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

Our Epistemology So Far

EinsteinThis is a reprint of the summary of my Wheat and Tares posts on epistemology. Just reprinting it here to make it easier to link to locally here and to add to the overall discussion. Personally, I feel this is my best posts.

Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground in past posts. The problem with this ‘Reason as a Guide to Reality’ series of posts is that they build on concepts from past posts. It’s easy to get lost in all the concepts. So let’s do a quick review of past ideas and build up the principles of finding truth/knowledge (i.e. Epistemology) that we’ve determined so far.

First, everything we thought we knew about science turned out to be false. Namely, science is not specifically about prediction, nor reductionism, nor holism, nor observation, nor falsification. All of those ideas are important to science, but they do not delineate a boundary for science.

 

Second, science is not justified by inductive thinking. The past does not determine the future. Instead, science (and all knowledge actually) is justified based on being our best explanations so far. No other justification is necessary and no other justification is possible. Continue reading

What Does the “Liberal” Mean in “Liberal Theology”?

In my last post, I suggested that “liberal” and “conservative” were becoming (or already were) mostly meaningless terms when applied to theology because they tended to define either non-existent groups (i.e. “conservative Christian”?) or were labels to grossly broad as to express nothing at all. (i.e. Paulus and Averill both being “liberal Christians.”)

However, before I dismiss the words entirely, let me just say that there has been an attempt to define “Liberal Christian” by “Friedrich Schleiermacher, a German who attempted to reconcile Protestantism with the Enlightenment.” John Nilsson, in an old Mormon Matters post, gave a brief overview.

It’s About Human Response

A key point is that we are not talking about liberal vs. conservative politics. So get that out of your mind right away.One could be (according to Schleiermacher’s view) a ‘liberal’ politically and a ‘conservative’ theologically or vice versa.

So what is a “Liberal” theologically speaking then? Schleiermacher’s view…

…emphasized the importance of the subjective human response to religion, rather than the objective truth claim of religion. An example of this would be the assertion that the freedom from anxiety that awareness of Christ’s sacrifice brings us as Christians is more existentially significant than which model of the Atonement is the most accurate or whether the Atonement occurred in exactly the way the Gospels attest.

So far, so good, I say. Sign me up. Seems like this is precisely what God would want us to do – concentrate on our neighbor, not esoteric doctrinal purity.

One concern I might have with this position, however, is if this is all just a cover up for Christian Atheism. Let’s admit that this view expressed above, if stretched to it’s logical limits, really would say nothing about God at all and would instead – rather contradictorily in my opinion – become merely about how human spirituality via belief in a non-existent God can have positive effects in our life.

Continue reading