The Secret in the Mormon Sauce: Sacrifice for Literal Beliefs

I was reading Andrew S’s article about Joanna Brooks over at Wheat and Tares: Who Puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl? I’m good friends with SilverRain and I was enjoying her comments on this thread as the commenters all chime in what what they think it is about Mormonism that makes it have such a ‘psychic impression’ that a Joanna Brooks can stop believing in it doctrines and even its culture but still want to be fully involved in it. Here, she tells us herself why:

I went back to church so that my daughters could know the same loving, kind, and powerful God I was raised to believe in

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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

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?: 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

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