Is our belief in Jesus a result of a meme?

“Is my belief in a personal God who hears my daily prayers a result of a meme? If it is, then does that meme determines the truth-value of my belief?” “What about the ontological existence of the object of my belief, namely God who hears my prayers, is he dependent upon that meme, viz., if that meme is demonstrably true does that mean that God does not exist?” These are the questions one might ask when confronted by the meme objection.

So where do we get this controversial meme?

Meme was first introduced by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. It is described as a cultural replicator that behaves similar to genes. It is conferring advantages to those who are receivers or victims of it. In short, it is the culprit of religious beliefs in a divine and a hope afterlife that infects our brains. Philosopher Daniel Dennett, who focuses in philosophy of mind and neuroscience, affirming the memes of Richad Dawkins:

It’s ideas, not worms, that hijack our brains – replicating ideas. Ideas that we rehearse and think about, and decide that we like, pass them on to somebody else, who pass them on to somebody else. They make copies; the spread like a virus. . . That‘s the idea behind “the Word of God is a seed and the sower of the seed is Christ.”1

So that’s the meme of religion! It hijacks our brains and “pass them on to somebody else, who pass them to somebody else” like a virus. Trust me, I felt like an idiot when I first read those words! If this is true, then this meme manifested when somebody introduced Jesus to me and when I introduced Jesus to another.

Oxford theologian Alister McGrath, who had a doctorate in biophysics, made this dry comment about Dawkins’s popular term:

Dawkins talking about memes is like believers talking about God – an invisible, unverifiable postulate, which helps explain some things about experience, but ultimately lies beyond empirical investigation.2

If this is all true, then our faith is totally bankrupt! We are all in a colossal propaganda. Karl Marx was right about this capitalistic agenda. Our tithes and church offerings are stolen! Our earnest devotion to an invisible person turns out to be just a psychological advantage than not doing  just like the placebo effect. It is a wish-fulfillment to an infantile need of a father-figure (as Freud contends), that might exist above the outskirts of this lonely world but doesn’t.

But is that really the effect of the meme? I would argue not!

Meme is just rhetorical maneuver used by Dawkins to exaggerate ideas and to obey his reductionistic agenda. For it to use as a sword to slash the arms faith is totally condescending for it also applies to atheism. Dennett confesses:

Is atheism a meme? Of course it’s a meme. And so is science. I mean, it’s not as if memes are just the irrational, bad ideas. . . . Memes are information packets that replicate whether they are true or false, sane or ridiculous, benign or toxic. The memes of calculus, you will notice, do not travel very well. They are domesticated. . . . They really depend on their stewards; others we can’t get out of our heads.3 

But the harder question is: Does this controversial meme exist?

Well, in an unusual tone of honesty, Dawkins who coined the term confessed:

Another objection is that we don’t know what memes are made of, or where they reside. Memes have not yet found their Watson and Crick; they lack even their Mendel. Whereas genes are to be found in the precise locations on chromosomes, memes presumably exist in brains and we have even less chance of seeing one than of seeing a gene.4

Although Dawkins in his reductionistic hope, that meme would someday be proven to be true just as genes were, embraces it as non-empirical.

But let’s say it’s true, does that defy our belief in a personal God who hears our prayers to be true? The answer is no. Dennett even affirmed that they “are information packets that replicate whether they are true or false.” It has nothing to do whether our beliefs are justified or not! For we can have the same meme that can be passed on to people, like “1 + 1 = 2 ” or “killing innocent babies is murder”, but that doesn’t mean those propositions are false or that babies don’t exist. In short memes don’t determine the truth-value of a statement or the object of the belief.

So we can sleep now! Since this meme has nothing to offer even if we continue to depend on a personal God who hears our daily prayers, and as we celebrate the beauty of Easter!

 


[1] See Robert B. Stewart, The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath & Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (Fortress Press, 2008).

[2] Alister McGrath, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 128.

[3] Stewart, The Future, 37.

[4] Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), 124

 

Advertisements