First off, there’s no such thing as a religion that has no dark side. Even Buddhism, generally regarded as the nicest religion around, has as some of its core beliefs that all existence is suffering, that our suffering in this life is due to our mistakes in previous lives, and that the aim of living is to stop existing.
I mean, bloody hell, that’s some dark stuff right there. To put it in other words, everything sucks, your personal suckage is due to mistakes that you made when you weren’t even you, and the ultimate goal for when you get it right is to stop.
But here’s the thing: no religion can be “all good”, and that’s a good thing. See, any religion needs to explain why bad stuff happens. The old religions more or less went for “Hey, the Gods are just the forces of nature, and they can be real bastards, can’t they?” The religions like Christianity, which have the idea of a good or benevolent creator, struggle a bit more, and that’s where a lot of the darkness comes in to those religions.
Take the doctrine of original sin, for instance. That more or less derives from the idea that it is simply impossible to exist without harming something else. If you eat meat, you have to kill for it. Even if you’re a vegetarian, you are killing plants and depriving another creature of food. The only conclusion is that, regardless of how good we try to be, we are all ‘sinners’ due to our need to survive.
Presents quite a few philosophical and religions problems, that.
But it’s a good thing that religions have this. A religion that’s all sunshine and happiness will be about as deep as a paper sheet and completely incapable of guiding someone through their life, or providing someone with an ethical lens through which to make difficult decisions. A religion that deals with the nasty side of life is going to be a whole lot more valuable for individuals and communities than any cult of happiness.
Now, I happen to be a weirdo among atheists in that I have a lot of respect for religions, and happen to regard them generally as a good thing. And yet I’m still an atheist. Why?
I grew up with a church background, but my disillusionment began when I started seeing through the very shallow understanding other members of my church had of their own religion, and the way they would use it to blinker themselves from scientific fact. Creationism was probably the start for me. These people couldn’t reconcile their Christianity with the fact that the Biblical creation story isn’t factual, and attacked anyone who didn’t believe in what they believed in.
When you’ve got a scientific bent, that kind of behavior is intolerable.
Then I found that everything was geared towards a very self-centered, almost selfish understanding of Christianity. Everything was me, me, me, my personal ‘relationship with Christ’, Jesus died for my sins, and on and on like that. Everything seemed to be some kind of orgasmic love poem to the Space Love Guru. I’ve since learnt that this is pretty much a failing of the flavor of Christianity that I grew up with, but by then the damage was done.
I became an atheist because Christianity couldn’t deal with the type of questions I was asking. Questions like: “If God is all-powerful and all loving, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? What kind of bastard creator sets things up like that?” Or: “Why does God require me to believe in Him in the first place? If God is all loving and all forgiving, why is the Bible full of passages about him smiting non-believers? For that matter, why would he take the side of the Israelites in the first case, since an all loving God wouldn’t take sides at all?”
It was, later on, realized that sometime after giving up on the church, I lost or possibly never had faith, that strange quality religious people have that lets them believe in God and all the contradictory things this requires. I’m honestly quite envious.