New Second Edition! Was $24.95, now just $9.95 (paperback) and $4.75 (Kindle). Thanks to everyone who made the first edition a success! I look forward to hearing from even more readers.
A Kindle Best Seller!
Religions evolve, not metaphorically, but in a very real way. By applying survival-of-the-fittest principles to religion, we can finally understand how religion became incredibly infectious to the average human.
The Religion Virus will show you how infectious ideas like the loving father-figure God, the promise that death is not the end, the attraction of heaven, the threat of hell, and many others evolved from prehistoric to modern times. You will finally understand why today's religions survived while thousands of other religions and sects died out. Like biological life, over ninety-nine percenty of the world's religions are extinct, but the ones that remain are quite remarkable. They are the strongest and best. More importantly, "survival of the fittest" does not necessarily mean survival of the truth, but rather the survival of the things people want to believe, whether true or not.
- Why do you worship Abraham's God instead of Zeus, Pelé or Thor?
- Why is a single all-purpose god far better than a bunch of special-purpose gods?
- Why is religion necessarily hostile to science?
- Why can't polytheism compete with monotheism?
- Why do heaven and hell have to co-exist?
- Why is "shunning" (casting out non-believers) so critical to religion's survival?
You'll find answers to these and many more fascinating questions in The Religion Virus. Buy it today and get started!
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"Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human situation is just too awful." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
This quote illustrates one of the most difficult parts of leaving religion behind. For millenia, religion provided us with very appealing and soothing answers to life's difficult and perplexing questions. Nature is harsh, we all face death in the end, and during our short lives we are plagued by disease, natural disasters and by fellow humans who prey on our good nature.
Religion (Christianity in particular) has evolved remarkable answers that help us cope with these harsh realities. However difficult life is, there will be a reward: loved ones who die aren't really lost forever, evil people will be punished eventually, good will be rewarded, and when natural disasters strike, God has a purpose (even though we can't always understand it). Whatever happens here on Earth, it will all be OK in the end.
If you're like most people, abandoning these reassuring answers was (or will be) one of the hardest parts of losing your faith.
The Religion Virus won't magically make it all better again. But it will help you to understand why religion evolved these incredibly infectious ideas, and why it is so very difficult for you to leave religion behind.
"I feel so much better now!" – Carolyn, after reading The Religion Virus
Carolyn is a real person, born in 1930 in the Central Valley of California. In fact, you'll read her story in The Religion Virus. After years of soul searching and study, and witnessing a tragic natural catastrophe, Carolyn made the difficult decision to leave religion behind forever. But lingering doubts and fears remained. She knew her decision to leave Christianity was the right one, but Christianity had planted its incredibly infectious concepts of guilt, heaven, hell, and original sin deep in Carolyn's brain.
The Religion Virus showed Carolyn exactly why the two-thousand-year-old infectious ideas in her head were so hard to leave behind, and why she'd been plagued by uncertainty, doubt and regret for so long. When she finally got to the end of the book, all of Carolyn's uncertainty had evaporated, leaving her free to pursue life on her own terms.
The histories of Christianity and Judaism are absolutely fascinating, yet many (perhaps most) believers know very little about the true history of their own religion. Take this for example:
God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the
gods. ... I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most
High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
– Psalm 82
Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?
Did you know that in the early history of Judaism and Christianity, most followers of Yahweh (the one you now call God) were polytheists? They swore their loyalty to Yahweh, but did not believe He was the only god.
The God you worship today is dramatically different than the Yahweh that Moses and Abraham worshipped. In fact, if Abraham could come forward in time to sit beside you in your church, he would barely even recognize your almighty, omniscent God, creator of the universe. Abraham thought of Yahweh as more of a flesh-and-blood god of wars, just one of many gods that Abraham's people worshipped.
How did this happen? Why was Abraham's and Moses' understanding of God so different from yours?
In The Religion Virus you'll learn why your God has changed so much in the eyes of His believers, and why the God you worship today is a better God.
And the story of God Himself is just the beginning. Just about every aspect of Christianity and Judaism – Genesis, the afterlife, heaven and hell, original sin, the divinity of Jesus Christ – has changed dramatically over the centuries. It's a fascinating story.
Although the title "The Religion Virus" sounds anti-religious, it is actually something quite different: it will teach you about religion's history, but from a completely new perspective. You'll learn where Christianity and Judaism came from, how they changed and evolved over the centuries, and most importantly, why your religion has taken its modern form.
Atheist or Agnostic
As an atheist or agnostic, you've either rejected the concept of gods, or perhaps you never were infected with those ideas in the first place. Or maybe you realize the question of God's existence is unanswerable. Yet you look at the religions of your friends, neighbors and family, and are baffled. How can they believe things that to you are so clearly wrong? These are smart, thoughtful people ... how is it that many consider the Bible, written over two thousand years ago, to be one hundred percent accurate in every respect? How is it they believe in miracles and magic, angels and demons?
And why is religion so incredibly tenacious?
The Religion Virus answers these questions with the new field of study called cultural evolution, or memetics.
Darwin's Theory of Evolution revolutionized our understanding of biology, turning it from a science that could merely categorize into a science that predicted and explained the amazing variety of life on this wonderful planet of ours. By applying these same principles to culture itself, we can predict and explain the evolution of religion.
Most religion books focus on the what or when of religion. Like the biologists of Darwin's time, all they can do is describe and categorize. But in The Religion Virus, you'll learn why religions evolved to their present-day form. The new science of cultural evolution – applying Darwin's principles to the flow of ideas (memes) as they move across society and down through history – has revolutionized our understanding of our culuture.
A number of excellent books have been written about memes, but all of them have skirted the biggest meme of all: religion. The Religion Virus tackles religion head on, showing how and why religions evolved to their present-day forms. With this new understanding of how cultures evolve (not metaphorically, but in a very real way), you'll see why religion is an almost-inevitable part of human culture.
You'll finally understand its tenacity, and why people are so incredibly attached to the set of ideas collectively called "religion."
Deist and Unitarian Universalists
Deism and Universal Unitarianism share a central idea: there are no simple answers, and each person's theology is the result of a search for truth and meaning rather than something handed down by an authority.
Within this framework of inquisitiveness, The Religion Virus gives new insights into how and why the major religions arose. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, along with the many branches of Eastern religions, provide very satisfying answers to the deep questions of life. Are these answers right, or are they just the answers that people want to hear? Or (as some suggest), are they answers that keep the major religious institutions in business and in power? These are difficult questions that have been asked for centuries, with much heated opinion but very little progress.
The Religion Virus takes a new approach. Instead of asking, "Is this idea right or wrong?", it asks, "Does this idea appeal, whether it is right or wrong?" A new branch of study called memetics, parallel to genetics, treats ideas very much like genes: they spread, they mutate, and they compete against each other for survival. Ideas live in your mind, not your cells, but otherwise behave remarkably like genes. And like genes, it turns out that ideas evolve – not metaphorically, but in a very real way.
Using the insights provided by memetics, The Religion Virus will take you on a tour of the Abrahamic religions' histories. You'll learn the real history of each of the major tenets of these religion: monotheism, Biblical infallibility, heaven and hell, morality, and many more. Each of these ideas is traced through history as the inexorable forces of "survival of the fittest" shaped it into the most appealing idea of all. You'll learn why it's not truth that counts when it comes to the spread of ideas, only whether the idea survives better than its competitors in the "ideosphere."
As one reviewer explained, "... The Religion Virus can facilitate a wholesale change in the way we think about religion." In your search for truth, morality and purpose in life, an understanding the origin and appeal of today's religions is a good foundation.
Memes and cultural evolution are nothing new to you, you get it. You've read Dawkins and Distin, and maybe even Brodie and Aunger. You watch with fascination as the Fifth Avenue marketing gurus spin their memetic webs, YouTube videos "go viral" (a term that you actually understand), fads sweep the country, urban legends get retold ad nauseum, and a dozen copies of the next viral meme pile up on Twitter, spread across Facebook, and clog your Inbox.
But there's a piece missing ... why haven't any of these authors writing about memes taken a serious look at religion? Religion is by far the biggest, most intricate, and most pervasive memeplex in the world's history. So why has religion been almost completely ignored by the memetics community?
The Religion Virus takes this controversial topic head-on, and there is plenty of material to study: God, death, heaven and hell, anti-rationalism, anti-science, Jesus' divinity ... the list goes on and on. Each of these memes has a fascinating history, some stretching back over ten thousand years.
For example, why did monotheism supplant paganism? It's a hard question for historians, because without an evolutionary approach, there's no real reason to expect one form of religion to dominate over another. But a memetic view makes it obvious: using well-understood population dynamics, one can easily see why a single, all-purpose god-mem will be more successful than a host of lesser (often squabbling) god-memes. Moreover, monotheism is a direct result of three other memes whose evolution was almost inevitable: the All-Purpose God meme (one god who can answer all prayers), the Intolerance meme (suppress or kill those who don't believe in your god), and the Globalization meme (God is universal, he can answer your prayers even if you leave Israel).A memetic analysis completely explains religion's fascinating history, and furthermore actually predicts the features of religion that we see around the world today.
Most Christians, Jews and Muslims are amazed to learn that the modern God they worship today bears very little resemblence to the God of the Israelites two thousand years ago. Historians can show what happened to God in those two millenia, but only memetics can explain why.
Copyright © 2014 Craig A. James