In that sense, religion does poison everything. More precisely, it sneers at the good things of life, finding them wanting by its supernatural standards.
Religionists cannot explain how the supernatural makes things that are not otherwise good become so, or how good things are any less so in the absence of some sort of supernatural power. No one has ever shown how that is a coherent way of thinking about the issues. If something has the properties that are required to satisfy certain human needs, desires, interests, etc., then we are quite entitled to judge it as "good" ... whether a supernatural power, such as God, exists or not.
An omnipotent supernatural being could doubtless alter our desires (etc.) so that they are satisfied by different things, or it could alter things so that different ones come to satisfy our desires. But it is not coherent to imagine such a being making something good without also altering the natural world in these ways. Most importantly, nothing supernatural is needed for us to make a vast range of perfectly rational and reasonable judgments as to what things are good or otherwise.
Consider Tracey Rowland's speech (the written version) from the recent IQ2 debate about atheism. It contains very little that I agree with - I'd want to contest many of its specific claims. But I'm more concerned about its general tenor that life without God is somehow devoid of value. Though that appears to be the drift of it, nothing Rowland says goes anywhere near to supporting such a claim - there are no premises that we must rationally accept that lead to such a conclusion via cogent reasoning.
Doubtless some of Rowland's value judgments could be supported by secular reasoning - e.g., I agree with her that the cult of celebrity has much disvalue. But this has nothing to do with God's presence or absence. Indeed, most participants in the cult of celebrity are probably not atheists, since atheists make up only a small percentage of the population of the United States, where celebrity worship is surely most pronounced. Nor were atheists to blame for past cultural formations that could attract similar criticism. I'm thinking especially of the value accorded in past ages to kings and aristocrats - indeed, this attitude flourished during periods that are notable for their religiosity.
I don't want to go into every dubious claim made by Rowland, but note how she is unable to conceive that love might be of enormous value to us, even though it is not somehow grounded in the supernatural. And she sneers at the idea that the intellect is a device for satisfying our desires. The intellect does more than that. It helps us gain understanding of the world (which, of course, can in many cases help us satisfy our desires). But more fundamentally, what is wrong with taking rational action to satisfy our desires, i.e. to make the world more as we wish it to be? Why is that something to sneer at?
The religious tend to deprecate the desires, values, and so on that people actually have, together with the processes of fulfilling them, but this shows a mean-spirited attitude to ordinary human flourishing.
Rowland rages against what she sees as a world in which:
Sexual relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become mutual manipulation; political relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become brutal power; and market relations hollowed out into their material shell give us consumerism and status anxiety.Well, I'm sure that status anxiety has always been with us to some extent or other, and to the extent that religion once provided serfs and other underlings with a rationalisation for their lowly status that is hardly to its credit. But set that aside, along with quibbles about what is meant by "consumerism" (there may be some bad things as well as some good things covered by that emotive but vague word).
More importantly, I'm surprised at any suggestion that political power was wielded less brutally in more religious times than today (perhaps Rowland should study how it was used by the Byzantine emperors).
And I really must comment on the insulting claim that sexual relations without God become mutual manipulation. That is outrageous. Whether God exists or not, sex will go on providing lovers with experiences of joy and beauty, of ecstasy and intimacy, of reciprocal giving and tenderness ... experiences that only a madman or a religionist could describe, reductively, as "mutual manipulation".
Here, as so often, we see religion's deprecation of the body and its pleasures.
In the same debate, Scott Stephens goes even further, claiming that without God there is no good. But with all respect, that is a wild thing to say. Without God many things still "fit" with our desires, needs, and so on (and hence are quite rationally judged as good) while others do not, or are even ininimical to them (and are quite rationally judged as bad ... or even evil where positive malevolence is involved). God's existence or otherwise has nothing to do with this, though we might well wonder why an all-powerful God of love has not created a world with far less suffering and malevolence in the mix.
The religious mind thinks little of human plasure and desire, and so disparages ordinary kinds of goodness. Note again the sneer when Stephens refers to what he thinks of as atheism's "flattened-out brand of morality as mere 'well-being'."
Now, we can all engage in interesting arguments as to what well-being really amounts to, and we can get into some interesting metaethical issues as to what moral language really means (including whether it is ever strictly and literally true). I've raised these problems myself on numerous occasions. Still, we have a reasonably clear understanding of what well-being is for beings like us, and I see absolutely no reason to sneer at it.
Indeed, what is the point of moral constraints if not to aim at something in the vicinity of "well-being"? Earlier in his speech, Stephens complains that we've come to reduce well-being to health, safety, and pleasure, but even if there are other things that we value (as I'm sure there are) why are these things to be deprecated? Does it not matter if, instead of living a healthy life, experiencing varied and intense pleasures in a situation of relative safety, I am stuck with a sick, miserable, endangered existence? Why is the increased ability of modern societies to provide the former sort of life, rather than the latter, not a huge advance? Why do dirt on it?
I don't know any atheist who blames religion for all the evils of human societies. But religion is one source of evil. It encourages an attitude of disparagement toward much that is good in our lives, claiming - erroneously - that "real" goodness depends in some way on the supernatural. If we take this seriously, it can distort our attitudes to much in our own lives, the lives of our fellows, and the operation of society, law and political power.
Our current social arrangements in industrialised nations still leave much to be desired, but it is ahistorical to imagine that we are living in a time of particular moral decline or malaise. On the contrary, many things are improving - among them, attitudes to equality of the sexes, attitudes to violence and suffering, and our general tolerance of others who differ from ourselves - and religion certainly cannot take the credit for this.
Religion is not the root of all evil, but it is far from being the source of ordinary goodness in our lives. On the contrary, it is an enemy of ordinary goodness. We can lead good and fruitful lives without God or any belief in the supernatural, and that's what I suggest we all do. Life without God is not thereby way diminished or hollowed out. That's an unsustainable claim. It is pathological to think of the world that way.