I think much of both religion-bashing and the defensive reaction
to religion-bashing are manifestations of what Rand called the
"package deal" fallacy: the tendency to group many things into a
package and assign properties to the group, or make judgments about the group, based on properties of some of its parts. All political discourse is infected with this; merely point out some small attribute your opponent's position shares with fascism or socialism, and rational evaluation of the ideas on their merits becomes irrelevant. Take eugenics, for example: the fine idea that people with attributes we value should breed more than those without. Since the Nazis shared this idea, it is common to claim that the idea itself is as evil as they were. But their evil consisted of different things: forcing their ideas on people involuntarily and simply killing dissenters. Eugenics itself is as harmless as the everyday act of choosing to date someone who is attractive to you. There's a program available today where welfare mothers can receive a subsidy to become sterilized. Is this eugenics? Yes. It is evil? No, the program is completely voluntary and rational.
"Religion" is a package of many things, most of them good. It
is good to have organizations that promote moral values, community, tradition; offer personal and family conseling; educate children; promote voluntray charity; and do the other things religions do. It is unfortunate that such organizations as are now popular in the West also promote irrational faith. But that's just part of the package: let us villify that as it deserves, and strive to excise that sickness from the otherwise valuable whole that is religion.
Even "faith" itself is a package deal: it combines things that we might call belief and commitment and trust. Some of those things are valuable as well in the right context and applied rationally. I personally think it is quite rational and productive to make commitments to beliefs or courses of action without complete evidence--otherwise nothing would ever get done. Of course when new evidence arrives, a rational person embraces it and discards old misconceptions that he might previously have relied upon, but that doesn't mean it was necessarily irrational to have relied upon them earlier. Let us be sure that when we bash religion, we are in fact bashing specifically the irrational stubbornness to accept evidence contrary to dogma and not other associated things that may or may not be valuable.
-- Lee Daniel Crocker <email@example.com> <http://www.piclab.com/lcrocker.html>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC