When no one is watching, we sometimes catch ourselves seeing the truth about religions. In those rare moments, we see that much of it is rotten to the core. From faith-based “education,” to jihadism, to terrorism, to sharia law, religion often stinks to high heaven.

Islamic extremism is the main problem, but it is not the only problem. Some US politicians recognize that there is a danger posed by Islamic extremism, but then they give a hand to the dismantling of the American education system by the Christian right. The truth about thee but not about me…

Nineteenth-century philosopher Karl Marx wrote that religion is “the heart of a heartless world”. That was a great compliment, and it is true. When used wisely, religion helps us cope with a complex and often unfair world, it helps us develop our spiritual side, and it provides us with a moral guide.

However, religion is also used to control people, which is why Marx famously called it “the opium of the people” later in the same paragraph. Religions are used to convince people to act against their own best interests, and even to engage in immoral acts that they would not have contemplated otherwise. Religions achieve this by claiming to speak for a God who expects blind and absolute obedience.

The Vatican, a somewhat moderate religious entity by today’s standards, states that, “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God”, yet no earthly person has direct knowledge of the will of God. The most immutable religious principles are nothing more than a set of rules dreamed up by a few men centuries ago to compensate for humanity’s primitive knowledge. That is what religions are asking us to blindly submit our intellect to, even in light of today’s knowledge.

My brother, who was a Catholic priest, died recently at the age of 48. Serge was loved by many. At the funeral, attended by dozens of priests, in addition to over 2,000 parishioners, family members, and friends, the officiating cleric recognized that Serge’s death tested the faith of those who loved him, so he used guilt to reel them back in. He said, “Si nous nous révoltions contre le Seigneur, nous risquerions de perdre l’amitié du P. Serge qui a fait choix du Christ” (if we revolt against God, we risk losing the friendship of Father Serge who had chosen Christ).

Religious leaders know that blind faith is illogical, so they use guilt, lies, brainwashing, threats, and even physical violence in some cases.

Some religions are far worse than others. In modern times, Islam takes the prize.

Religion is at its best when it is not dogmatic, when it helps us with our earthly problems, when it makes room for individual thoughts, when it is a philosophy of life rather than when it pretends to speak for God.

Religion is like alcohol. It is good in moderation.

Those who are not able to use religion in moderation cause havoc in their own lives and in the lives of others. They should do what alcoholics are advised to do – stay away from the substance.

Banning religion is not the answer however. It is contrary to freedom of thought, and it would not be any more successful than banning drugs. But this does not change the fact that religion is dangerous when its power is placed in the hands of naive, unstable, or unscrupulous individuals.

There is much to be worried about: Parents who mark their children for life by indoctrinating them; politicians who make decisions that affect everyone based on the irrational beliefs of some; religious proselytizers who take advantage of helpless people; religious adherents who use violence and wage wars in the certainty that they are applying the will of God; and much more.

Freedom of religion should be a personal freedom, not a freedom to control others.

We spend millions and sometimes billions protecting our societies from drugs, yet we allow religions (that are potentially far more harmful) immense freedom to brainwash, manipulate, and even threaten the most vulnerable members of our societies.

We must stop giving religions a privileged status. Religions were invented by people, and they suffer all the failings of other human inventions.

Blind faith must be denounced, and even mocked.

There should be more irreverent cartoons about religions, not less. After the Islamist terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, France held the largest march of its history to defend the magazine’s right to publish cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed, but the terrorist attack succeeded nonetheless. Journalist Zineb El Rhazoui quit the magazine recently, and she “accused the weekly of bowing to Islamic extremists and no longer daring to draw the prophet Muhammad”. “Charlie Hebdo died on 7 January [2015]”, she said.

The Catholic Church’s absurd ban on contraception should be exposed as contrary to women’s rights and public health. The niqab should be condemned as an affront to women’s dignity. Polygamy should be denounced as a sexist practice that robs women and mothers of their self-respect. And the list goes on.

There should be no sacred cows. Just as we criticize and mock political parties, we should do the same to religions. If religious leaders wish to be respected, they must earn that respect, not expect it.

The shield that protects religions from criticism, most notably Islam, must be ripped off and burned mercilessly. It is only after we see the smoldering ashes of the remains of religious immunity that we can start to breathe freely.