Meme - Religion

Religion

See also: Evolutionary psychology of religion

Although social scientists such as Max Weber sought to understand and explain religion in terms of a cultural attribute, Richard Dawkins called for a re-analysis of religion in terms of the evolution of self-replicating ideas apart from any resulting biological advantages they might bestow.

As an enthusiastic Darwinian, I have been dissatisfied with explanations that my fellow-enthusiasts have offered for human behaviour. They have tried to look for 'biological advantages' in various attributes of human civilization. For instance, tribal religion has been seen as a mechanism for solidifying group identity, valuable for a pack-hunting species whose individuals rely on cooperation to catch large and fast prey. Frequently the evolutionary preconception in terms of which such theories are framed is implicitly group-selectionist, but it is possible to rephrase the theories in terms of orthodox gene selection. —Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

He argued that the role of key replicator in cultural evolution belongs not to genes, but to memes replicating thought from person to person by means of imitation. These replicators respond to selective pressures that may or may not affect biological reproduction or survival.

In her book The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore regards religions as particularly tenacious memes. Many of the features common to the most widely practiced religions provide built-in advantages in an evolutionary context, she writes. For example, religions that preach of the value of faith over evidence from everyday experience or reason inoculate societies against many of the most basic tools people commonly use to evaluate their ideas. By linking altruism with religious affiliation, religious memes can proliferate more quickly because people perceive that they can reap societal as well as personal rewards. The longevity of religious memes improves with their documentation in revered religious texts.

Aaron Lynch attributed the robustness of religious memes in human culture to the fact that such memes incorporate multiple modes of meme transmission. Religious memes pass down the generations from parent to child and across a single generation through the meme-exchange of proselytism. Most people will hold the religion taught them by their parents throughout their life. Many religions feature adversarial elements, punishing apostasy, for instance, or demonizing infidels. In Thought Contagion Lynch identifies the memes of transmission in Christianity as especially powerful in scope. Believers view the conversion of non-believers both as a religious duty and as an act of altruism. The promise of heaven to believers and threat of hell to non-believers provide a strong incentive for members to retain their belief. Lynch asserts that belief in the Crucifixion of Jesus in Christianity amplifies each of its other replication advantages through the indebtedness believers have to their Savior for sacrifice on the cross. The image of the crucifixion recurs in religious sacraments, and the proliferation of symbols of the cross in homes and churches potently reinforces the wide array of Christian memes.

Although religious memes have proliferated in human cultures, the modern scientific community has been relatively resistant to religious belief. Robertson (2007) reasoned that if evolution is accelerated in conditions of propagative difficulty, then we would expect to encounter variations of religious memes, established in general populations, addressed to scientific communities. Using a memetic approach, Robertson deconstructed two attempts to privilege religiously held spirituality in scientific discourse. Advantages of a memetic approach as compared to more traditional "modernization" and "supply side" theses in understanding the evolution and propagation of religion were explored.

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Famous quotes containing the word religion:

    There is not a greater paradox in nature,—than that so good a religion [as Christianity] should be no better recommended by its professors.
    Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)

    All the sweetness of religion is conveyed to children by the hands of storytellers and image-makers. Without their fictions the truths of religion would for the multitude be neither intelligible nor even apprehensible; and the prophets would prophesy and the philosophers celebrate in vain. And nothing stands between the people and the fictions except the silly falsehood that the fictions are literal truths, and that there is nothing in religion but fiction.
    George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)

    When Catholicism goes bad it becomes the world-old, world-wide religio of amulets and holy places and priestcraft. Protestantism, in its corresponding decay, becomes a vague mist of ethical platitudes. Catholicism is accused of being too much like all the other religions; Protestantism of being insufficiently like a religion at all. Hence Plato, with his transcendent Forms, is the doctor of Protestants; Aristotle, with his immanent Forms, the doctor of Catholics.
    —C.S. (Clive Staples)