There's an interesting article by Mike Marqusee in the current print edition of the indy-left UK magazine, Red Pepper, on the currently hot debate between religion and secularism. I'll quote just a couple of snippets to indicate his angle, with which, as an atheist before it was profitable or popular in Ireland, I find myself greatly in sympathy.
The sheer variety of religious experience and expression should make people wary about generalizing. Undeniably, religion has a long, brutal history as a mask for privilege and exploitation. But it also has a history as a vehicle for freedom and equality. . . . Inscribed in the history of many religions is their own emergence out of a conflict with power, in defiance of an oppressive orthodoxy. . . . In just about all religious traditions, repressive, hierarchical strands are found alongside emancipatory, egalitarian strands, often tangled together.There's a world of difference between the atheism of a Bakunin - 'as long as we have a master in heaven we shall be slaves on earth' - and the New Atheism of Dawkins, Hitchens et al. One seeks to empower people, the other to set limits on them. Thou shalt not doubt the wisdom, coherence and finality of the existing secular (western) order. What virtue is there in an atheism that is entirely conventional, merely assumed as part of the 'common sense' of the age? This is received opinion, as little an expression of independent thought as the religious doctrines of the past. It is a highly un-dialectical materialism