There are several issues with "The End of Faith" which I think can be profitably discussed.
1. Recent events have shown how easy it is for large numbers of people to rapidly
adopt beliefs for which there is no empirical evidence. In the past few years
a majority of Americans have been led to believe that Iraq had (or has)
"weapons of mass destruction". Similarly, many believed, and still believe,
that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 activities.
These examples indicate that there is more involved that just religious
faith. All societies have national myths that are largely believed.
If intolerance and mass hysteria are to be controlled in the future
this propensity to belief needs to be analyzed.
2. Western Europe has become much less religious in the past half century.
This may be why they are less involved in global adventurism, or perhaps
they are just war weary. However, even without a religious underpinning, we
still see great disparities in life styles within a single society.
The rich are still rich and the poor are still poor. (Perhaps to a
slightly lesser degree than in the US.) Treatment of minorities and
immigrants is discriminatory. One could say this is a vestige of
the Christian orientation of Europe, but it seems more to be
related to a dislike of the "other". Even Denmark has started to make
immigration a political issue.
3. Given the apparent ease with which people can be led to new beliefs,
the question of motivation for this action must be addressed. In most
cases mass beliefs are mediated by an elite class. These can be clerics,
royalty or political leaders. Their motivation in fostering these
beliefs is rooted in power and economic control. During the middle
ages peasants were distracted from their economic disfavor, compared
to the land owning class, by hopes of at least a better "after life".
The same claims can be made today in much of the Muslim world. A small
oligarchy controls almost all the wealth and uses religion, nationalism,
tribalism and other distractions to keep the populace under control.
The forces of propaganda are too strong and too sophisticated for most
people to resist. Even if they wish to, the punishments that a society
can impose are frequently enough to suppress rational thought. Look
at "1984" as an example of state-imposed conformity.
4. Seeking inner enlightenment or peace may be a great goal, but the
concerns in the book relate to the destruction of large segments
of modern civilization. As long as "might makes right" is the guiding
principal for most of society, appeals to rationalism will have
little practical effect. The essential question that remains unasked
and unanswered is: How do we get a society to become more equitable
when this inevitably implies that some elite class will have to
give up some or most of there unprivileged? The elite has the levers
of power and wealth at its disposal. The threat of force, and the
application of small amounts of wealth to buy the support of key
segments of the population, cannot be countered by appeals to "reason".
The book has done a great service in fearlessly questioning the
forgiveness intelligent people are giving to faith issues in modern
society. What is needed next is a plan of action. The results of the
past election have led some liberals to think that perhaps they
should retreat into religiosity to gather support, rather than making
a forceful appeal to reason and economic justice.