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Religions represent some of the most powerful and elaborate meme complexes in existence today; they have evolved over millennia into countless variants and co-evolved with cultures.
Religions tend to consist of some basic core memes (in the case of Christianity the belief in god and salvation through christ) surrounded by symbiotic doctrinary memes (how salvation can be reached, ethical systems, the cosmology) and then an immense cloud of related memes (religious stories, doctrines, interpretations). These memes form a symbiotic whole; the core memes need symbiotic memes to provide hooks and baits, and the symbiotic memes reinforce each other and are given legitimacy by the core memes.
Properties of the Meme
The Christianity meme complex has throughout history been transmitted in a multitude of forms: as oral stories, through books and art, through example and through upbringing. Due to its complexity the transmission takes time and is closely linked to cultural understanding. This either requires a relatively concentrated effort to transmit the complex (mission) or to spread it by cultural diffusion and imitation (upbringing). A frequent diffusion situation is when a child is brought up in a christian home. The christian meme complex is presented as the truth about how the world functions. Variants of the meme have increased their fitness by encouraging a high rate of reproduction and cultural transmission (Lynch 1996).
Most major religions rely on active transmission: one or more hosts actively supports the spread of the meme, often in an interactive and deliberate way. Efficient methods for mission have co-evolved with the religion and the situation; the best missionaries gained the most converts, among which were the next generation of missionaries (and missionary teachers) who would learn and spread some of their best methods.
Classically, christianity have used the bait of salvation (freedom from fear, personal happiness and prosperity, spiritual fulfilment, eternal life or union with god have all been promoted at various time) combined with the threat of damnation to promote interest and infection. This is however just the explicit bait, it appears likely that many christian movements have been spread by implicit factors such as a sense of belonging, social conformity and a consistent world-view. It is worth noting that the baits and threats are mostly based on the symbiotic memes and not the core memes of the complex, which means their relative prevalence can change to fit the situation (for example the ratio of hellfire threats to salvation baits used in sermons) or they can evolve while leaving the core memes unchanged.
Religions are often better than other meme complexes (such as science) at explaining how the world works on an emotional level. They provide answers to existential questions that are emotionally appealing, creating a satisfying world model (which then becomes intellectually satisfying regardless of its consistency due to cognitive dissonance). Because religions seldom try to empirically prove themselves they cannot be disproved, which further aids their stability. A religion can spread regardless of the truth or falsity of its claims.
The christianity meme contains an entire world-view, and seeks to cause an accommodation in the schemata of the infected host; no other memes are allowed to influence high-level planning and behaviour ("Ye cannot serve God and Mammon", Matthew 24). This is achieved by rejecting such memes or impulses as 'against God's will', 'sinful' or 'satanic'.
Like all the other major world religions, christianity has a strong mission. It both exists as an explicit missionary order and in the form of an implicit altruistic hook. christians are urged to set good examples to others, which also increases the likelihood of transmission through social learning.
By John Chuckman
John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States, recently repeated an old chestnut about America being a Christian nation whose founders were Christian gentlemen.
The claim is common among the country's fundamentalist Christians, but it is so ignorant of actual history one wonders whether it should not be taken as another serious indictment of American public education. Some readers may not be aware that Mr. Ashcroft's background includes familiarity with such arcane subjects as speaking in tongues. As for Mr. Bush, who touched the same theme in China, perhaps no comment on his grasp of history is required.
The late eighteenth century, following on the Enlightenment and waves of reaction to the violent excesses of the Reformation and counter-Reformation over the previous two centuries, was perhaps the lowest point for Christian influence ever. Virtually all educated people in Europe were deists and many were open skeptics.
America was not free of this influence despite its many Puritan immigrants. Indeed, many of the best educated citizens at this time were educated in Europe, and the small number of good libraries owned by educated people often contained the works of Enlightenment authors. Virtually all the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and even some of the words of the Constitution derive from these European sources. It is due precisely to the unique qualities of the period that we owe America's early embrace of religious tolerance. The immigrant Puritans had displayed no religious tolerance, and in fact were some of the worst fanatics from Europe.
George Washington was a deist. He was a member of the Masons, a then comparatively-new, secretive fraternal organization widely regarded as unfriendly to traditional Christianity and reflecting European secular attitudes. He did attend church regularly, but this was done with the aristocratic notion that it set an example for the lower classes, Washington being very much a planter-aristocrat (he used to refer to the independent-minded Yankee recruits in the revolution, who had had the practice of electing their officers before he was appointed as commander, as "a dirty and nasty people."). This was a time when there was an established church in Virginia, and it functioned as an important quasi-political organization.
Washington always used deistic terms like Great Providence. His writings, other than one brief note as a very young man, do not speak of Jesus, and he died, knowing he was dying, without ever calling for prayer, Bible, or minister. There is a story given by some of his best biographers shedding light on his church-going. He apparently never kneeled for prayer nor would he take communion. When one parson brought this to his attention after the service, Washington gave him the icy stare for which this aloof, emotionally-cold man was famous and never returned to that church.
Thomas Jefferson was accused publicly of being an atheist. More than any other founder, Jefferson was under the spell of European (and particularly French) thought. His writings, and references to him by friends, certainly make him sound like a private skeptic. He belonged to no church. He explicitly denied the divinity of Jesus, viewing him as a great teacher of human values. At best he was a deist referring in his private writings to God as "our god."
Jefferson who, despite high-sounding words, was something of a hypocrite on many aspects of civil liberties and particularly on slavery, was at his best on the need for religious liberty. Despite his free-thinking reputation, he formed alliances with groups like the Baptists, who deeply resented paying taxes to the established church in Virginia and won a long battle for a statute of religious liberty.
Thomas Paine, whose stirring words in _Common Sense_ contributed greatly to the revolution, was often accused of atheism because of his religious writing, but deism is closer to the truth. His later writing done in Europe, _The Age of Reason_, was regarded as scandalous by establishment-types. France, during the terror under Robespierre, turned to a new kind of state religion. This, the very brave Paine, living in Paris, also rejected, writing,
"I do not believe in the creed professed…by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the protestant church, nor any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."
The great Dr. Franklin, who incidentally lived about a quarter of his life on diplomatic missions in Europe and who as a very young man had run away from a home where rigid religious principles were imposed, was a typical deist of the period. He was an active member of the first Masonic temple in America. His attitudes were so amicable to French intellectuals and society, he was embraced, as no other American has ever been, as a national figure in that country.
Alexander Hamilton, undoubtedly the most intellectually gifted of the founders other than Franklin, paid lip service to religion, but he was known during the Revolution as a rake. Later, his distinguished career in Washington's cabinet was marred by a great sexual scandal. Generally, Hamilton used religion to promote his political aims, ignoring it whenever it was convenient. In this respect, perhaps he qualifies as a thoroughly modern American version of a Christian.
Gouveneur Morris, who wrote the draft of the Constitution we all recognize from the notes of others, was an extremely worldly and aristocratic man. He was also one of Washington's most trusted confidants. He was perhaps the most rakish, womanizing diplomat America ever sent to Europe, sharing at one point a mistress with Talleyrand, the most amoral ex-cleric who ever practiced statecraft. In general, Europeans were astonished that a man so worldly and so arrogantly patrician in temperament represented the young republic for a period in France.
Abraham Lincoln, while not a founder, is the most beloved of American presidents. Lincoln's closest friend and most interesting biographer, Herndon, said flatly that Lincoln was a religious skeptic. This has always so upset America's establishment historians that Herndon has been accused of writing a distorted book, a rather ridiculous charge in view of a close friendship with his subject and twenty years spent collecting materials.
Lincoln never attended church and when he refers to god in speeches during the Civil War, it is always with words acceptable to secular, educated people who regarded the King James Bible as an important cultural and literary document apart from any claims for its sacredness.
There is reason to believe that as the bloody war continued, Lincoln, who suffered from severe depressions, turned to the Bible for consolation, especially to the story of the struggle of the Hebrews.
Lincoln was also an extremely astute politician who used every means at his command in the great battle with secession, and his references to the Almighty may well have been part of his psychological artillery. He certainly did not invoke the name of Jesus.
Patrick Henry, who incidentally opposed ratification of the Constitution, was a Christian, but he was once described by Jefferson as "an emotional volcano with little guiding intelligence." Just a little brush up on history…
John Chuckman encourages your comments: jchuckman@YellowTimes.org
_Reality Asylum_ MP3 (vK) by Crass
no feeble christ
he hangs in glib delight above my body
Vomit for you jesu
down now from your papal heights
from that churlish suicide
down from those pious heights royal flag-bearer
i vomit for you
shit he forgives
he hangs in crucified delight
nailed to the extent of his vision
his cross/his manhood
he would nail my body upon his cross
you dug the graves at auschwitz
the soil of treblinka is your guilt
master/master of gore/enigma
you carry the standard of our oppression
enola is your gaiety/the bodies of hiroshima are your delight
nails are the holy trinity
hold them in your corpsey gracelessness
the image i have had to suffer
the cross is the virgin body of womanhood
that you defile
you nail yourself to your own sin
lame ass jesus calls me sister
there are no words for my contempt
every woman is a cross in his filthy theology
his arrogant delight
he turns his back upon me in his fear
he dare not face me
fearfucker/share nothing you christ
sterile/impotent/fucklove prophet of death
you are the ultimate pornography/ in your cuntfear
JESUS DIED FOR HIS OWN SINS, NOT MINE!
"The whole point is I'm trying to get you to see -to get you out of this malaise of thinking that Jesus and the disciples were poor and then relating that to you: thinking that you, as a child of God, have to follow Jesus. The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. That's the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I'm following Jesus' steps."
~ ~ Televangelist Frederick K.C. Price on the 'Ever Increasing Faith' program on 'TBN'.
actress Amanda Donahoe:
When asked about her role as a reincarnated pagan priestess in the movie _The Lair of the White Worm_, she told _Interview_ magazine: "Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can't embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages."
industrial track _Heresy_ MP3 (vK) by Nine Inch Nails off of _The Downward Spiral_ CD on Nothing (1994)
* Artist/Author/Producer: Sinead O'Connor
* Confronting Bodies: NBC Television; Roman Catholic Church community
* Dates of action: October 1992
* Location: New York
Description of the Art Work
Performance featured three elements:
1) Singing the Bob Marley song _War_;
2) Tearing a photograph of Pope John Paul II;
3) Reciting the phrase, "Fight the real enemy."
October 3, 1992: Sinead O'Connor appears as the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live." Toward the end of the show O'Connor performs a remarkable a capella version of the Bob Marley song "War," which Marley wrote using words from a speech given by Ethiopia's last emperor, Haile Selassie, who died in 1975. The song basically says war is an appropriate response for victims of racial injustice, child abuse and other types of cruelty. At the song's conclusion O'Connor held up an 8" x 10" color photo of Pope John Paul II, ripped it into pieces and said, "Fight the real enemy."
"Christianity will go," he said. "It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first -- rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
- John Lennon, Beatle