Actions of people are the root of all evil. Blaming anything but the people who carry out acts like this is an apology for their individual actions. No matter what a person believes, they make the choice for themselves of what actions they take.
Go to North Korea and call their citizens "atheists" or "irreligious." They will send you home in a box.
They don't worship god(s) as we tend to think of them in Western culture, but the personality cult of the Kim family is as much a part of their spiritual lives as Christ or Muhammad is to Christians and Muslims. They are atheists only in the narrowest of technical senses.
It's human nature to see patterns and to generalize, but your bias is that you see religion as nothing but a brainwashing and control mechanism for the weak-minded, and you equate all such mechanisms with religion. It's not that I disagree with your original post, but "religion" is not essence of the problem.
but your bias is that you see religion as nothing but a brainwashing and control mechanism for the weak-minded
Actually I see it as a brainwashing and control mechanism for almost everyone. If I were accusing 90% of people in all walks of life of being "weak-minded" you'd have a good point. Instead, my experience is that intelligence is almost completely orthogonal to religiosity.
It seems clear that both theistic religions and human personality cults take advantage of a bug in our mental OS that shuts down our critical faculties in the presence of authority figures who adopt a certain psycholinguistic posture.
The religion bug was undoubtedly a useful feature at one time. ("Hey, dumbass. Refrigeration won't be invented for another 2,000 years. Don't eat shrimp or pork." "Uh, why not?" "Well, because, um, because God said he will kill you if you do.") However, it now serves only as a root exploit for use by hackers with less-than-honest motivations. We still have the bug in the code base because of how important it was to our survival in the distant past. It must be 'fixed' at a conscious level, because it isn't going to be deselected by evolutionary forces anytime soon.
This all seems so obvious to me that I believe (there's that word again!) that the burden of proof lies with anyone who disagrees with me. Maybe I have a similar bug, myself. :)
The figures of a cult don't actually have to be present for a cult to develop around them. People are inherently tribal. Sometimes tribes become more controlling or violent. This happens in secular tribes just as regularly in religious tribes. That's his point- r/atheism, to name one irreligious tribe, can be thought of as a cult of personality around their favorite atheist icons.
Hell, following that, r/atheism is a religion, a cult following of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan and Facebook.
Is it really helpful to define the word "religion" that broadly, though? I don't know about Facebook, but when's the last time Tyson or Sagan threatened you with exile to either hell or Siberia for asking too many questions?
It's painfully obvious that personality cults are religious in nature -- see my other post ( http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4513391 ). But I don't see the same unquestioning adoration being offered to NGT, CS, or Mark Zuckerberg, at least not post-IPO. :)