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Thursday, October 2, 2008


Religon as a disease.

The concept of a meme, first proposed by Richard Dawkins in "the selfish gene", has become a popular way of describing many sociological traits. In the same way as genetic traits 'fight' to survive in a population, by adapting through mutation and out-competing other traits via natural selection, social trends adapt to new situations in the same way, albeit at a much faster pace.

Religon is one of the most obvious forms of meme, and is also one which very closely parallels it's biological namesake: it is hereditary (passed onto offspring of those who have it), it is functional (directly influences significant behavior) and it can be influenced by random mutation.

But it also parrallels something else, not genetic: a virus or parasite. It can spread from host to host, and each host (actively or subtly) spreads it to new hosts. It feeds off of the victim, sometimes making them invest large amounts of energy in simply helping it reproduce. And it is often detrimental to the survival of the victim themselves, although in some situations (normally situations engineered by the religon itself, such as the Bible Belt or the Middle East) it can be beneficial, and exist in a symbiotic relationship with the host. An example of this latter behavior at its finest is Buddhism.

It is most like a science fiction version of a retrovirus, which implants it's own (still functioning) DNA into the genome of the victim, and becomes hereditable.

In the past, although there have been some minor attempts to create an 'antidote' to the retrovirus of religon (natural philosophy), the virus was very quick in suppressing these attempts. It has mostly been kept in check by the fact that there are a large number of religons all competing for hosts, although recently science has begun to erode it's ability to attach and remain attached to individuals.

A variant, or subtrait/subspecies of religon, known as 'fundumentalism', is particulary vulnerable to science's erosion attacks due to being much less adaptable than is usual. Despite religons built in defences against it, this subspecies has begun to go extinct, at least in some types of religon. It's dying throes are even hurting it's more adaptable cousin: people tend to associate the vocal antics of fundumentalists with religon in general, causing some people to throw off the retrovirus and open themselves to unadulterated reality.

What will eventually become of this strange hereditable virus? Only time will tell, but it has proven itself surprisingly adaptable in the past. My hope is that it will adapt into a philosophical position: a set of ethics and morals that govern our attitudes towards each other, and nothing more. Such would be a perfect sybiotic relationship for humanity and it's long time mental parasite.

Of course, religon also has disturbing parallels to the Headcrab from the Half-Life series, but... well... we'd prefer not to go into that.


  1. And yes, this entire post is dedicated to the Skeptical Sorcerer's comment in the previous thread.


  2. Religion as a disease...very Nietzscheian!! I like it!

  3. Yeah! I feel special. =D
    Especially since this post is so thorough, well done Quasar. My only question would be, could this be a recessive trait? I think it's safe to say it's alot more effective if both your parents are religious. I would also suspect the symbiotic nature the virus/gene can have with people would explain its prevalence in society.

  4. The Skeptical Sorcerer wrote:
    "My only question would be, could this be a recessive trait? I think it's safe to say it's alot more effective if both your parents are religious."

    Hmmm... good point. I'd say it is recessive, in that it's only hereditable when both your parents are carriers, but having a single parent as a carrier greatly increases your risk of contracting it due to exposure.

    PS: Glad I could make you feel special! [Insert "Yay!"]

  5. I got it! Maybe it's like sickle-cell (not implying all religion is evil like sickle cell), you only need one recessive allele for the disease to be present in your blood and you can even suffer some sickle-cell symptoms from that one allele. However you need both recessive alleles to really feel the full effect of sickle-cell. That's the closest analogy I can think of....


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