A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.
(Psychology) an idea or element of social behaviour passed on through generations in a culture, esp by imitation
[possibly from mimic, on the model of gene]
meme – a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behaviour) that is passed from one person to another by non-genetic means (as by imitation); “memes are the cultural counterpart of genes”
The Christianity Meme: A Viral Infection of the Mind
December 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm Al Stefanelli
The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational Inquiry – Richard Dawkins
Memetics is an outgrowth of evolutionary psychology that was introduced as a mental content theory by Dr. Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene.” It is directly connected to Darwinian evolution and, in a nutshell, it has to do with how information, called “units,” are replicated and transferred within a given culture. There is a debate among scientists regarding how the replication of these units of information control human behaviour and culture and when Dawkins coined the term, he did so in a speculative spirit. However, memes and their connection to human carriers with respect to the phenomenon of religious belief is also supported by other prominent scientists, as well as the renowned philosopher, Daniel Dennett.
In 1991, Richard Dawkins wrote an essay titled “Viruses of the Mind” which used memetics to explain the various characteristics of organised religions.
Susan Blackmore, a physiologist who also studies memetics, agrees with Dawkins and Dennett with the definition of a meme being whatever is transferred from one person to another. Memes are replicators with variations within, they compete in our memories for space and for the opportunity to be recopied, but they are not carbon copies. As is with Darwinian evolution, not all of the variants are able to survive because nobody learns exactly the same way as the next person, so they are actually imitations, not copies. The ideas might be the same or similar, but the expression will change and there will be variants of different memes added. This is akin to mutation in Darwinian evolution. However, mutations in the evolution of certain memes are very high, and are possible even in first generation imitations. In his book, “A Devil’s Chaplain,4” Dawkins identifies and explains the differences between the informative memetic process and the controversial memetic process. The cultural process is based on an idea, action or expression with high variances and the informative is more of a self-correcting memetic process, which is highly resistant to evolutionary mutation.
Scott Bidstrup uses a “joke” as an excellent analogy of a meme. Someone tells a joke, which performs the “infection” stage. The joke is retold, which performs the “reproduction” stage. The joke takes on variations, which performs the “mutation”stage. Some viruses are relatively harmless, while others, as we know, can be deadly. A virus may be the means to its own end because eventually it dies out, but what is left in its wake is disastrous. Religions are not living beings, but they are entities, i.e., their self-replicating nature. These entities have the same properties that a virus has via the attribute to use modes that improve its chances for survival, and one of them relies on the direct link between a person’s beliefs and their behaviour. This allows these entities the ability to control the behaviour of entire societies. These entities, being ideas that have taken on many of the properties of a living organism, are complex and adaptive. They infect the mind’s ability to comprehend the difference between perceived and actual behaviour.
In A Nutshell…
The mind virus of religious belief preys on fear, warps instinctive attributes and skews morality. It contradicts responsible behaviour, reason and compassion. It retards free will and causes a lack of ability to differentiate between rational and irrational choices. It allows the religionist to exist in a perfectly rational way in many other aspects of their existence in society while the infected area of the mind is stuck in a cyclical delusion.
A virus will attack the most vulnerable area of its host. In society, that area lies within our youth – particularly very young children. This is why there exist so many youth-driven activities within the church. These activities appeal to the societal desires of children to learn through enjoyable experiences. Sunday school lessons for very young children are modelled after kindergarten and primary school. For the older children there are sports camps and field trips. The entirety of the Contemporary Christian Music genre is designed to mirror modern and post-modern secular music. This is adaptation.
When children are not fully educated, they are unable to comprehend the reason and logic behind what they are told. Through evolution, human children are predisposed to adhere to the authority of an adult. This is why the structure of the ‘one teacher – multiple student’ education system continues to succeed in spite of the higher level of retention of a ‘one-on-one’ educational environment.
All of this makes children very easy to infect. This is propagation and vector. The sheer number of children in our public schools is why there exists a vigorous movement amongst the fundamentalists to return prayer and biblical teaching to that venue, as well as illogical and disproved ideologies such as creationism and Intelligent Design. The longer the infection is allowed to infest the host, the more difficult it is to eradicate.
Dr. Richard Dawkins states:
A human child is shaped by evolution to soak up the culture of her people. Most obviously, she learns the essentials of their language in a matter of months. A large dictionary of words to speak, an encyclopedia of information to speak about, complicated syntactic and semantic rules to order the speaking, are all transferred from older brains into hers well before she reaches half her adult size. When you are pre-programmed to absorb useful information at a high rate, it is hard to shut out pernicious or damaging information at the same time. With so many mindbytes to be downloaded, so many mental codons to be replicated, it is no wonder that child brains are gullible, open to almost any suggestion, vulnerable to subversion, easy prey to Moonies, Scientologists and nuns. Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort.
Dr. Dawkins compares the virus of Christianity (Islam) to a computer virus, stating that,
“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.”
He defines faith as a conviction that doesn’t seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but feels totally compelling and convincing. As well, he points out the fact that the infected believer sees the absence of evidence a virtue, and that this paradoxical idea that lack of evidence is a positive virtue gives the virus it’s ability to replicate itself due to its self-sustaining and self-referential nature. He states that,
“once the proposition is believed, it automatically undermines opposition to itself. The `lack of evidence is a virtue’ idea could be an admirable sidekick, ganging up with faith itself in a clique of mutually supportive viral programs.”
This also ties into the conviction that “mystery” is a good thing and it’s not virtuous to solve one. Their insolubility should be enjoyed.
The experiences that surround the conversion process are designed to be attractive to the part of the mind that controls fantasies. This is why there are more “conversions”at venues that resemble rock concerts or have smoke and mirror shows like we see on the broadcasts by televangelists. Millions of dollars are spent on light shows that rival anything seen at a secular event of the same magnitude. The whole process is designed to make “receiving Christ and the Holy Spirit” invoke “warm and fuzzy” feelings. Then these feelings are explained as having a genuine interaction with the divine. Telling someone who is mentally vulnerable that they have been personally touched by the supernatural is a powerful way to convince them that their religious experience is real, and that it must be reciprocated with a confession of sin and dedication of service to the faith. This serves as the perfect venue to convince the new believer of the validity of doctrine and dogma, in spite of the fact that many of these doctrines have been disproved many years ago. Thus we have self-propagation. Of course, in reality, this experience is a purely physical one that is the result of the stimulation of the temporal lobes of the brain. It can be duplicated in a lab.
Two of the more harmful doctrines are “original sin” and “free will.” The viral doctrine known as “original sin” states that human beings are evil at birth and require rescue from themselves. Thus, the requirement for salvation and redemption, which is tied into the conversion experience. In the real world, we are born with an evolutionary inclination toward altruism, thus inherently good, and have no need for a redemptive savior. The viral doctrine known as “free will” states that although mankind is free to choose between good and evil, it cannot make moral decisions without the aid of a redemptive saviour. Again, tied into the conversion experience. In the real world, mankind is completely capable of making good moral decisions, thus has no need for a bible, salvation or redemption. Then the virus of Fundamental Christianity heaps on doctrines that use fear to maintain itself. These are only two examples of how important it is to understand the many ways that the virus of Fundamental Christianity is a carefully designed instrument of mind control. It is contrary to human nature. It has, over the centuries, become an infection that has almost total control over the behaviour and thinking of the fundamentalist.
Circular logic and the fear of eternal punishment serve to keep the believer locked in a prison that contains no allowance for investigation of factual science, but replaces it with religious pseudo-sciences to feed the natural desire to learn.
Just as a physical virus does, Fundamental Christianity protects itself by sequestering the infected host against outside attack. Thus, the “world” is discredited. Any evidence that is contrary to doctrine is wilfully ignored and taught as persecution. In the real world, this stunting of intelligence causes a decline in mental health due to the allowance of instruction only through approved church doctrine. It also causes a distortion of language to the point at which the infected believer develops entirely new meanings to common use words, which reinforces the virus.
Reason Is The Enemy…
The people who live in the real world and have been educated in the sciences are targeted as the enemy, and in extreme cases, are the victims of violent attacks. The news is rife with examples of this. As well, people who engage in behaviour that is contrary to the viral doctrines of Fundamental Christianity are vilified. Abortion doctors, feminists, homosexuals, secular humanists, atheists and even sceptics are taught to be hated because they are a threat to the spread of the Fundamental Christian virus. This is contrary to what is presented as a religion of love and tolerance. Homosexuality presents a perfect example. Family values translates into homophobia and the doctrine of “love the sinner but hate the sin” becomes a license to hate homosexuality, and thus, homosexuals.
Over time, maintaining belief becomes more and more difficult, and requires a deeper and more involved effort. One of two things will eventually happen. One; the believer will gravitate more and more toward a level of fundamentalism that will cause them to become increasingly disassociated with the real world around them. The virus that has infected their mind will force them to bend modern logic and reason to fit two-thousand-year-old beliefs.Two; the believer will accept reason and logic, develop a healthy scepticism and the virus is then eradicated in the individual. Consequently, that particular individual now becomes the enemy and is subsequently vilified along with the above mentioned communities.
The person who chooses to maintain their delusion is given reinforcement by the example of the person who has been cured of the virus, via their vilification. They are protected by other infected Fundamental Christians from abandoning their faith by addressing any second thoughts they might have, and reminding them that persecution is part of the deal, and to be expected. They cite scriptures such as Jesus saying that he will divide families, that he has come with a sword and that they need to remain very thankful of the human sacrifice that pillars their faith.
The wavering convert is reminded that if they abandon their faith they will be guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and be consigned to hell forever and ever. This fear is so great that it easily divides families and destroys otherwise strong relationships. Propagation through good old-fashioned “hell-fire and damnation,” along with guilt, shame and peer pressure serve to keep the believer in line. Reinforcement of the virus comes through controlled behavior such as mandatory church attendance, tithing, membership in the chosen political party and control of the human sexual reproductive process.
The viral use of fear is particularly effective on believers who were already ignorant and superstitious prior to their conversion, but the virus of fundamental religion has propagated and adapted well only until very recently. For generations it has been regarded as a positive net to society and while it is still replicated with robust expectation, it is increasingly being challenged. This may not be as apparent in areas of the world that are academically and financially challenged, but it is apparent in many of the more progressive areas of the world and individual nations.
Mainstream, moderate Christianity is still the dominant religion, and it is making great strides to keep up with a post-modern world. Progressive denominations are recognizing the facts of evolution and are becoming more relevant to a changing world. But this does not make for exciting news. The virus of fundamental Christianity is getting most of the press and although it is often marketed as the true religion of love and tolerance, inwardly it is a destructive force that causes division, promotes wilful ignorance and retards intellectual growth. Broken families, ruined lives and destroyed friendships are prevalent because of the infection of fundamental religion.
An Atheist’s “Great Hope”
It is my hope that one day reason and rationality will prevail, and the infection that our society suffers due to the virus of fundamental religion will be eradicated. It is only through the minds that have been freed of superstition, fear and irrational beliefs in non-existent deities and mythological saviours that our society will achieve it’s potential.
The rise of atheism on planet Earth has already caused fundamental religious belief problems maintaining itself in our post-modern world. Religious apologetics have stagnated. Like a virus that is running toward the end of its course, the meme of fundamentalism is losing its ability to replicate. It is weakening because there has been no new discovery or insight since the canonization of scriptural texts. There have only been differing interpretations over the centuries, but the gods, such as they are, have been silent for millennium. Religion is being left behind and while the meme may be dying, those death throes are extremely destructive.
This is an excerpt from Al’s book, “A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World – The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth“
The Dichotomy of Benefits and Evils of Memes
Like human genes, memes have existed as long has there has been man walking this earth. Memes, like genes, are there usually unconsciously utilised by man without a thought, yet it has a definite effect on man’s perception of the world about him.
[For a point of clarification, the memes that I generally refer to are memes that relate to uncorroborated and unproven myths or legends including allegories and parables.]
It is natural that parents will impart what knowledge they have to their child at the earliest possible age. This is the first step in integrating the child into the family and its values and its culture. Only in this way will this child understand the ways of the family and learn to live harmoniously within it. The whole family will have very similar views and values and their loyalty and unity will be assured. Much of the knowledge passed on to the child would be passed down as memes as they, the parents themselves had acquired from their parents. A Christian family will bring their children to appreciate Christian values and rituals and myths. This will be exactly similar for someone born into a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Taoist, or a Buddhist family. These children by the time they are adults and are ready to leave home have very similar views to that of their parents. And if they also live in a Christian community, they will fit in to that community with similar views without friction. They are assimilated and integrated and unified with that community. This can be extended to a Nation, such as a Christian nation or an Islamic nation, or a Hindu nation. Here it unifies and strengthens a family, a tribe, a nation.
On the one had it unites and strengthens those of similar beliefs, but on the other hand it also “excludes those who are different.” The memes inculcated into the young are so fixated into their conscious and subconscious that it is practically impossible to compromise. Islam believes that, “there is NO god but Allah” and that all infidels should be killed unless he accepts Allah. Many Christian believe that “the only way to be saved (from Hell) it to accept Jesus as Lord.) Would a Muslim or a Christian ever compromise on this point? Never! There are many other examples that I shall not go into here.
So there is one glaring dichotomy that illustrates that inescapable effects of memes and it will never change in characteristic nor be compromised.
Again, on the one hand, it is only natural that when children are born, their close dependence on their parents means they will acquire all the mematic characteristics of that family. It simply is unavoidable due to the nature of child upbringing. Yet some people claim:
Religious Indoctrination is Child Abuse
Religions always plan to indoctrinate children. Teaching religion to an adult is hard work because religions are absurd and often transparently so. In contrast teaching religion to children is easy. Children are susceptible and suggestible. It doesn’t sound like far-fetched nonsense to a child, children are credulous.
The religious don’t regard telling children about hellfire and damnation is indoctrinating them before they have attained the age of reason, which it clearly is, they see it as a good thing. Making children fear hellfire is meant to save their souls and set them on the only path to righteousness. Nobody would deliberately teach their children a tissue of lies knowing them to be lies. The reason to instil fear into a child when they are too young to see that the story is farcical is never that the person doing the teaching believes that the story is farcical, the motives are always pure but no matter, the effect is the same. ……………
Try telling an adult that God, who loves them, got angry with people doing bad things so he flooded the entire Earth and drowned almost all animals and people. Straight away they are going to spot that this is rather a petulant thing to have done. It would be mass murder on the biggest possible scale and it would result in the deaths of millions of innocent animals and children. This could not be seen as a nice story, not evidence that God was the kind of person you would want to be a member of your golf club let alone the being you wished to spend all eternity adoring. And yet children sit still and lap it all up. They don’t make the rather obvious connections between mass killing and being a bad-tempered and indiscriminate shit that any adult would when told the story for the first time. But then we tell children all sorts of preposterous things and they lap them up. There are two very good reasons for this: firstly children don’t have enough experience of life to see how crazy some of the things we tell them are and secondly a capacity to accept what figures in authority tell us is part of our make-up.
Credulity is essential in children. If we all began as blank slates from I think therefore I am we would almost certainly be dead before we had learned a tiny fraction of what we need to know. Questioning everything we are told is not a good strategy for little children. Children have to be wide-eyed and credulous so they can absorb all the lessons we need to pack into them. ………
Children are taught the same things over and over: Jesus died for us, Jesus was sent from heaven for us, Jesus loves us, God loves us, we should fear God, good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell, not believing is a sin, God made the world, faith is good, God moves in mysterious ways, every good person believes this, Jesus was born in a stable. Around and around go the stories. You can start listening on any level at any time. It does not matter at which point you start to hear or at which point you start to take more notice and think a bit harder. If you have gone around the cycle a few times you find the ideas knitting together. If you were given the whole story as an adult in full possession of all your faculties and no particular reason to pay attention and believe the story there is very little chance you would accept it. Adults are brought into the church with miracles or seeking a way out of a terrible problem such as addiction, poverty, immigration or having their world turned upside down by contact with the wider world. The number of perfectly well-adjusted adults who take up new religions is exceedingly small. If you are perfectly well adjusted what need do you have for a religion? They either screw you up when you’re a child or catch you when you are screwed up and vulnerable.
Using childish openness to imprinting to impart superstitions is wrong, to use this innocence and vulnerability to instil fear and guilt goes beyond wrong and becomes, in my mind, evil. 
“Who will say with confidence that sexual abuse is more permanently damaging to children than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?” Richard Dawkins
“Without doubt the greatest injury of all was done by basing morals on myth. For, sooner or later, myth is recognized for what it is, and disappears. Then morality loses the foundation on which it has been built.” Lord Samuel (1st Viscount Samuel) 1870 – 1963, British Liberal politician.
Altering Child Indoctrination Input
Such religious indoctrination is endemic in all religions. Some much worse than others. Since Christianity appears to be taking the secular route, their indoctrination of children is perhaps the most tardy, but the process is endemic as it is a natural way humans bring up their children. As the transmission of memes is almost as natural and unavoidable is the transmission of genes, there is little we can do to alter this transmission. But is there a way we can modify or re-programme they quality of memes that is transmitted from generation to generation? The only possibility is for the “transmitter” (the parents) of the memes to alter their data base to a different data base.
The only possible way is for the “transmitter” (the parents) to re-programme themselves so that they can only spread memes that have been selected or desired. In simple English, a devout Christian has to covert to atheism, A Muslim also has to convert to an atheist. But to do that on a community or a national basis the only way is to ban or abolish the offending culture/faith and replace it with what ever has been decided is the desired culture that has been chosen. Thus, in order to rid oneself of a Totalitarian culture, it is necessary in the short term to adopt a Totalitarian attitude to the unwanted culture to eliminate it. The problems associated with such a venture would be insurmountable. Hence we can see the scale of the problem in attempting to resolve the Christian-Arab dilemma. On the other hand can we continue to live with this problem for the rest of mankind, a Palestinian-Israeli type existence?
 Religious Indoctrination is Child Abuse: http://www.mwillett.org/atheism/religion-is-child-abuse.htm