Posted by: Jim | November 22, 2004

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Religion Part IV: The Evolution of Ideas

I’m not an expert in evolution, but I have read a few books on it. Learning about evolution was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

When combining what I was learning about evolution, with my exodus from Christianity, I had a startling realization: organizations evolve just like organisms. Fundamentally, the concept is exactly the same as evolution. In an environment where there are several different varieties of organisms/organizations (like the variety of Christian sects in the early Christian era), and where these organisms/organizations are competing for the same resources (recognition, converts, power), those organizations which use and apply certain beliefs and traits will survive longer than others.

All of the main precepts of Christianity rose to the forefront in much the same way as a dominant species rises within its environment. There were thousands of Christian-era sects, which had a wide variety of beliefs and traits. Those sects which used ideas that caused the sect to succeed, did. The concept of “there is no hell, and God loves everyone even if they don’t believe in him” is NOT a trait that would make a religion successful! Where is the urgency? Where is the desperate need to gain membership, etc? How would you develop a sense of loyalty?

If you ask me, the perfect religion would have no converts.

When I was thinking about all this, I had a great moment of Treppenwitz (thanks David). I thought, ah ha! I have developed an entirely new branch of thought and study! Then I discovered that someone else already had: a fellow named Richard Dawkins (who I admire a great deal) and his theory is called “memetics”. Oh well. That saved me a lot of work.

So back to the point at hand. The characteristics that make today’s Christian church successful (as well as almost all the world’s major religions) are those that make us rely, look up to, protect, and obey … the church. Here are some of the concepts that do this:

1. You will go to Hell unless you relinquish your will to the Lord’s (make Jesus Lord of your life.)
2. You cannot even think about having sex unless you do so under the church’s blessing (marriage). After that, you can’t have sex with anyone else. Oh yeah, and boys, masturbation is off limits too. If you do, see #1.
3. You must give 10% of your money to the church.

I would call those the “big three.” The church would have survived with either 1 and 3 or 2 and 3, but with all 3, they became super-uber-mega-powerful.

None of those crucial points were true in Hebrew history prior to the New Testament, however. So what changed? Did God change? No, in some organizations, the application of dogma got more sophisticated, and these are the sects that survived. Here was the story during the Old Testament:

1. There was no hell in the early old testament. When the Hebrews died, they believed they simply went into “the pit,” a.k.a. the grave. Our current vision of hell was cobbled together based on the mythology of those nations that occupied Israel: Babylon, Phoenicia, Rome, Egypt, etc.
2. Like today, Old Testament folks were horny as hell. There was marriage, but it was actually to keep the WOMEN monogamous, not the men. Men figured out that they determined the identity of these babies that magically sprung from women. Once they figured that out, the needed to make sure that the women didn’t have sex with any
other men, so that their belongings would pass down to their sons. Men, on the other hand, were allowed multiple women as long as they only had sex with him. Consider the wives of David and Solomon.
3. The early New Testament church used the tithe as a form of Social Security … for widows and orphans. This was good. Today, however, the government takes care of these, and the church still asks for 10%. What they do with that 10% is just silly. They buy real estate.

But, as we learned in the last election, the impact of a “meme” does not happen based on its truth or validity. The impact is determined by how survivable it is.
If I start a meme that my car is silver (true fact,) it won’t pass to even two people, unless I told them both. Basically because no one gives a hoot. However, if I start a meme that Richard Gere went to the hospital to take a gerbil out of his behind (preposterous fabrication) it will spread like crazy.

In the same way, if I start a church that says God created us all and is going to take us all to heaven when we die, my church won’t survive. If I start a church that implies that God created us all, but might send some of us to eternal burning torture, I might get noticed!

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