On Christmas several of my Facebook friends posted Biblical verses or otherwise alluded to the "true meaning" of Christmas. Others took the opportunity to call the Christmas Story a myth, to blame religion for all the world's problems, or to mock Christianity.
Christianity, along with other religions, has received quite a bit of criticism through the ages, and with good reason. Some of the criticism of it, however, goes overboard. People who blame religious wars for all the world's problems tend to forget the last 100 years. Did the U.S. invade Iraq for religious reasons? Even famed atheist Christopher Hitchens zealously supported it. How about the bombings of Serbia in the 1990's? Were they religiously-motivated? How about the original Persian Gulf War?
Or Vietnam? Korea? World War II? World War I?
The causes of these wars were nationalism, and ideologies such as communism and democracy. George W. Bush didn't seek to "Christianize" Iraq, but he wanted to install a democracy there. World War I was an imperial power struggle that had Catholics and Protestants fighting on both sides. The decisive turn in the war was U.S.'s entry into it – and again, the motive of the American President was democratic ideology rather than his Christian faith.
Even the presence of a State church is hardly evidence of tyranny. Many of the colonies retained state-supported churches before Independence, and some retained the practice well into the 19thCentury. (At the time of its ratification, the First Amendment was understood to be a restriction on federal power only, and was not intended to shut down established churches within the states or to ban prayers at public events.)
While there were exceptions (the Salem Witch Trials most prominent), Colonial America was hardly torn asunder by religious conflict. Living under a State church isn't always so terrible. All told, one would rather have lived under than Spanish Inquisition than under the atheist rulers like Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. One would have rather lived in a European nation with a State church, than under Saddam Hussein's secular rule.
Yes, religion has sown conflict, but so has secularism. It isn't faith in a supernatural god that is so dangerous, it is faith in authority.
The people who have the greatest faith in authority are those who stand to gain the most from it. Let's say an employee believes in his company's product. By believing in the product, he joined the company in the first place. But now he wants to climb the ranks of the company, earning prominence and bigger paychecks along the way. His living, his ambition and his faith in the company are intertwined.
We see this in all kinds of institutions. Organized religious institutions pay their clergy, who are also (generally) the most devout adherents to their faith.
The State is also like this. Those who believe most in its authority also see their lives and livelihoods connected to it. Not just politicians, but also soldiers and public school teachers – or anyone with a paycheck from the government. They want the State to grow because they believe it is the right thing to do, and also because they benefit personally.
And yet people who have the authority, without your personal consent, to discipline your children in school, to pull you over on a highway, to inspect your business establishment, or to review your financial records, are really your masters – even if they are called "public servants." Their "right" to do these things is just assumed. It is taken on faith, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that any of these intrusions on your life, liberty, and property serves "the common good." The only people who really benefit are those in authority who are paid to do these things to you.
Does it really matter if they do these things in the name of an ecclesiastical State or a secular State?
Many secular Statists will say that a religion is discredited when its adherents kill in the name of God. But then they have no qualms about sending our soldiers to some remote land to kill in the name of Freedom and Democracy. They will say it is wrong to censor blasphemy, but see no problem in censoring political speech to ensure "clean" elections. They think it's wrong to regulate personal choices for "moral" reasons – but will regulate all aspects of your life in the name of "public health."
They think people are stupid and can't run their own lives, but then think of democratic election results as validation for government policy. They believe businesses will abuse employees and consumers, but refuse to see the government's propensity to abuse the people.
Perhaps there will always be some sort of institutional power relationships on Earth. Perhaps it is imprudent to resist them. But there is no need to have faith in them.
The sooner one accepts that States and many other forms of authority, do more harm than good, the sooner one can take responsibility for one's own life. Faith in God may constitute "belief without evidence." But, then, so is faith in the State.