My somewhat unscholarly hunch is that there seem to be two different ways that people go about practicing religion: one is as an individual who is trying to understand his/her place in the cosmos (which is basically good), and the other takes on a kind of authoritarian character as a group seeking to “justify” their seizure of power or “justification” for keeping that power (which can be extremely pernicious).
It doesn’t even really have to be religion at all. We’re maybe more aware of the the dirty skullduggery of the Soviet Union and the current Putin administration. However, if we look a little more closely, we see it all of the world, including in some people who call themselves Christians.
It is all idolatry where the object of worship is power and keeping it for oneself. This is why parents will stoop to cheat their kid’s way into Stanford by buying off the admission. This is why grifters like Elizabeth Holmes invent some bogus product and mislead investors down an opium smoking path. It seems to be basically why some people refuse to get vaccinated. So the road can even lead to death and ruin yet intelligent people get snookered into it.
As to the political evils, there is nothing new under the sun. You can find this point made by the prophets too
3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ 5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jeremiah 7, emphasis mine)
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5)
12 Do horses run on rocks?
Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood … (Amos 6)
There’s plenty more. Regardless of whether the “religion” is about worshiping a deity (no matter how abstract) or worshiping science (as some militant atheists seem to have fallen into) or worshiping self (as with dick-tators), the issue turns to worshiping power and how to keep it, maintain it and increase it. It is ugly and even though it may bear the name of some religion – like Myanmar and its so-called “Buddhism” – it is all about a group of people trying to justify and rationalize their place in a hierarchy.
by Grace we proceed