It is often said, and is a common opinion of ordinary people in industrial societies, that religion is the cause of cruelty and war. Certainly it is hard to dispute that religion is often invoked to justify wars and cruelty. But are secular societies any less prone to warfare and cruelty? Are non-religious ideologies any more humanitarian than religious ones? The obvious examples of non-religious ideologies open to accusation are National Socialism and Soviet Communism, and the states implementing these ideologies were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. I do not really need to rehearse here the deeds of these secular states–death camps, gulags, famines, show trials, etc.–to make the case; these are well known.
One question that this comparison raises is what do religious and non-religious ideologies and societies have in common? And if religion is not the source, but merely the ideological idiom of warfare and cruelty, what is the source?
It seems to me that "power" is not so much an answer, as a question. I would argue that ideologies are not just symbolic reflections of power, or rationalizations of power, but rather that ideologies generate power. So I suppose one point suggested by my question is that both religious and secular ideologies generate power. We might want to consider if they do so in the same way, or to what extent in same and in different ways.
Eurocentric interpretation of religion in the framework of theological historisms, scholasticism and Platonic idealism covers up the anthropological fact that religion evolved from state formation, in fact as territorial constitution, locally and with physically semiotic and aesthetic fibro-constructive demarcations first (conventionally devalued as "fetishism"!), then, on the basis of aesthetic polarity macro-cosmically extended and later reduced to verbal ideology. See the evolution of the Ancient Egyptian state from [semantic and aesthetic] "village monotheism", to [macro-cosmically extended] "state monotheism", e. g. most impressively in the case of Akhenaton in the New Kingdom (See Egyptology: Maspero, Sethe, Kees).
Moses' Pentateuch used this 'civilized' background as a model for his own constitution. The Ancient Testament is basically a theocratic constitution evolving from the tribal [or 3rd world] level with the "deity as burning thorn-bush" up to the [first world level] of a civilized state with "law" (thora), central city, temple of stategod, palace and kings.
Similarly, lacking "temporal depth", Christ was synthesized with the Jewish state system at Nicea 325 AD. and became state god of the Roman theocracy for 85 years (until breakdown of West-Roman empire).
Finally, the Roman Vatican is to some extent a survival of those early times, a quasi-global supra-states-theocracy with functions theoretically limited on "religion-related matters", which, however, can be interpreted quite extensively!
In other words, we should not quite forget that the core of what is called religion is a very ancient system of territorial control implying also the control of the population living in this territory originally defined by a physically conceived and ritually renewed deity. Genesis? There is a Babylonian "creation myth" which clearly reveals its real meaning as a settlement foundation ceremony in the Tigris valley. Mistake or intention? Whatever the reason, the genesis uses an illegitimate macro-cosmic interpretation of a basically local event! (Winckler 1906) That it is still possible today to revitalize this evidently mistaken concept of "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" in our modern scientific world shows in fact to what extent the humanities are scientifically misused, evidently for reasons of protecting age old systems of political power.