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Friday, October 12, 2007
  We are building a Religion
Here's an idea... How can atheists be more successful at converting the masses? By learning from religion, by taking the elements that have made religions so successful and using them... Let me explain...

Religion can be thought of as a very successful collection of Memes. Richard Dawkins & Susan Blackmore have described in this way before, and I think looking at religion this way is very useful.

Religion has been historically, is even today is arguably the most powerful shaper of beliefs and therefore actions.

The most popular monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have themselves evolved over centuries and through various iterations based on their fitness as a collection of memes. The documentary film The God Who Wasn't There goes into detail showing how many elements of Christianity are actually repurposed myths and concepts from earlier religions.

When speaking of Evolution, this requires elements of change and a way to guage fitness. In the case of religion, fitness would be measured in the religion's ability to be spread to others and encourage new believers to not only believe, but to further spread the word. This element of religion brings comparison to the behavior of a virus.

So this helps us to understand how and why religion has been so successful, it's got very little to do with it being true. Now, centuries after these religions were created, the knowledge of humankind has advanced exponentially beyond the primitive understanding of the world. Science and education, technology, the enlightenment, modernity, transitions through the industrial revolution, yet despite all of this change, the infectious nature of religion means that these very old, very outdated religions and associated belief systems continue to exist and in some cases continue to grow.

Despite all of the social, cultural and technological progress and changes we've seen, our brains themselves are still essentially unchanged, they work the same as they did 2,000 years ago.

If we want people to move beyond religion, we must accept that the best and perhaps only way to achieve this is to essentially create a better religion, create a better virus, create a better collection of memes. Frame the message of belief in science in such a way as to make it as attractive, as contagious, and as addictive as religion.

We need to take the whole grain bread of scientific naturalism and make it taste like a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

What I'm saying is that even if we're able to conclusively prove the claims of scientific naturalism, humanism, etc, that's not really the point, and while that may be a compelling reason for highly intelligent, well educated, intellectuals, that only accounts for a small percentage of the population. In order to change the word, that message needs to be reframed and sugar coated if we actually want to sell the masses on it.

That is the challenge that stands before those of us that want to promote reason and secular values...

BTW - I had this train of thought launched by the song Comfort Eagle by Cake.

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A personal blog by John Walter.

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I think a lot. Some people say I think too much... However, I don't want to be seen as being aloof or pretentious, it's just that I really enjoy philosophical questions and deep thoughts. That's not to say that I don't find pleasure in more down-to-earth or trivial things, like beer and soccer :) I'm happily married with 3 wonderful children. I'm a partner in a technology services company based in Toronto. Myers Briggs says I'm an ENTJ

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