Christianity will Save America and Other Absurd Memes

This post by Craig A. James originally appeared at The Religion Virus.

Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment that so intrigued me I can’t let it pass:

“Interesting that Christianity is in decline in America at the same time that in many other ways the nation as a whole is in decline. On the other hand, Christianity is on the rise in China, Africa and other parts of the world. The decline of religion in America, which atheists take as hopeful, is really just another foundation stone crumbling before the whole building comes down.”

Do Christians really believe this? Apparently so. Which means it’s our duty to deconstruct the argument. Anon’s claim just doesn’t match the facts. But it’s also a cool illustration of memetic evolution, and how an idea that gets out of its ecosphere dies a sudden death.

First of all, in the most modern countries, atheism is huge. Germany’s atheists make up about 70% of the population (that’s right, the MAJORITY of Germans are atheists). Other European countries like France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and even Italy and Spain, have huge numbers of atheists.

The result? These countries have better economies, lower crime rates, less poverty, better education (especially in the sciences) … on and on.

Now let’s look at the examples Anon cites: China, Africa and so forth. These countries are “on the rise” only because European colonialism pushed them down for centuries. Europe and America enslaved them, forced them to grow opium, stole their copper, gold, crops, and fish. It’s only now that we’ve stopped (well, slowed) raping these countries, now that we’re finally leaving these countries alone, that they’re “on the rise.”

Ironically, it was Christianity, especially the Calvanistic branches, that justified this rape and enslavement. Remember when the Pope himself approved the African slave trade?

“We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.”
–Pope Nicholas V, Dum Diversas, June 18, 1452

So don’t try to convince us that the rise of Christianity in these countries has anything to do with their success.

One of the great things about viewing religions through the eyes of cultural evolution (memetics, where ideas compete against each other in a “survival of the fittest” battle), is that you can easily see through statements like this, and see where they came from. If we’re talking about memes, we need to ask ourselves, “Why is this idea so appealing that people want to believe it, true or not?”

In this case, this meme (“the fall of Christianity will result in the fall of America”) is a fit, healthy meme in the “survival of the fittest” battle. But its ecosphere, the places where it can thrive and reproduce, is limited to the Christian mind. It appeals to Christians because it makes them feel better than everyone else, it tells them that their morals are better than everyone else’s, and absolves them of blame. So in that ecological niche, the Christian “ideosphere,” this meme has become very successful indeed. A Christian hears it, likes it, and tells it to the next guy. Evolution in action. And notice the key feature of religious memes: Truth isn’t relevant to the success of a meme, only whether people want to believe it.

But when a Christian tries to propagate that meme outside of that ecological niche – in this case, into the hostile environment of a blog by a well-known atheist, it quickly dies, just like a fish tossed into the desert.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Craig A. James is a writer, computer scientist, evolutionist, and movie producer. He lives in Southern California.

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