What is Religion?: Religion as Meme

In my last post I considered Dawkins’ claim that religions were dangerous memes that can hijack a person and cause them to become a ‘memeoid.’ We found that Dawkins was essentially correct, but was being one sided. In fact we look up to many ‘memeoids’ willing to die for their memes (i.e. for their beliefs or ideals, whether religious or not). 

Nevertheless, Dawkins’ hurtful prejudice aside, there should be little doubt that he is right that religion is a type of ideological meme and that people that follow religions are, in a sense, memeoids. The members of a religion wish to take their religious meme and replicate it in some way and are willing to give up a great many otherwise personal desires for the sake of replicating their meme.

But of course this is also true for any replicable ideology. It’s just as true for political memes both good and bad. There have been ‘memeoids’ in favor of Communism and Nazism but also for Democracy and personal liberty. Thank goodness for the meme we might call ‘abolition of slavery’ and for the many memeoids that brought it about. Thank goodness for the meme called ‘Civil Rights’ and the memeoids that sacrificed their personal lives – and sometimes they physical lives – for it. The list could go on and on.

Each of these are rightly called ‘memes’ because the goal is to take an idea and spread it. Of course memes can be just about anything. A chain letter is a meme too. So is the wealth of human knowledge that we replicate by teaching it in schools. The thing that makes is a meme is that it somehow replicates itself.

Each of these types of memes fills the equivalent of a cultural ‘ecological niche.’ And just like in biology, memes often have to compete with one another. Continue reading

What is Religion?: Are Religions Memes?

Many know of arch-militant atheist Richard Dawkins. But what he’s really (originally) famous for is being one of the important biologists to ever live. In fact, he’s the one that coined the term “meme” for what I feel is one of the most important new scientific concepts needed to make sense of our world.

What is a meme? He describes it like this:

The gene, the DNA molecule, happens to be the replicating entity that prevails on our own planet. … But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicator and other, consequent, kinds of evolution? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind. The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. …I abbreviate mimeme to meme. …It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream.’ (The Selfish Gene, p. 192)

Now of course Dawkins can’t let a great new concept like this go without making sure he takes potshots at religion. Sure enough, just a few pages later, he invokes his new “meme” concept to attack religion.

The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to the deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next. The ‘everlasting arms’ hold out a cushion against our own inadequacies which, like a doctor’s placebo, is none the less effective for being imaginary. (p. 193)

Oh, but he’s just getting started. For he later adds that religious people are (or can be) “memeoids.” Isn’t that just the right sort of ridiculous name to make religious people seem a little more scary and a little less human?  Continue reading

What is Religion?

A while back (actually it was very recent when I wrote this post, I just never posted it) I noticed that there was a link to an T&S post about John Dehlin and the action to review his standing in the Church.

But on the thread John made a statement that has been seriously challenged by others. It is:

For the record, I have no terms. I have neither criticisms nor suggestions for the church or its leadership.

If John here means this in context of “when in meetings with the Stake President” then I’m certain this is a true statement. But I personally have seen John write and speak numerous criticism of the Church and make numerous suggestions. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve read or heard anything by John at all that didn’t include either criticisms or suggestions. So I gulped when I saw John write this, knowing how people would likely react to it.

But one thing that I need to stop and ask here now is “so what?” Continue reading

Karen Armstrong’s Dim View of Christianity

Case for GodIn a post near the beginning of this series I summarized Armstong’s views of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Go back and read that post if you need to. In this post I’m going to touch about my concerns with her presentation here.

One Sided Unknowning is Actually A Special Case of Knowing

First, I note that for someone whose whole religious practice is built on “unknowing” that there doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit of “unknowing” when it comes to Jesus Christ. She is completely certain that He only taught that he was a non-unique son of God in the same sense that we all are. She is completely certain that He was not ‘bodily resurrected’ but that rather people just saw visions of Him. She is completely certain that He would have been in favor of self-emptying and her apophatic method. No other possibility is considered or discussed at all.

This ‘certainty’ that Armstrong easily asserts when necessary brings up a larger issues: Theological Liberals of the Armstrong variety seem to only believe in their beliefs when it’s convenient. Unknowing is only exalted right up to the point that it encourages their own beliefs. If it ever doesn’t, then ‘certainty’ becomes okay after all. Likewise, ‘not having the final word about God’ is only true if you mean everyone else but Armstrong-like Liberals. They really do have the final word on several subjects, namely all the ones they care about and that their religious beliefs are anchored on. So in this sense, they aren’t really different from their ‘conservative’ counterparts. Armstrong really does act as if she believes she gets the ‘final say’ when it comes to Jesus Christ. Continue reading

The Case Against Karen Armstrong: Misquoting Popper

Case for GodIn my last post (and also here) I pointed out the true context of several of Armstrong’s sources, demonstrating that she is actually just misrepresenting them. Armstrong fares no better when it comes to science and, in particular, Popper.

While Kuhn does seem share her views that science does not find an objective reality, this is the very point of Kuhn where Kuhn has been shown to have gotten it wrong. Though I am a big fan of Kuhn, his theory explains far less than Popper’s, and so known to be the inferior theory.  (For discussion, see here, here, and particularly here.) Armstrong supports Kuhn on precisely his wrong conclusions. 

Science makes progress precisely because it moves from one paradigm to the next, each one having greater verisimilitude then the last. Science is homing in on objective reality, even if perhaps it will never find it precisely.

And, contrary to Armstrong’s uses of Popper, this was Popper’s whole point! Continue reading