The God Virus.
Monday 27th October 2014
Once in a while you get a revelation that, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, makes everything to fall into place. You finally see the big picture that was staring you in the face all along. This is how I felt when I read a book that flipped my mind upside down a few days ago. The book was The God Virus by Darrel W. Ray. The truth is that religion affects our society in different ways that we might not realise. It is prevalent and it is a disease. But what makes it so powerful? What makes people blind to the irrationalities of their own religions yet clearly see the problems of others? I wrote about my mother’s painful hyperreligiosity and how it might be some OCD-type condition, but reading this book has got me thinking that the compulsion towards religious devotion works far more insidiously and on a biological, rather than purely mental, level. That makes certain people genetically susceptible, whereas I have never been able to follow a religion or believe in God even when I have very much wanted to in the past.
The book outlines the ways in which is a virus that infects the minds of its devotees in the same way as biological viruses do. Both religion and viruses have the following five abilities that are present in varying degrees:
- To infect people
- To create antibodies or defences against other viruses
- To take over certain mental and physical function and hide themselves
- To use specific methods for spreading the virus
- To program the host to replicate the virus
The God virus infects the brain and alters critical faculties. Neurological science has shown that religious visions can be recreated with brain stimulation. William James, in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience wrote about this as long ago as 1902. Dr. Olaf Banks, neurologist at Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, explains that the true explanation as to why the supernatural is invoked, is a very natural one, the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information.
To go into the five properties above in a little more detail, infection takes place usually early on in childhood. This is a symbiotic method of infection, a vertical strategy in which one is born into a system and the virus remains strong as it binds the community together. Certain religions such as the Druze, Yazadi and Amish communities even have a further stipulation which prohibits outsiders from joining the group. It pays in these viral communities to preserve the unit of propagation, namely the family. Islam for example limits female freedoms and has always sought to expand male power. Sex is mandated as a procreative activity with extramarital relationships banned.
The other type of infection is the parasitic kind. Cults are the number one form of the virus which go down this route. The Unification Church maintains that for example marriages must be approved, if not arranged, by the Church ostensibly to propagate its virus across cultural boundaries.
The second on the list, the antibodies of the virus offer religious immunity which protects the beliefs and that of the children once they have been affected. Antibodies take the form of the creed of the religion. Ideas such as heresy were developed to protect the faith. Individuals rarely switch allegiances once indoctrinated. Eighteenth century physician Edward Jenner demonstrated that infecting a person with the cow pox virus immunised them against the small pox virus.
The overpowering of faculties occurs as followers fall back on doctrines that they learned as children. It is so strong that it hides even from internal detection. The individual sees their belief systems as self-evident. It might be activated by stress and traumatic experiences, as it was in the case of my mother who lost her high-power management job around eight years ago due to her misconduct, abuse, victimisation and negligence. A lengthy court case ensued, which she lost and in the process many tens of thousands of pounds. It was around this time that she began to turn to religion in an unhealthy turbo-charged way, as if it was going to save her or something when everyone else had let her down – she had no friends, family or partner in whom she could confide, she couldn’t tell me (her only daughter) and her ex-husband had no sympathy.
A virus needs an effective vector – a organism that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal to another, such as a mosquito in the case of malaria. In the case of the God virus it is spread usually by religious leaders who are reengineered to become effective carriers. Vectors are expensive for the ecosystem to produce so they are protected and supported to an extreme degree, as in the case of recent paedophilic sex abuse cover-ups. In the symbiotic strain, where the virus goes down a family line, the vector (priest in Catholicism) effectively commits genetic suicide by remaining celibate in order that his church may propagate. Just as the rabies virus takes over the brain of the host animal and infects specific neurons which induces the host animal to act aggressively without regard for its own life. The animal dies but the virus propagates itself by infecting those that are bitten.
Indeed, groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses take the view that each and every baptised member has a divine mandate to spread the word to the best of their ability. Members are required to submit regular reports on their evangelical efforts, and failure to do so will result in disfellowshipping. A recent article from Priceonomics projects a simplified formula for viral growth to account for and predict its advancement in the U.S, albeit modest.
The fifth on the list of parallels is programming. The host’s children are not usually immune. They are plied with guilt-inducing ideas that create a sense of security in incur the wrath of God, condemnation from respected leaders, hellfire damnation etc. I remember all of these threats from my own childhood, when I was very little they seemed real. But it only took me until I was ten years old to figure out that there was no God and I was free to do as I please in this life.
I’m no longer a dyspeptic critic of religion, or of anything else for that matter. I find a lot of atheist discourse self-indulgent claptrap in fact. But with such a convincing argument, I have no choice but to agree with Ray’s elegant and compelling elaboration on Richard Dawkins’ meme concept. Religion is dangerous and doesn’t show any sign of abating as it isn’t seen as a threat to public health, merely a harmless lifestyle choice. The God virus is real, it hurts people and tears families to shreds, it kills people while they are still breathing.