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The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture

This is my review of "The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture" by Darrel W. Ray.

Darrel W. Ray is an organizational psychologist and has authored three books. He has studied the psychology, anthropology and sociology of religion for much of his life. He holds an MA degree in religion as well as a BA in Sociology/Anthropology and a Doctorate in psychology. The main premise of this book is the use of an analogy which can be stated simply as "think of religion as a virus". It is an analogy and in no way does the author claim religion is a virus; but rather religion is in many ways like a virus and looking at it as such allows insights into religion for non-believers that they would otherwise not see. This book is aimed directly at non-believers and does not make an effort to make the book desirable to believers.

To delve deeper into this idea of religion as a virus, the author develops the analogy throughout the book but is clear that it doesn't need a "virus" metaphor. You could use "memes". You could even use drug addiction references the way Marx did. The power of this metaphor lies in the fact that religion does act like a virus in so many ways that it can be considered a kind of "mind virus" that spreads independently of the desires and wishes of those who practice a particular religion (or virus strain as the author uses the term). The first chapter in the book explains the virus metaphor in detail by examining the parallels between how a biological viral species acts and how religion acts. He shows how religions act towards each other and how that is a mimic of viral interaction. He also shows how religions "infect" with the use of vectors and ultimately super-vectors. Chapter two covers how the strategies of religious indoctrination follows the tactics of viral vectors (a vector is the avenue by which a virus "gets in the door" by hooking or attaching to certain receptors).

Each chapter is directed towards a single sub-topic of the viral aspects of religion. The author's writing is concise, relatively short, and broken up into small segments in each chapter. There is a summary of each chapter that brings the topic together. This kind of writing works well because the author is "building" up the reader's understanding in preparation for the next topic. The author also is very careful to provide concise definitions of any terms that he uses.

On the negative side I do see one blatant problem with the metaphor. I suspect you could use it to describe political parties as well as religion. Of course, with the insane mix of religion and politics in the US I guess that's not as bad a condemnation as it could be. The only other issue I have is with the Kindle version I got. The publisher did a horrible job of porting this over to Kindle format. The Table of Contents is missing as is the cover page.

I have to strongly recommend this book to any non-believer who wants a better understanding of religion without wasting time in trying to understand each and every religious belief as if it matters that they are different. The author, a psychologist, does a wonderful job of showing how the fundamentalists are, in fact, insecure little people who fear anything that would adversely affect their virus.

The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture

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The ACA Lecture Series continues Sunday, February 4th, 12:15pm at the Austin History Center, 9th and Guadaupe. Chase Hunter will speak on "Inside Scientology 2: the Sea Org". The lecture is free and open to the public. The building opens at noon.