Europe and the Middle East and their respective eras of rapid social, technological and civic advancement as well as their respective eras of social, technological and civic decay exemplify the fact that societies where religion dominates social and political life are vastly inferior to those societies where religion is nothing more than a matter of personal taste. Without exception, those societies where personal piety is a matter of state control are among the most socially repressive and technologically backward regions on Earth. The only regions more benighted than those where religion is a matter of state are those where the state itself has crumbled.
Highly religious states routinely rank among the most oppressive states on Earth. The rulers of these benighted lands claim that their authority is a mandate from God. And in each of these states, the majority of the populace lives in desperate poverty. Disease and illness are rampant. Illiteracy and lack of education, basic infrastructure, basic social services, are either non-existent, or woefully inadequate. Technology by any measure lags far behind that of their secular counterparts. These states are the modern analog to the European states that persisted for so long during Europe's dark ages.
During Europe's thousand years of darkness, the Christian Church held a stranglehold over the levers of power. They dominated and controlled literacy, utilizing one of mankind's most amazing gifts, the gift of preserving and disseminating knowledge in the most selfish of ways. The Church used literacy almost exclusively to preserve its own institutional power. Controlling information to maintain the records of their vast property. Rather than educating the populace and teaching them the virtues of reading, the Christian Church actively worked to prevent the spread of literacy, lest some upstart use their knowledge to question the Church's hoarding of wealth and power, or question the tenets of the faith.
To be sure, after the fall of Rome, the Church was one of the few remaining bulwarks of civilization left. Indeed, it may have been the only remnant of a more civilized time. The Church, however, quickly parlayed that authority into vast political and economic power which it used to further entrench its power and subject continental Europe to nearly a millennium of wretched poverty, servitude, and social and technological decay. While the Middle East and Far East surged ahead technologically, the Christian Church actively worked to thwart the betterment of society, condemning generations of Europeans to suffering while the highest echelons of the church, safe in their palaces and cathedrals, plundered the land.
The Church did not even care that the people to whom it was supposedly ministering COULD NOT EVEN SPEAK THE LANGUAGE USED AT MASS. What possible benefit could there be to keeping the populace ignorant of the very mechanisms by which they were supposedly absolved of sin? In leaving the populace unable to understand the scriptures by which they were supposedly saved? The simple fact that the Church did not even care whether its adherents understood what they were worshiping so long as they opened their wallets demonstrates that the Church cared nothing for society or the welfare of its people. The Church cares only for its own well being.
Imagine, for a moment, where Western Civilization could be right now if instead of working feverishly to ensure their own prestige, wealth and power, the Church after the fall of Rome would have worked to educate the masses. If instead of hoarding knowledge and literacy and filling the heads of the populace with a litany of incomprehensible Latin, the churches had become centers of learning. Centers where knowledge was disseminated rather than hoarded. Outposts of education where the agricultural and technological knowledge of the ancient Romans could be used to better the lives of average citizens. Rather than a thousand years of social, economic, political and technological atrophy, the Western World could have started the enlightenment hundreds of years earlier. It is impossible to overstate the decay and societal damage that was done by the Church during the dark ages.
The same situation currently applies to the Middle East. Islam dominates the modern Middle Eastern social and political life just as deeply as Christianity dominated Europe during the dark ages. And the people who dwell in those regions have suffered socially, politically, economically and technologically for it for hundreds of years. While the Church preaches about man's evil nature and ministers to the hope for a better life in some mythical afterlife, it actively works to thwart the hopes and dreams of the man and women it supposedly cares for in this one. It actively works for the repression of women, depriving them of the right to participate as equals in social or civic life. It actively works to prevent the dissemination of information and knowledge that would threaten its power or cause individuals to question its actions. It actively fosters hatred and xenophobia of those with different faiths and values. It actively opposes technological innovation and science that might undermine its worldview.
This is not a problem unique to Islam, it is a virtually universal aspect of the pairing of the religion and power. While it is certainly true that power is a corrupting influence on any individual, the pairing of religion and power is the most vile and despicably unholy union imaginable. Religion by its very nature tends to be backwards looking, distrustful of knowledge, distrustful of science, and wary of social betterment and material well-being because religion by its very nature is more concerned with the next life than with this one. It is this very focus on the NEXT life, that makes religion so uniquely ill suited to possession of any manner of power in THIS life.
The pairing of religion and power leads to misery and societal decay. The separation of religion and power, the differentiation between the secular and civic spheres and the spiritual realm leads to freedom, innovation and advancement, because when humans are freed from the pre-defined 'truths' of long dead civilizations, they are free to experiment and that experimentation and the dissemination of that knowledge leads inexorably to advancement. As we have seen countless times, not all experiments are successful. Some are in fact disastrous. Even advanced civilizations are littered with the remnants of failed social and technological experiments. In the aggregate, however, social, political, economic and technological experimentation is like evolution, those experiments that are beneficial and useful will be adopted and preserved. Those that are malignant and harmful will be cast aside to the judgment of history.
As but one present example of the unholy union of religion and power, look at the current state of the Catholic Church. It is clear from the evidence that the Catholic Church has actively sheltered, facilitated and enabled the rape and torture of countless children. This is a monstrous crime that leaves countless thousands of decimated lives in its wake. The damage inflicted on the innocent is incalculable. Indeed, so vile are the crimes of these men that they represent the lowest of the low in our prisons. These wretched, despicable men are those who would be spit upon and shunned even by murderers and thieves and arsonists. One would think that an organization dedicated to spiritual growth and purity would be the quickest to condemn these vile human beings. One would think such an organization would do anything and everything in its power to purge such vileness from its ranks and actively turn such men over to the civilian authorities for proper punishment for their crimes. Instead, the Church has done the exact opposite.
The entirety of the Catholic hierarchy, all the way up to the Pope, the Viccar of Christ, has actively worked to relocate these predators, moving them to different locations so they can victimize others. They have actively worked to thwart investigations and prevent punishment of their members, actively worked to demonize the victims of these heinous crimes, actively worked to confuse, inveigle and obfuscate the truth. There is a vileness and corruption that has rooted itself deeply in the Catholic Church. It stems from the gross imbalance of power between priests and their charges. The Catholic Church has inculcated a culture of power over the powerless and this hideous dynamic takes its true form in the culture of pederasty that the Church has actively concealed, facilitated and enabled for hundreds of years.
That an organization so dedicated to some form of alleged spiritual purity that it would excommunicate a priest for having consensual sex with an adult male or female or engaging in adultery, neither of which are even crimes, would ACTIVELY work to facilitate and conceal the most vile and vulgar of criminal offenses against defenseless, trusting children is among the most despicable transgressions imaginable. These men are the supposed arbiters of morality. They are the supposed gateways to the afterlife and THEY are engaged in wanton criminality far greater than any of those in their flock. Such imbalances of power cannot stand. They will not stand. It is wholly unsurprising that the Catholic Church is in such disarray, that it flails about like a wounded beast, because without question, the Catholic Church is dying. And its death is well deserved. After holding all of Europe hostage for over a thousand years with its selfish ignorance and willful indifference, dismemberment is the least the Catholic Church deserves.