I think that to say, as Hitch did, that religion “poisons everything”, is overly harsh. As I’ve talked about, religion can do good things for people – nothing which can only be achieved by religion, certainly, but there are good things to be found in some isolated parts of it.
On the other hand, it poisons a lot. Enough that I’m not sure there’s anything that can be salvaged without removing it from a religious framework entirely.
Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, and in the right hands can even be a rather beautiful part of Christianity. Although there’s a lot of stuff in the “good” “book” (wait, why the second set of sarcastic quotes? nobody’s disputing that the Bible is a book) about vengeance and spite, it eventually gets on to some nice ideas about letting these things go, not holding a grudge, being magnanimous to your enemies and loving them even while there may be conflict.
Another positive and constructive addition to the world is the idea that anyone can repent, and be forgiven, of anything. It might not be as simple as uttering a few prescribed words of apology, but if you really mean it – if you feel sincere remorse, and your promises to be a better person in the future are heartfelt – then you’re never beyond redemption in the eyes of God. You can never go so far wrong that you can’t be brought back to the right side, if you really want it.
Which is all marvellous and commendable. Until religion proceeds to completely fuck up its own ideas.
You can be forgiven all your sins… but you’re still damned if you don’t say enough obsequious things to the right god. No matter how good you are all your life, if you didn’t have enough of the right kind of faith, you’re eternally worse off than someone who acted with none of your virtue but made up for it by seeing the light in their final moments. For all that forgiveness and grace and such are important in Christianity, they’re dwarfed by the overwhelming importance of blind, worshipful obedience to your lord and master.
And they don’t extend more than a moment past death itself, obviously. If you made the wrong choices and want to sincerely repent once the gates of Heaven are already closed to you, sorry pal, you’re outta luck. The forgiveness stand is shut to you. Forever. Shoulda done more sucking up before the deadline.
Oh, and make sure you don’t blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, because that one’s unforgivable. It doesn’t directly harm or impinge on the freedoms of other people in any way, but God’s ego is fragile enough that that’s the one thing which’ll make him irreparably sever all ties. This forgiveness shtick can only go so far, after all. And some things are more important. Things like doing exactly what you’re told at all times.
I’m not saying this is the only interpretation of Christian doctrine, but it’s a popular mainstream one. Many practising Christians do manage to filter the good stuff out pretty effectively, and act with commendable humanistic morals. But religion’s not their ally in those circumstances. It just endorses some nice ideas we could have come up with anyway, and infects it with pernicious tyranny and vengefulness.