Nobody is suggesting that all religious people are violent, intolerant, racist, bigoted, contemptuous of women and so on. It would be absurd to suggest such a thing: just as absurd as to generalize about all atheists. I am not even concerned with statistical generalizations about the majority of religious people (or atheists). My concern here is over whether there is any general reason why religion might be more or less likely to bias individuals towards all those unpleasant things in Christopher Hitchens’s list: to make them more likely to exhibit them than they would have been without religion. I think the answer is yes.
The nineteen men of 9/11, having washed, perfumed themselves and shaved their whole bodies in preparation for the martyr’s paradise, believed they were performing the highest religious duty. By the lights of their religion they were as good as it is possible to be. They were not poor, downtrodden, oppressed or psychotic; they were well educated, sane and well balanced, and, as they thought, supremely good. But they were religious, and that provided all the justification they needed to murder and destroy. Their madrassas and their mullahs had given them good reason to think they were on a fast track to paradise.