I'm fairly sure different forms of Eastern mediatation have less to do with "talking to god" and more to do with focusing on relaxation, problem resolution, etc. "Western" prayer could be comparable in its effects (I wouldn't know personally).
It would appear from this (thread) that the primary focus of attacks on religion are of two prongs: 1) the abuse of religious (or pseudo religious) authority for more nefarious political goals (either directly or indirectly). In the view of history, this has by far been one of religion's principle contributions to world events and it is undoubtedly a nasty side effect worth understanding and being on guard for (even in a more secularized world). Religious people should be able to acknowledge this as a problem without having to point out the obvious benefits that religious motivated individuals or movements have created in contrast (such as abolitionism...although slavery was itself defended by religious context).
2) the denigration of individual religious practices by people who don't need or practice them personally (myself included). This is misinterpreted by those religious believers on here to state that we are in some way finding their own personal beliefs misguided or even horrific. I don't personally care what individual people believe and, within reasonable limits, practice as a result of those beliefs. I think what is being said is that these practices and beliefs are largely unnecessary and often incomplete applications of religion as opposed to individual self-worth/reliance. I see it as a inhibitor to personal development. It is possible that others see religious ritual or worship as a necessary balancing factor, either because their individual faculty for reason is incomplete or because they find purpose and safety in attributing larger uncontrollable issues to some controlled and recognizable entity (or some other reason that remains beyond my ability to interpret and describe).
In no case should religion/religious faith be seen as a moral authority or as establishing a position of moral supremacy; that agent is still only worth blaming on mankind (not god). Even where a religion claims the word of god, it is still the dominion of mankind to interpret and enforce these words. So far removed from their inception, some of these interpretations become more and more mystical, less and less useful or convertible to the existence of modern humans. Or worse, have in many cases completely lost their original premises and been contorted into some misguided attempts to control the behavior of others (such as school prayer, FCC regulations on 'swearing', or political marriage laws with certain religious restrictions)
The issue, as I see it, is still limited to the amount of public influence that those beliefs have or (more importantly) the amount of influence available to public figures to manipulate people who function on belief rather than reason. There are a number of modern secular (or pseudo-secular) political movements which can be likewise attributed to the same type of behavior through the manipulation of the public by media, government, marketing, incomplete scientific findings, etc. The simplest to define of these are things like nationalism or previous versions of racial theory. These in some respects could be seen as a new form of religion worth finding skeptical flaws within just as theological study by an atheist does and as potentially harmful as the Crusades, the Inquisition or any other side quest of religious intolerance and indifference.
In other words, I am concluding that religion is not necessarily the problem. It is usually either the people in charge of it or the people following it with total blindness that are (as would be the case with any other authority). The vast majority of its practices or followers are more or less unaccompanied by some sort of stigma of religious inflicted pain on the rest of the world. They are unfortunately less prevalent in effect upon history and world events as their more vigorous fundamentalist brethren.
Do pandas respond to incentives?
34 minutes ago