Religion has been described as a virus. This is not because it’s ‘bad for you’ necessarily, but rather due to the way it spreads.
It’s not hard to see the parallel: like viruses (and bacteria), religions exist within a population and spread from person to person.
But what about atheism? Is it a viral idea (meme) too?
I will argue that it isn’t. Perhaps it’s more like a cancer, a ‘mutation’ that kills off religious infections.
Cancers are sneaky, because they can occur spontaneously, almost by chance, and are therefore a very statistical phenomenon: your chance of getting cancer is affected by a), your exposure (to carcinogens causing mutation events), and b), your predisposition (genes affecting your ability to cope with the these mutations).
Your chance of becoming an atheist is likewise affected by a), your exposure (to information about how the world works) and b), your predisposition (intelligence, or ability to apply logic to the information).
I.e. atheism differs from religion in the same way that carcinogens differ from viruses.
Can we develop this idea? I think so.
Let’s look at how you ‘get’ atheism…
Picture it: you’ve been brought up in a good god-fearing, church-going family. You went to Sunday school, you know which of Cain and Abel was the baddy and you can explain to people about how there is good evidence for The Flood. You also have a healthy fear of sex and the other sins.
But you go to school and you learn about plate tectonics and see how well South America slots into Africa, and then you learn how European bees are not quite the same as African ones, just like Toyota Corollas aren’t, and one day, while looking at the grille of your step-mother’s 1.3GL, and daydreaming about the A-team, a thought strikes you, like a shot of cancer-causing sunshine on that patch of skin on the back of your right shoulder, that cars evolve differently in different counties and maybe that explains all the animals and perhaps God didn’t make a women out of Adam’s rib after all, cos’ that never did make much sense, because a rib is a pretty silly thing to make a women out of anyway.
Catching a dose of Christianity on the other hand, does not come from inside, as the result of reasoning, it comes from outside, from other people.
Most often you will be born into a house absolutely soaked in the infection, you will be infected soon enough, prayers will be said at mealtimes, the church is so big and grand, and the hymns are so catchy, and then they wheel out Christmas and baby Jesus (or baby ‘cheeses’ as my son says)…
But even if you’re not so lucky, there’s hope. You can drop in at a church any time (though Sundays are best I’m told) and the chances are, even if you are down on your luck, short of friends, and even if you aren’t very nice, the sweet people there are quite likely to help you. That feeling of family, of unquestioning acceptance - brings a special warmth to the cockles of the heart.
Once you’re in the door, religion, having evolved pretty niftily, can now play you like a violin. Your emotions, developed to help promote clan solidarity, are hi-jacked and kick in nicely. Did you know, that if you really listen to what these folks say, and really try to feel God’s love, you will indeed feel something! Now that’s a clever infection…