Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Christianity will Save America, and Other Absurd Memes

Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment that so intrigued me I can't let it pass:
"Interesting that Christianity is in decline in America at the same time that in many other ways the nation as a whole is in decline. On the other hand, Christianity is on the rise in China, Africa and other parts of the world. The decline of religion in America, which atheists take as hopeful, is really just another foundation stone crumbling before the whole building comes down."
Do Christians really believe this?  Apparently so. Which means it's our duty to deconstruct the argument.  Anon's claim just doesn't match the facts.  But it's also a cool illustration of memetic evolution, and how an idea that gets out of its ecosphere dies a sudden death.
First of all, in the most modern countries, atheism is huge. Germany's atheists make up about 70% of the population (that's right, the MAJORITY of Germans are atheists). Other European countries like France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and even Italy and Spain, have huge numbers of atheists.

The result? These countries have better economies, lower crime rates, less poverty, better education (especially in the sciences) ... on and on.

Now let's look at the examples Anon cites: China, Africa and so forth.  These countries are "on the rise" only because European colonialism pushed them down for centuries.  Europe and America enslaved them, forced them to grow opium, stole their copper, gold, crops, and fish. It's only now that we've stopped (well, slowed) raping these countries, now that we're finally leaving these countries alone, that they're "on the rise."

Ironically, it was Christianity, especially the Calvanistic branches, that justified this rape and enslavement.  Remember when the Pope himself approved the African slave trade?
We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.
– Pope Nicholas V, Dum Diversas, June 18, 1452

So don't try to convince us that the rise of Christianity in these countries has anything to do with their success.

One of the great things about viewing religions through the eyes of cultural evolution (memetics, where ideas compete against each other in a "survival of the fittest" battle), is that you can easily see through statements like this, and see where they came from.  If we're talking about memes, we need to ask ourselves, "Why is this idea so appealing that people want to believe it, true or not?"

In this case, this meme ("the fall of Christianity will result in the fall of America") is a fit, healthy meme in the "survival of the fittest" battle.  But its ecosphere, the places where it can thrive and reproduce, is limited to the Christian mind.  It appeals to Christians because it makes them feel better than everyone else, it tells them that their morals are better than everyone else's, and absolves them of blame.  So in that ecological niche, the Christian "ideosphere," this meme has become very successful indeed.  A Christian hears it, likes it, and tells it to the next guy.  Evolution in action.  And notice the key feature of religious memes: Truth isn't relevant to the success of a meme, only whether people want to believe it.

But when a Christian tries to propagate that meme outside of that ecological niche - in this case, into the hostile environment of a blog by a well-known atheist, it quickly dies, just like a fish tossed into the desert.

14 comments:

  1. I always find it interesting that when looking at other blogs whether athiest, agnostic or whatever the different sects your broken down into; the only fight is with Christianity. Maybe thats cause we live in America or that its just easier to jump on that bandwagon living on the west coast, but whatever the case is I would love to see something on another religion. Show me what you got.

    Rich

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  2. Anon - That's mostly because there are so many more Christians in American than all other groups combined. Jews, for example, make up about 1% of Americans – even atheists are much more numerous than Jews. I've written about Scientology a number of times, and a few blogs about Islam.

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  3. Your glaring misrepresentation of facts is appalling. 70 percent of Germans are atheists? Not according the CIA world factbook or the state department. Both of those sources cite about 70 percent religious with about 65 percent Christian and another 5 percent Muslim. Interstingly enough the vast majority of atheism in Germany is in the eastern part which was under communist rule. Maybe you should do some more research before you make statements about "modern" countries.

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  4. Anon - My mistake, it was 85% of SWEDES, not Germans. In Germany, the number is more like 50% (depending on who is counting and how), and the Muslim population you cite is almost 100% recent immigrants.

    But get off your high horse, my point still stands: Religion is dying in all of the prosperous countries with good school systems, and thriving in nations where literacy is low and governments are oppressive. Europe, where Christianity once ruled the world, will be a mostly-secular/atheist subcontinent within a generation.

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  5. The only countries in the world with that many stheists are communist countries. You have no sources and no facts. Its not a high horse when I'm calling you out for being dishonest. You are obviously bias and choose to not speak of facts. Hate christianity under the guise of having issue with religion in general all you want. I simply ask you cite actual facts since athesism is suppose to be fact based. Have a good day.

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  6. Anon - You, and anyone else, can look up these facts. You are wrong. I like to argue about genuine differences of opinion, but when you claim a factual error that you could easily check for yourself, there's not much point in arguing. Sweden is not a communist country!

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  7. Never said sweden was communist. Pointing out again you have lied to fit your agenda. I like debating differences of opinion if it is fact based. I don't care to argue if squares are better than circles or any other nonsense. I cab look up these “facts”? That's the point you aren't using facts you're still making things up to suit your agenda. As long as you keep lieing I will keep pointing it out. I do applaud you for approving these comments though. Instead of telling me I'm wrong how about proving me wrong? Have a glorious day.

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  8. Hey Craig, I just came across your blog and I wanted to know what your thoughts were about how important the role of the Judeo-Christian ethic plays in American life?

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  9. Anon - That's far too broad a question to answer in a few sentences! Obviously they've played a huge role, for the obvious reason that most Americans were Christians. But one has to ask: How much of Judeo-Christian ethics are due to their religion, and how much is just good common sense? Most of what Christians and Jews pass off as morals from God is really nothing more than our instinctive sense of right and wrong, the knowledge that's built into us by millions of years of evolution, being embodied in our religions.

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  10. Hey, atheist dude;

    If you are living like there is no God - you'd better be right! What, just say what, there is ...? Yowsers! You'll be burnt toast, dude!

    Better come off your unprovable "strut," and admit that the best you can be (logically) is an agnostic.

    Sheesh! Only God Himself could really say there is no God!

    Let's get empirical, evidence-based ...

    At least back when Christianity was in, you could walk in the local park at night. Now, thanks to our morality-free little thugs, it's not just Central Park in New York that you want to stay way from.

    Heck, another few years of "freedom from religion" and we'll all be living in gated communities with hired guards ...

    Oh, to be unenlightened again!

    Let's mock the old ways. The good ol' days.

    Oh, to have 'em back again.

    Any atheists I've ever known are all mad at the God they don't believe in.

    Cheers, A-dude!

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  11. It is rather strange to credit atheism for good schools or justice system of today in Europe. They are the remains of Christianity.... Give Europe some time and judge for yourself, if you're still around!

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  12. Varughese ... why does Christianity get the credit? Maybe it was just good sense. The industrial revolution, democracy, and the need for an educated population, were the real driving force behind those institutions.

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  13. Actually,
    Religion is a reaction.

    That is why the devout are so often regarded as reactionary. And Atheists are no less reactionary.

    Truth is they, (-all- of the religions)
    and just as well as all atheists,
    are all completely mistaken about the universe.

    Deity is a human creation,
    not even a pathetic approximation
    to what the universe actually is.

    It is as if a Moron and an Idiot
    were arguing over who had the dumber parents.

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  14. With the amount of False Converts (those who claim to be Christians but live as if God doesn't play any role in their lives) in America alone, you cannot stereotype Christianity. Many atheists who degrade Christianity claimed to be Christians until they realized how many Christians don't walk the walk, therefore they stereotype Christianity into that group. A REAL Christ Follower doesn't simply listen to what another guy says and believes it because they want to believe it, but rather they seek the WORD of GOD for that is the TRUTH, not a set of opinions.
    Just wanted to point that out and also, America was established with a foundation of Christianity. A majority of the founding fathers knew that America would not succeed without a foundation of "Religion and Morality".
    As Ben Franklin said: "And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without His Aid?"

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Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

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