Everything that you can say about religion – that it provides a framework for explaining the things going on around us, that is a source of meaning and inspiration in people’s lives, then it builds unity and solidarity, that it organizes individuals into groups for action – can be said about racism and fascism. Religion also shares the destructiveness of these other ideologies. It divides human populations into groups and subgroups, marks people with superior and inferior statuses, persecutes and terrifies with violence – here Christianity and Islam outdo racism and fascism, promising violence for the disobedient even after they’re dead. And people are drawn to religion for the same reasons they are drawn to racism and fascism: alienated existence and fear of freedom draws people in irrational and authoritarian modes of social control. Lonely and confused in an unjust world, they seek belonging and meaning in the wrong places.
However, racism and fascism are condemned and people who express these ideologies are criticized and ridiculed. Subscribing to racist and fascist ideas come with a price: other relationships that people value – relationships made possible because of the advance of human rights and social democracy, struggles that have in many ways been won by pushing religion to the margins. But religion, despite the company it keeps, continues to find adherents, and the reason for this is that the conditions of alienation still linger and people who know better don’t hold religion to the same standards to which they hold racism and fascism. Religion is one of the last acceptable form of bigotry and intolerance. And, unlike racism and fascism, religion has billions of enablers. Indeed, paradoxically, holding religion to the same standards as racism and fascism risks for the critic accusations of bigotry and intolerance and, in turn, marginalization.