It is difficult to analyze religions because they do work simultaneously on several different and even unrelated levels. A religion can work on extremely personal level and personal faith can be based on very deeply felt personal religious experiences. However, the very same religion can be an important social and political actor.
Problems do necessarily arise when in a discussion other people speak of religion on the level of personal experiences and others speak about it on the level of a social phenomena. After all, these two are quite different sides of the same coin.
Of course, the reason why personal religious experiences are felt in Christianity by some or in Hinduism or in Shintoism by some others is normally also purely a social and historical one. However, it just seems to be that when one has accepted even some part of ideas of a religious ideology one tends quite universally to drift towards accepting more and more of ideas that are present in that religion. Very often ultimately often the whole package is accepted without questioning any part of it.
This process happens also because these religious systems of thought are carefully crafted to work in this way. One is expected to accept the whole package, or the person is left out cold. Once a person is in, his or her perception of the religious ideology in question will often be changed dramatically. It is not just humanly possible to look at the religion in question objectively anymore. The ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’ -mentality that is present in so many religions does intensify this process, as doubting any facet of religion is just not accepted for a believer.
Thus, a private personal mental experience can lead into accepting a very real public social phenomena. Very often it will also lead into accepting of its all real world actions. This can easily lead into a situation where people do support things they would never approve of without their previous association with the religion.
This can lead to a situation where person can be deeply caring and loving on a personal level However, this person can defend even the most hate-filled actions if they are committed in the name of this religion. At the background still is the idea that a believer "knows" that his religion is always the religion of "love and peace". After all, this message is present in all of its holy books. The message of "love and peace" is also present in all kinds of religious messages and ceremonies.
It is no wonder that a true believer cannot understand why other people might see his religion as a threat. Believers just clearly do see that their religion is full of love and understanding towards all humanity. Unfortunately, the part of a religion that does operate on a personal level can be used to justify also actions of religious organizations that do happen on the level of society.
The friendly local Catholic clergyman or the friendly local Mullah do normally represent the loving and caring side of the religion, (even of course there are exceptions to this rule) that does present the friendly, open and warm side of religion to the public.
However, at the same time representatives and operatives of the same religion can be deeply involved in inducing open hatred towards all forms of deviation from the social norms or hatred towards those who do harbor wrong kinds of beliefs.
A religious organization inevitably gains an agenda of it own and on the top of that agenda is ensuring the position of that organization in society. The original message of love and caring and acceptance can be even quite forgotten in the practical policies of a religious organization, especially when it sees itself as being under a threat.
So, Catholic Church had no trouble in making the power-sharing deal with Nazis in 1933 or the famous Reichskonkordat. The need to ensure the continuation of the existence of the organization was much more important than possible threat to human rights and freedom that the rising Nazi Party did clearly present even at that point of time.
The double nature of religions does cause a situation where a good and loving Catholic could condemn the horrible crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. However, at the same time he could applaud the Pope for his political cunning in forging a good deal with them.
The net result was that the Catholic Church could operate through the whole Nazi era in perfect safety. In return it just blessed the weapons that were used to conquer foreign lands and did not rise publicly to oppose any of the hideous Nazi politics. An state-religion just always is at the same time a tool for social control at one level. This is true, even if this religion can be a source of personal harmony and fulfillment at the same time.
It could be even suggested that these personal religious experiences are often misused to forward all kinds of social and political agendas. One could even guest that these ideas would otherwise often even be quite unpalatable for many of the believers if they would not be dressed as religious ideology.
(This piece was completely refurbished on 31th of January, 2013)