I am currently reading The God Virus, by Darrel Ray. I already owned his book when I heard him speak at the Midwest Humanist Conference last month, but I hadn’t really started reading it in earnest until last week.
In his talk and his book, he likens religion to a virus. He compares the way that a virus or parasite can take over its host’s brain functions causing the host to do things that are actually against it’s own well being.
He gives the example of a parasite which infects a specific species of ant. Once infected, this ant will be compelled to climb to the highest stalk of grass that it can find where it is likely to be eaten by a cow. This, of course, is suicidal as far as the ant is concerned, but is just want the parasite wants because it is only in the digestive system of the cow that the parasite reproduces. It’s offspring is then excreted from the cow in moist excrement which the species of ants seek out as a form of moisture needed to survive.
Another example given is that of certain species of rat who, when infected with a particular pathogen, completely lose their ability to detect cat pheromones, making them that much more vulnerable to being caught and eaten. This pathogen needs to get into a cat in order to reproduce and thus infects the rat in such a way that it loses it’s innate ability to detect when a cat may be nearby.
And thus, Mr. Ray continues, does the God virus, the pathogen of religion, infect and alter the behavior of humans in such a way as to maximize it’s own survival, even at the expense of it’s host’s well being.
A perfect example of this are Islamic terrorists who’s minds are infected with a religion which fills their heads with images of paradise and keeps them from thinking rationally about the consequences of their intended actions. Because of the infection of religion, they have become unable to think rationally about anything that may contradict their religious teachings. This leads them to easily persuade themselves that killing innocent people is both right and required by their religion.
All religions show these same infectious qualities that interfere with people’s ability to rationally consider other views or even the consequences of their own religiously motivated words and actions: Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire to protest ideas against their beliefs; right wing religious fundamentalists who kill abortion doctors; Sikhs who kill Hindus who violate their sacred temples; Christians who beat and murder someone just because they are homosexual. All of these heinous acts are caused by an infection with the God Virus which turns off the part of people’s brains that allow them to think rationally about anything that contradicts their beliefs.
Although I know it is anecdotal, I wish to relate my own personal experience of having been infected with the God Virus.
To give you a quick background that leads up to the events of my infection, let me summarize my religious background unto that point.
I was raised Catholic, received First Communion and Confirmation. I considered myself a devout believer in God, but always questioned many of the teachings of the church and the bible. After moving onto college and the Army, I became what I called a generic Christian, eschewing the teachings of the Catholic church because I could no longer, in good conscience, support most of them.
As time went on, my readings of and about the bible taught me that there were far too many contradictions and human tampering with the source documents of the bible to be able to believe in much of any of it, except as allegory.
By the time I married my first wife, I was a believer in God, but believed that any sources for the “true” Christianity had long been lost, adulterated, or destroyed. Still, I converted to her religion of Armenian Orthodox, which was, at is basics, little different from Catholicism.
In about 2002, I had what I thought was a revelation from God to become a Muslim. I became completely consumed by Islam and read and thought about nothing else for months until I finally under went the Shahada, or conversion to Islam.
I was sure I was saved. I was sure that the Qu’ran was a divinely revealed (not inspired, but revealed) book.
The Qu’ran taught me that Christianity and Judaism had been corrupted, as had the original teachings of the prophets, which were the same for Islam as for the other two religions. This completely reinforced what I’d already come to believe from my own studies.
But I began to change. I started to allow myself to look down on others, to view everyone else as misguided. I even allowed myself to hate others, those enemies of Islam.
Hate was something I had never allowed myself to feel before, believing we were all human and therefore, equal. While I could justify hate for certain individuals, because of their words and actions, the idea of hating a whole group of people was, up till this point, an anathema to me.
My first marriage fell apart, due to many reasons, but as my mental energies were focused on divorce and all that goes with it, religion took a back seat to the turmoil I was going through.
There came a time when I had some breathing room to look at my religious believes again, and I was horrified by what I’d allow myself to become. Someone who hated; who ignored the evidence that was contrary to my world view.
I had another revelation at this point, not a religious one, but an emotional and intellectual one. I realized that I needed to apply the same standards to studying Islam as I did Christianity earlier. Once I did this, the entire house of cards fell down and the infection of Islam was gone from my mind.
Still, the infection of the God Virus was not completely gone as I struggled to figure out what my spiritual beliefs were in the aftermath of my rejection of all religions. Did I still believe in God? Yes, I told my self. But what kind of God was he?
For a short while, I decided that maybe he was a deistic God, one who created the universe and then moved on, never to interact with it. So was I a deist? Maybe God was just completely beyond our knowing so maybe I was an agnostic?
But, as my long suppressed love of science and thinking returned, I realized that being agnostic is merely, for me, a way of avoiding the really hard thinking and the requirement to actually answer the question for myself.
I could then see the choice between deism and no belief at all present itself. As I suggested in my post yesterday, if there was a deistic creator, that fact makes no difference at all for our existence and the fate of our universe, leaving me with non-belief, or atheism.
So, I feel that I’ve finally rid myself of the God virus. It’s taken 50 years and more ups, downs, back and forths and wild roller coaster rides than I can even count.
Inoculating yourself against the God Virus is hard and fraught with pitfalls, but well worth the freedom that it brings. I suggest that everyone give it a try.