Religious belief has been counteracted with sociological, psychological and modern factors with some stemming from atheist perspectives and others, anti-theist. The overall argument of these critiques is that religion is a safety net that people seek refuge with however the reasons for this are different according to each critic.
Durkheim offers a functionalist, sociological theory of religion where he compares it to a totem-worshipping clan. He said that it’s a “unified system of beliefs and practices… where things are set apart and forbidden, uniting a single moral community” and strengthens it as everyone has shared values, beliefs and knowledge which makes social life and cooperation between individuals possible. Therefore, religion is a community activity, “unconsciously fabricated as a means of control”. He said, “in man’s image, we created God”, which echoes Socrates who said, “If you didn't have the Gods, you would have to invent them”. This links to the idea that the society worships a God that mirrors their society because “God is a symbol of society”. This is evident in cultures today as different societies have had different Gods e.g. Krishna for Hindus and Adonai for Jews. However, Durkheim believes that religion is not solely about God. He claims that its main purpose is to provide a particular society with a sense of identity and therefore is a “universal phenomenon” and without this, society would disintegrate.
Marx also seeks religion as a social phenomenon and bases his theory of Marxism on materialism “which is absolutely atheistic and resolutely hostile to all religions”. Marx was in favour of empowering the proletariat and saw religion as an “instrument of the bourgeois faction that serve to defend exploitation of the working class”. Therefore, for the ruling class, religion was a tool of power. However, Marx believed that for the working class, “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature… it is the opium of the people”. He claimed that religion was a false promise that the working class believed in, in order to deal with their oppression by believing that they are loved by a powerful God and that they will be rewarded by him with heaven. Marx encouraged the overthrow of religion and the start of the revolution by saying that the proletariat had “nothing to lose but [their] chains”.
Dawkins states that religious belief is dangerous and out-dated saying, “I want people to stop believing”. As an evolutionary biologist, Dawkins believes that a Darwinian world view and evolution makes a belief in God unnecessary and that religion “teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world” and that, “scientific rationalism is the crowning glory of the human spirit” e.g rejecting the creationist story. This is because it’s “a delusion… people believe in despite a total lack of evidence” and a “little mediaeval universe”. Similar to Freud, Dawkins believes that religion infects the mind like a virus and focuses on fundamentalist Islam and evangelical Christianity to show that religion provides a misleading education, prejudice and ignorance and even religiously motivated terrorism e.g 9/11 and the Islamic State which causes him to state that, “religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness”. Dawkins also believes that it is child abuse to assign a child a religion because if children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists”.
Hitchens, an anti-theist, takes a moral questioning approach as apposed to the scientific approach of Dawkins. He believed that the concept of God was a totalitarian belief which destroyed individual freedom and he favoured scientific discovery to replace religion as a means of defining human civilisation. This is because he states that, “all religions are stupid” and the “main source of hatred in the world” and claims that it is even “allied to racism”. In chapter 16 in his book God Is Not Great, he mentions how religion can be a tool to terrorise children by installing fear and guilt into seemingly normal acts masturbation and by performing non-consensual circumcision and genital mutilation. Hitchens also declares religion as the original sin due to the doctrine of atonement, doctrine of blood sacrifices, doctrine of eternal rewards or eternal punishments, presenting a false picture of the world and the imposition of impossible tasks.