved in voluntary work and community service than non-religious people. Religion - in many forms - has been entirely behind the great social revolutions of the last 1000 years...education, medicine and science.
Religion - although sadly perverted by some - remains the best hope for a planet in need of love. And I'd want to argue that Christianity is the highest and best expression of it.
But that's for another day.