What is Religion?: Memes, Religions, and Organism

So far we’ve talked about how religion is all of the following things:

  1. Religion is a cultural unit of transmission that is replicated much like a gene. That is to say, religion is a meme.
  2. The adherents of a religion are the resource used to replicate the meme.
  3. In most cases, the meme a religion replicates is rooted heavily in a set of beliefs about certain truth claims. Often, as in the case of the LDS Church, it’s a set of beliefs and truth claims about a narrative that answers difficult questions about life and gives people a feeling of connection and purpose.
  4. Religion is a subset of a larger family of memes that we could call ‘meaning-memes.’ They are memes rooted in our biological sense of morality and create a reason to live (and sometimes a reason to die) by giving us a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.

I want to emphasize that as far as the theory of memes goes, genes and memes are not intended to be mere analogy. The epistemological claim being made is that memes are an actual unit of information that Darwin’s natural selection applies to and the same laws are followed. In principle this means that memes can be understood and measured through some future information theory,  though we don’t yet know how using our current theories.

Elsewhere, I talked about the ‘organism’ for a meme. Now to be clear, I did intend this as just an analogy. Memes literally obey the laws of natural selection, but they do not literally have an exact equivalent to a biological organism. Continue reading

My Attempt to Summarize The “Theologically Liberal” Narrative

I am convinced that there is truth and beauty in all points of view. One such point of view – a particularly common one on the Bloggernacle – is the ‘theologically liberal’ (TL) point of view.

As I mentioned elsewhere, this label isn’t very good. It too often encompasses those entirely outside the point of view I’m going to try to express in this post. Making matters more confusing is that people that self identify as holding the TL point of view are often quite shy on wanting to share and explain their beliefs. So I confess that my attempt to put the TL beliefs into words doesn’t come directly from TLs, but rather from my own imaginations based partially on things they’ve actually said and partially on what they oppose rather than on what they actually say about themselves. Rare indeed is the TL that sticks their neck out and says, “This is what I believe!”

But I think that, despite this reticence, the TL point of view deserves more discussion, including admitting to the beauty that exists within it. Continue reading

What is Religion?: Religion is a Type of Meaning-Meme

In my last post I talked about how it’s well known that religious-memes benefit both the individuals in the religion (whom we’re calling ‘memeoids’) as well as the society they are a part of.

I wish to take a bit of an aside this time and consider the question of why does religion benefit people?

One point already raised (by Dawkins no less) was that it helps people overcome fear of death. This is probably the most commonly cited reason given by atheists about “religious-memeoids.” I do not doubt there is truth to it in many cases. But it’s well known that this is neither the sole reason nor even always the reason at all. Continue reading

What is Religion?: The Morality of Being a Memeoid

In my last post, I evaluated the consequences of the fact that religions are memes and that in reality the LDS meme has a specific way of replicating itself that can’t be exchanged for another way without likely killing the meme.

One thing that I did not consider was the morality of a meme “hijacking” (or so the militant atheist’s claim) someone’s life like this. This does seem to be one of the main objections to religious and hearing people on the Bloggernacle make some variant of this claim is a dime a dozen. But aren’t they sort of right? Isn’t it immoral for a religious-meme like this to take real individuals – real people with lives and loves of their own – and to turn them into memeoids like this?

This question becomes acutely intensified if we start with another assumption: that the meme-narrative in question is in fact not literally true. If we can allow ourselves to see religions as “memes” and adherents as nothing but “memeoids” who are doomed to spend their life replicating a false narrative, we start to see the world through the eyes of Richard Dawkins. With a bit more moralizing we can find thoughts like this:

  1. The “Church” doesn’t even tell the whole truth about the problems of its meme-narrative. How immoral!
  2. How dare they take advantage of people like this! We must liberate the slaves!
  3. What a travesty to have people have their lives ruined [say, being celibate all your life] all for a false religion!
  4. They believe that the commandments of their God are higher and more important than the law! They’re dangerous to be around!

Continue reading

What is Religion?: Religious Beliefs as Memes

In my last post I accepted the fact that religions were in fact memes (of some sort) and that adherents of a religion are memeoids (in some sense). Of course this is also true of any ideology. I also accepted that memes are just like genes in that they compete with each via Darwinian evolution with each other in varying degrees.

While this differs in intensity from religious meme to religious meme, there does seem to be a common element between most or maybe even all religious memes. This common element is ‘beliefs’ or what we might call ‘truth claims.’

Now it’s becoming popular fashion within many theologically liberal circles to try to deny this. Theologically liberal individuals will often suggest that the core meme of religions is actually spread of morality or of rituals. I do not deny that religious memes are ideological moral worldviews. I will talk about this in a future post. And I do not deny that religious memes do commonly utilize rituals for various reasons and often one of those reasons is to help replicate itself. And I will not deny that some religions see their ‘beliefs’ (i.e. truth claims) as more core to their identity than others do.

But are there any religions that can truly be said to be divorced from beliefs and truth claims? Continue reading