Sunday, May 24, 2009

Christian Rock and Roll: Memetic Evolution in Action

Here is another example of religion shooting itself in the foot. As one who studies religion as an evolutionary phenomenon, this one is fascinating, because it shows a branch of the "tree of descent" of religious factions that will likely go extinct due to being poorly adapted to the modern "ecology." Simply put, they're going extinct because they're losing the battle-of-the-fittest for survival.

A couple weeks ago, Tyler Frost was suspended from his Christian high school for the horrifying sin of attending his girlfriend's prom, where there would be (gasp) rock and roll music. The school's principal Tim England said "When the school committee ... set up the policy regarding dancing, I am confident that they had the principle of fleeing lustful situations in mind ...should a Christian place themselves at an event where young ladies will have low-cut dresses and be dancing in them."

Today, another news article caught my eye. What would Mr. England think of the Christian Rock Festival going on here in San Diego this weekend? This is a family-oriented event, yet ... they're playing rock and roll, teens are dancing, the girls are screaming when their favorite rock stars come on, and worst of all, it's a beautiful, sunny Memorial Day weekend here in San Diego, and you can just drive past the fairgrounds and see plenty of pretty teen girls in sexy shorts and tank tops, very attractive indeed. And you know those teen boys are going to be dancing with the girls, staring at their cleavage and their rear ends, and lusting, as teen boys do everywhere.

As a cultural evolutionist, one who studies culture, and religion in particular, using methods similar to Darwin's principles of evolution, this is a classic case study of evolution in action. On the one hand, you have Principal England's oppressive policies that alienate teens, who are pretty much hormone driven, not to mention that they are instinctively rebelling against parental authority, trying to establish their own adult identities. It's very easy for an adult to become the laughing-stock of the teenage crowd, which is exactly what Mr. England did with his puritanical, sanctimonious declarations about low-cut dresses, dancing, and rock music.

On the other hand, you have a group of Christians who recognize teens' love for rock music, for dancing, and for live concerts by the beach in the hot Southern California sunshine. Instead of pious prohibitions, this group embraces the kids' natural desires, and channels it into a healthy, family-oriented weekend of great music, hot dogs, carnival rides, dancing, and fun.

Which of these two philosophies, Principal England's, or the Christian Music Fair organizers', is more likely to become extinct in the next 100 years? This is evolution, memetic evolution, in action, and it sure is fun to watch.


  1. I have to completely disagree.

    The normal meme evolution rules don't apply here. Mr England is the principal of a private school, and the rules applied to the students under his control aren't there completely voluntarily. They are there because their parents want them there. And parents wanting to keep their children "pure" is clearly not a meme that is going away any time soon.

    You are treating this the same as adults picking between two churches, one that allows fun and music and one that doesn't. Even then, Christianity is all about making people feel guilty for their impure thoughts, and dependent on the Church for redemption, so even then a "no dancing" church would probably be around for a while.

  2. I would have to disagree with you, Ben. Let's assume those children stay in the same general area when they grow up. Some of those kids aren't going to have fond memories of that school and might put their kids into a different place. With each passing generation social practices (in America) tend to be liberal the further we go. At some point, these old fashioned hard core "moralists" schools will fall out of favor. It's just going to take a while.

  3. Ben, you're right that my reasoning is a bit unclear. It may look like I'm suggesting that these two entities are competing directly against one another, and clearly they're not. This isn't like, for example, a church that splits in two over homosexuality, where the two churches are going head-to-head.

    Instead, I want to convey that in the overall memetic ecology, one of these memeplexes is far more likely to survive than the other. Mr England isn't even representing a church, but the general attitudes he espouses can be thought of as a fairly well-defined memeplex, one that actually spans a number of churches and is geographically widespread.

    On the other hand, the "Christian Rock" memeplex is actually part of a larger memeplex that advocates embracing what kids like and adapting Christianity to it, and, conversely, adapting the modern ideas, such as rock music, to be compatible with Christianity.

    In my judgement, the "Christian Rock memeplex" (for lack of a better term) is far more likely to survive the test of time.


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