Although I’m no more of a religious person than is Sam Harris, I don’t share his view that faith has always and merely been detrimental to humanity. Nor do I share the views of Richard Dawkins and many others that religion has more readily lent itself to evil than to good through-out human history. Instead, I subscribe to the view that religion has acted like an enabler.
That’s to say, religion — so far as I understand it — doesn’t create new motivations in people. Or, if it does create new motivations, that’s a very small and insignificant part of what it does. Instead, it facilitates, encourages, or enables motivations that are already there.
For instance: I don’t think religion creates a desire for power in people. But it is certain that religions have often facilitated for some people the realization of their desire for power. Again, I don’t think religion creates a desire to be charitable. But it is just as certain as before that religions have often facilitated for some people the realization of their desire to be charitable.
So, as I see it, Harris, Dawkins, and many others miss an essential point here. They talk as if faith or religion creates motivations. I think it would be more correct to say that faith and religion enable motivations. Moreover, I believe they enable both good and evil, at least historically.
Given my view, the problem facing anyone concerned about the effect of religion on humanity is not to abolish religion, as Harris et al might wish to do, but to figure out how to make religion a wholly positive — or at the least a benign — influence on humanity.