In a strange display of undoing progress and socially backwards movement, religion is making a comeback into State influence.
Most notably so in America, with George Bush winning elections by waving a Bible, and justifying war by saying God told him to do it. But, religion has also impacted British politics to a certain degree recently, with Tony Blair saying God will be the one judging him on Iraq - not the electorate, apparently. 'God' appears to be a bit of a get out of jail free card right now, which gets me a bit worried.
Religion is an abuse.
People are voting out of religion. George Bush quotes a Bible passage and masses of Americans support him blindly - they don't care about his policies, they just assume that they'll line up with Christian beliefs. The ridiculous thing is that they actually don't - Bush is using religion as a means of control - killing in the name of a man that preached peace and understanding. He has distorted religion to fit his agenda. Religion has always been distorted to suit what the authority wants - Israel is 'the promised land', Jihad earns you a place in heaven, the slaves had to obey because of the teachings of Jesus.
All religion is is a tool for authority figures to use to rally support, and keep people in line. Treason is a sin - the oppressed workers who make an attempt to revolt will go to Hell. Theft is a sin - even when a man is starving, he can't steal a handful of grapes.
Religion is also used as a tool to kill opposing ideologies - and changes constantly, from culture to culture - in the '50s Jesus hated communism - where in the Bible does it say that? It wasn't Jesus that hated communism - it was the authority. The authority attached Jesus's name to their ideologies, knowing thousands of people would then be forced to agree with them, for fear of going to Hell. Every time a politician invokes God, he is telling people that they will go to Hell if they disobey him.
All religion is a means of control.
The highest authorities constantly manipulate religion to assert their own authority - all religious people from the top down have been tricked, tricked in to believing in a system that keeps them under control out of fear (you will go to Hell if you break my ideology), and tricked into upholding and legitimising a system that keeps them under control out of fear (people join the clergy and people try and increase Church attendance in their neighbourhood).
Religion was born out of both ignorance and a desire for power in certain people - religion came before science, as an explanation for what people did not know. People are not naturally rational beings - it has taken thousands of years of progress to get to the point where we are today, with proper scientific methods of developing beliefs and obtaining knowledge. Religion was created in a time where people could be easily fooled- and ironically, one of the reasons people believe in mainstream religion today is that it has been around for so long - as opposed to religions like Scientology, which are widely dismissed as nonsense. Scientology is no more unreliable then any other religion.
Religion not only is a means of control, but has inherently harmful factors that benefit no one, such as an opposal to the use of condoms in Africa, where AIDS is plaguing the population. This is not a manipulation of religion - merely the destructive power of people following groundless, outdated law that was written for a different culture by desert mystics.
Obviously, apart from these few factors, and the fact that religion tricks people into believing falsities, religion is not bad in itself - it is whether those manipulating it are good or bad that makes the difference. Religion can be used to manipulate people into doing many virtuous things, such as charity - as shown by organisations such as Christian Aid.
However, although pragmatically religion can be used to do beneficial things, ideologically, the idea of lieing to and threatening people with images of Hell and burning bodies to do this, when there are alternative, more respectful ways at hand, is unacceptable for me. Religion is an abuse, and all those who believe are with the victims.