Organized religion can support personal piety very nicely. Ditto when it comes to performing good works. But then there's the flip side. Religion can also serve as a fig leaf for nationalism, political schemes and militarism.
We see this last dynamic at work today primarily within the Islamic world. However, it's certainly not confined to Islam. And its certainly not just a contemporary phenomenon. (Check your Bible, Qur'an or any number of history books about Europe, Asia and the Americas for ample examples.)
Moreover, we know the damage done by these dark-side impulses can linger in religious memories for decades and even centuries. And not just in connection with today's headline grabbers, such as when Islamists refer to Christians as crusaders. They're also there behind the scenes, providing the heat for simmering historical conflicts that can flare up without clear warning.
Take Japan's refusal to fully face up to it's shameful treatment of the so-called "comfort women," a euphemism for the women from occupied nations that World War II-era Japan forced into sexual slavery. (I'll get back to this below.)
What I view as the downside of organized religion is, I'm sure, no surprise to anyone who reads GetReligion.
However, it's always worthwhile to remember how easy it is for organized religions -- as well as the journalists who cover them -- to become part of the the home team cheering squad.