Darrel W. Ray, Ed.D., author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture was in attendance at the Atlanta Freethought Society meeting recently to discuss his theory on how religious dogma is spread through society.
In his lecture, Mr. Ray uses a comparison of actual viruses and parasites to help develop his theory. He explains how certain viruses can actually influence an individual’s behavior.
One such example he uses is the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and its impact on rats. There are studies which suggest that the neurology of rats infected with the T.gondii parasite are significantly changed to the point where the rat actually see cats as less of a risk. Another example is how influenza can cause the body to cough and sneeze.
Mr. Ray equates his entire theory that religion is a virus that spreads among humans by a variety of means including through music, prayer, sermon and even birth.
Religion is essentially a system of beliefs. Organized religion occurs when multiple individuals share the same system of belief and is spread from one to another in order to grow and expand.
A belief is nothing more than.. a thought. My interpretation of Mr. Rays argument is that the virus is thought.
Now, depending up on how strong your immune system is would depend upon the degree to which the infection has an impact on its host. The stronger the immune system the less impact, if any, the virus has on its host. The weaker the immune system, the greater the potential damage or control it has over its host.
If the virus Mr Ray explains does equate to thought, then how well the host can utilize reason, logic and common sense determines how the thought is then used. The flaw in his argument is… this “virus” is not predicated only to religion and can be used for any system of thought – including atheism and politics.
In each case, he appears to represent this particular virus in a negative manner. However, there are “beneficial viruses”, such as the Seneca Valley Virus-001 which is believed to kill cancer cells in humans.
If you use Mr. Rays comparison and argument that all thoughts are viruses that infect the human mind, then that would also have to include those thoughts that are also “beneficial”. Then the argument becomes which thought is beneficial and which is not? Who decides what is a beneficial thought and which is not?
That answer is much like beauty is to the beholder. A Christian is naturally going to argue in their favor, just as an Atheist would argue in favor of their point of view.
Mr Ray is right about one thing – arguing with someone with an opposing belief will get you no where. But that is not to say that opposing thoughts cannot find common ground. Afterall, there are viruses which either depend upon one another or can co-habitate in the same environment.
In order to reach such common ground would require mutual cooperation and respect of each others system of thought. Perhaps humanity can learn more from a virus than we originally… thought.