Christian sub-memes


How sub-memes work

Section Two. How the sub-memes of Christianity enable the generic meme "God exists" to survive.

A. Sub-memes and survivability.

Consider the hypothesis that Christianity (the proposition "God exists" and its corollaries) consists of memes and associated sub-memes -- again, mental viruses or mental software programs which are able to inoculate themselves into minds, spread or replicate to other minds through symbols (language) and change or affect behavior. What is of interest is, how powerful is this meme, Christianity, and its sub-memes; are they efficacious enough to overpower reason? By reason, I mean reason as logical (deductive, inductive or abductive) processes which do not involve the input of emotions or desires as descision making causal factors. My thesis is, yes.

In order to demonstrate my thesis, we must examine some of the sub-memes of the generic meme " the Christian God exists" and their operation in minds. Figuring out what they do and how will tell us much about their efficacy and survivability.

Let us examine the sub-memes, "It is God's will" and "The world will get better sooner or later." These sub-memes allow inoculated minds to cope with the vicissitudes of everyday life. They may evolve or change in strategic ways to deal with a specific circumstance for an individual person. It is my contention that these memes bind easily with "hardwired brain processes" (let me operationally define them as neural processes which cause fear, flight, anger, love of a good) to produce coping techniques. It is also my contention that these coping techniques, once introduced into thought-processing, can change the nature of behavior such that the sub-memes are preserved, even at the sake of consistency. In other words, the sub-memes affect the nature of decision making flawing its outcome as a rational process. This does not mean that the outcome is one that leads to a lower probability of survivability, only that reason is not the proximate cause of it.

Consider the sub-meme, "It is God's will." This sub-meme, when called upon, can satisfactorily explain to a mind inoculated by it the purpose of ANY event that occurs in its world, especially traumatic events. The sub-meme is like a crescent wrench that can adjust to any nut size (crisis) to loosen and remove the nut from its bolted position; it is a psychological tool that can work "wonders" in many crisis situations. For example, the trauma of the death of a person's father by a drunken driver can be satisfactorily explained (away) as an event in the grand scheme of God's master plan. By contrast, a natural explanation only leads to an infinite regress of causal explanations and consequently, will not suffice psychologically; a "terminal" answer is required to end doubt, psychological suffering and feelings of frustration due to lack of a satisfactory explanation. A description of factual/natural causes that, "The driver lost his job three weeks ago, could not stand the effect of such loss, took to continued drinking, was arrested but released on bail, got drunk and smashed into your father's car killing him," reaches the logical conclusion that the other driver is to blame, but cannot give an emotional release to the question, "Why should this have happened to my father?" The response, "It is God's will," can give such closure. Since no one is able to understand or even know of God's master plan or intentions save God Himself, the explanation must stand before a person's tormented mind as a tenable final answer which can relieve the suffering. In answer to the question "Why?" the sub-meme allows the event to be imaged as merely, but ultimately, part of "God's will or overall paln which is good." I am sure that we have all heard the compassionate, but "knee-jerk'' reaction/responses to tragedies which have similar complicated parameters: "Let God's will be done." Psychological trauma and grief end with that answer for the person whose decision procedure is enhanced by that meme. The answer brings down the curtain on the unfathomable pain caused by the traumatic act on the person's "life-stage.'' If such an end of suffering is the chief good envisioned or hoped for by the person, then the sub-meme is highly successful, moreso than the explanations given by reason ( "The fact of the matter was that the other driver lost his job, was drunk, and etc."). The pain ends with the dominant operation of the meme, " It's God's will."

Let's take a closer look at what is going on here. We know for a fact already that reason is "often dragged about by the heels by emotions and desires." Plato made us well aware of that phenomenon. If religious sub-memes can incorporate with ease the power of emotions and desires to be used in contrast to or against conclusions reached by reason alone, then there is a prima facie case that religion can be the stronger determinant in making judgments. Reason alone is not capable of motivation; an argument that is consistent will not move anyone to action. It is consistency or truth combined or linked to a desire for a good that motivates. But, if religious memes are more easily conjoined with the power of emotions and desires than judgments reached by reason, then an output or behavior dictated by religion with its immediate association with strong emotions and desires is more likely to occur than one by reason alone or even reason in conjunction with a desire for an abstract or theoretical good (eudaimonia or happiness).

The modus-operandi of the sub-meme, "It is God's will," is interesting, for essentially it begins its operation as an appeal to ignorance. The old saying (a slang representation of the sub-meme), "Ignorance is bliss," comes to mind. I suggest that what occurs in the above mentioned DUI case is that the person affected cannot reconcile the tragedy of the event with his beliefs about a just world. There is a contradiction: "Bad things such as what happened to my father are undeserved; bad things happen to good persons, but they shouldn't in a just world." Given that no rational explanation which would suffice is forthcoming to explain away this problem of evil, the sub-meme about God's will is called into play to resolve the conflict. The sub-meme suppresses the ideas which are traumatic and the propositions which are in conflict (viz., that a good God would not knowingly allow such evil to occur) by implying that there actually is a good "reason" for what happened. What happened had to have happened. The death of the father was, in the overall scheme of things, good, though viewed as an individual instance, it appears unjust. Since God is all-good, in the final explanation of things, the death was necessary for the overall goodness of the world. And that answer ends the quest for causal explanations, for no answer could go beyond God's overall plan, which plan, of course, is forever beyond our knowledge.

The sub-meme may even have the power to suppress problematic ideas and emotions associated with the event to eventually extinguish them over a period of time. Again, if the desired good is the end of suffering, and if reason cannot provide an answer which will suffice to end that suffering, the sub-meme, "It is God's will," becomes a very powerful operant, for it can end once and for all (that is as long as the sub-meme is dominant) the upsetting process of inquiry for natural explanations. What that is to say is that the religious response is regarded as completely sufficing. It produces an answer which sufficiently ends the pain and suffering. There is psychological closure on the event. The rational inconsistencies are suppressed to the point of elimination.

The sub-meme, "It's God's will," has suprising survival value because it has a built in factor of resistance to scrutiny. If the sub-meme is brought to critical review (rational scrutiny), some emotions of the suppressed traumas of the past may resurrect to combat the critical review. There is the positive reinforcement of not having to live with the angst of past trauma, and the negative reinforcement of the angst reemerging if the sub-meme is criticized. Both forms of reinforcement look to be sufficient to extinguish the scrutinizing light of reason. If an empirical experiment is to be tried as a method of verifying the staying power of this sub-meme, the next time a Christian friend loses a member of his/her family in an inexplicable or senseless way, press him on the point at issue if the response is "It is God's will." My suspicion is that you will lose a friend much faster than you will change his mind.

This ability to rise above scrutiny is interesting, for it leads to a discussion of the second sub-meme which is "God is beyond question." The content of this sub-meme purports that a knowledge of God is beyond man and further, there is the implication that it is wrong or dangerous to criticize or question God and or His acts --to subject Him to rational scrutiny. Why is scrutiny of God and His acts improper? Because to do so would bring about angst caused by questions which can have no final answers from a rational perspective; there appears to the average mind only an infinite regress of answers. This angst is suppressed by the sub-meme "It's God's will." The sub-meme "God is beyond question" enhances the power of its fellow sub-meme. Questioning God's will only resurrects the angst which was adequately suppressed in the first place.

Given that these religious sub-memes can be transmitted as "quickly as a cold-virus" to large populations, we can expect those populations to organize according to behavior required by the survival of the sub-meme. In other words, the power of this sub-meme is that it can be instantiated by social institution, a structure which we may call the Church. If the Church is the representation of God in the world and God is beyond knowledge SAVE what is given through His mouthpiece the Church, then the Church's pronouncements are also beyond question. Religious sub-memes have great survival power given their ability to initiate and sustain large social organizations.

Consider the history of Christian Church pronouncements. Statements from the Church about man's behavior (for example, about abortion, fornication, homosexuality, proper worship procedure, the status of women) are considered to be not subject to scrutiny. Why? I contend that much of the operational power of the sub-meme "God is beyond question" has been transferred from God to the pronouncements given by representatives of the Church. Too much psychological trauma (and perhaps other forms of trauma: social, economic and political) would ensue were the pronouncements of the Church rationally criticized --subject to analysis for consistency. The religious populous would simply not allow it. This prognosis is not new to the history of mankind. We have only to remember the Grand Inquisition. Or, even more currently, the rabid reactions to Big Bang and Darwinian theories, and the entrance of women and homosexuals into Church rank and file.

Again, why is such (religious) behavior, global and individual, prominent? The simple answer is that the religious sub-memes provide what persons want, which is not to suffer and to lead as unproblematic a life as possible. The sub-memes of religion are more successful than other thought-processes (here, reason) for most persons because the sub-memes prevent suffering which would otherwise be ongoing. The lives people lead who are governed by the religious sub-memes are experienced as being better. Tolstoy reaches this conclusion in his book, My Confessions. There is a reduction of pain and suffering and everyday life is unproblematic.

...I began to examine closely the lives and beliefs of these people (peasants), and the more I examined them, the more did I become convinced that they had the real faith, that their faith was necessary for them, and that it alone gave them a meaning and possibility of life. In contradistinction to what I saw in our circle, where life without faith was possible, and where hardly one in a thousand professes to be a believer, among them was hardly one in a thousand who was not a believer. In contradistincion to what I saw in our circle, where all life passed in idleness, amusements, and tedium of life, I saw that the whole life of these people was passed in hard work, and that they were satisfied with life. In contradistinction to the people of our circle, who struggled and murmured against fate because of their privations and their suffering, these people accepted diseases and sorrows without any perplexity or opposition, but with the calm and firm conviction that it was all for good. (From Leo Tolstoy, My Confession, trans. by Leo Wiener (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1905))

This coping or soothing power can be reinforced by members being encouraged or required to attend the practices of the Church on a regimented schedule. Given this schedule, one may see how the religious sub-memes are transferred or inoculated into minds at early ages and how they remain as mechanisms for the functioning of the individual. The habituation (or intermittent reinforcement) of ready and socially appropriate coping and soothing mechanisms available through the Church keeps the sub-memes alive and well. History seems to bear proof of my thesis.

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