Here we are, late December, and there sure is a lot of Christian talk going around. Someone from outer space would be asking, “What’s that all about?” Mangers, wise men, gifts of frankincense and myrrh.
Our alien visitor would be told that Christmas is a celebration of a man who was sent by God to redeem the world’s sins; that he died, was resurrected, and now is able to give other people eternal life in heaven if you believe in him; and that he expects believers to praise his glory to others so that they too can be saved.
“Oh, I see,” the visitor’s Universal Galactic Translator would say. “The minds of your people have been infected by a powerful meme. Our consciousnesses are prone to the same disturbances.”
Not exactly how Christians view the birth of Jesus. But it’s an entirely reasonable explanation of the hold that Christianity, along with other salvific religions, has on billions of Homo sapiens.
The Christianity Meme web site is dedicated to exposing what’s really going on:
"--Christianity is a meme, a mind virus that lives in the minds of people and is spread through proselytization and other means.
--Christianity is a meme about God, but it has no other connection to God.
--The Christianity Meme has been shaped purely by natural selection--the law of survival of the fittest--as it has played out in human minds. It is a sophisticated product of cultural evolution.
--Being a "true Christian" infected by the Christianity Meme will subject you to aid its survival through its adaptations that allow it to exert control over human behavior.
--As a consequence, the more Christian you are the more you are prone to certain kinds of immoral behavior. The Christianity Meme is not bound by the moral principles it carries.
--We seek to expose Christianity for what it is and we advocate a conscious and rational approach to morality in its place."
Makes sense. Memes are theorized to be the mental equivalent of genes. Whereas genes are passed on from parent to child through DNA, memes propagate through cultural forces: books, conversation, magazines, television, movies, art, blogs, all kinds of methods.
When you hear a new song and can’t get it out of your head, that’s a meme replicating itself. Or when you just have to get an Ipod, because everyone else has one. Or, if you’re of a certain age, when wearing a baseball cap anyway but backward becomes unthinkable.
In his essay “Viruses of the Mind” (in A Devil’s Chaplain), Richard Dawkins says, “Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are that you won’t know it, and may even vigorously deny it.”
These are the tell-tale signs that Dawkins says we should look for.
--The patient is impelled by a deep conviction that something is true, right, or virtuous. This conviction isn’t based on evidence or reason, but still is totally compelling and convincing. In other words, “faith.”
--Patients make a virtue out of faith’s being strong and unshakeable in spite of the lack of evidence. Indeed, the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief. Once the proposition is believed, it automatically undermines opposition to itself.
--A related symptom is that “mystery,” per se, is a good thing. It is not a virtue to solve mysteries. Rather, we should enjoy them and even revel in their insolubility.
--The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly toward vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths. He also will be negative toward apostates (people who once held the faith but have renounced it) or toward heretics (people who espouse a different version of the faith).
--The patient’s beliefs likely have nothing to do with evidence and a lot with epidemiology. Meaning, it is the faith his parents and grandparents had, for by far the most important variable determining a person’s religion is the accident of birth. If he’d been born in a different place, he’d have a different religion.
--Yet even if the patient follows a different religion from his parents, the explanation still can be epidemiological: he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent, a John Wesley, a Jim Jones, or a St. Paul.
--The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love. Some priests speak of the consecrated Host, the supposed body and blood of Christ, in romantic terms: “I would gaze on the Host…soft-eyed like a lover looking into the eyes of his beloved.”
So beware of what lurks within the religious mind. Memes, like viruses, don’t care about you. Their goal is simply to replicate by means fair or foul.
You might find yourself flying a plane into a building at the behest of a religion meme. Or, donating more money than you can afford to a meme that says, “God loves those who give to Him until it hurts.”
Have a Merry Christmas-meme. Just don’t turn your back on the devious creature.