Like viruses, memes cannot reproduce by themselves. They need hosts to infect and their success depends to a large degree on their ability to affect the behavior of its host organism. Some people call these mechanisms "hooks". The Christianity Meme is a sophisticated meme with a variety such hooks.
Unlike viruses, however, memes have another obstacle--maintaining their integrity over time. Memes are composed of ideas and concepts which are highly mutable and not strongly bound together. In contrast, viruses are held together by stable chemical bonds. Additionally, viruses benefit from the DNA error correction capabilities found in all living organisms to keep their genetic material consistent from one generation to the next. A successful meme (complex) must be a group of ideas and concepts that reinforce each-other and somehow prevent those ideas from being degraded or changed. A meme may even take an adversarial stance with hooks to suppress competing memes. Again, the Christianity Meme deals with the problem of integrity maintenance quite well.
Transmission, infection, integrity maintenance, and behavior alteration of the host are the main challenges to the success of any meme. Recall that a meme's only "purpose" is to survive. The essence of a meme is nothing more than its evolutionary adaptations to its challenges--anything else it carries is just excess baggage. Let's look in depth at how the Christianity Meme has evolved to deal with the problems of integrity maintenance, transmission, infection, and host behavior alteration.
Integrity MaintenanceFor centuries, the integrity of the Christianity Meme was an important role of the priesthood. The priesthood was (and still is) consulted for all matters of question regarding interpretation of Christian belief. Additionally, the priesthood reinforced the Christianity Meme through ritual and ceremony. Repetition and tradition have been a mainstay in maintaining the integrity of the Christianity Meme.
For a meme as complex and long-lived as Christianity, a persistent memory must be part of the meme's coding. For the Christianity Meme, this persistent memory is the Bible. (Religious traditions also play a big part in integrity maintenance.) The Bible is Christianity's sacred text. It is the common point of reference for all Christians. It has few versions and has been in print for centuries. Surely, the invention of the printing press has lead to a ubiquity of Bibles that have helped solidify the Meme.
The Bible as the Christianity Meme's persistent code leads to two paradoxes. First, the Bible contains many inconsistencies, contradictions, and scientific errors. Surprisingly, is not important for a meme to be fully self-consistent or factual for it to maintain its integrity. As we will show in other essays, these inconsistencies help us see where the Christianity Meme leads "True Christians" into immoral behavior. The second paradox is that not all of the Bible is really part of the Christianity Meme. The Bible is an enormous tome consisting of a vast number of stories and interrelated symbols. Only a subset of those stories are emphasized by the Churches. Different denominations pick different stories to emphasize and Christianity-based cults spring up emphasizing obscure Biblical passages. (We will discuss evolution of the Christianity Meme in another essay.) The Bible is not unlike a strand of DNA containing lots of genetic codes that are not used in genes. Only at great intervals do these "noise" regions become expressed due to some mutation elsewhere in the strand. Again, we will discuss the evolution of the Christianity Meme in another essay.
TransmissionTransmission of a meme concerns how new hosts become exposed to it. As we mentioned earlier, successful memes alter the behavior of their host to aid the infection of new hosts. The Christianity Meme accomplishes this through its emphasis on converting others to Christianity. The term for this is proselytization. An essential part of the Christianity Meme is the belief that the host will have eternal life by virtue of his belief and that others will gain this eternal life through religious conversion. Christians are effectively mandated to transmit the Christianity Meme under threat of (eternal) death or spending eternity in Hell.
Proselytization not only occurs at the personal level, but at the institutional level, as well. Churches support proselytization in larger scales through the support of missionaries, faith-based charity efforts, and indoctrination of the young. Often, the proselytization is directed toward those in dire circumstances, mentally ill, or who are unable to fully reason as mature adults. Simply put, those who are able to care for themselves and reason well are not easily infected, so the Christianity Meme does not emphasize these targets. The young are especially good targets because they are easily manipulated and because of their life-long potential to proselytize and support organizations that further the Christianity Meme through money and their directed effort--not to mention their offspring. Without a doubt, the most effective means of transmitting the Christianity Meme is from parents to children.
The Christianity Meme goes even further. It strives to take over any institution where it can get a foothold. Simple examples include the Gideon's placement of Bibles in hotel rooms, doctors' offices, and prisons and lead prayer at sporting events. More insidious institutional incursions include that of schools, marriage, family, and government. Consider the ongoing debate about the teaching of creationism or the display of the Ten Commandments in schools and courts. The Christian emphasis on "family values" no doubt stems from the recognition that the Christianity Meme is best transmitted within the family. Historically, the Christianity Meme eased the conversion of pagans to Christianity by adding Christian symbolism to existing pagan holidays. The two biggest Christian holidays, Easter and Christmas, are intentionally close to the vernal equinox and winter solstice, traditional pagan holiday times. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs are remnants of pagan fertility symbols and the decorated Christmas tree is a pagan symbol of life over death.
Under some circumstances the Christianity Meme has actively suppressed rival memes through the conscious abatement of competing views and even through the complete destruction of cultures. Consider how book burning and censorship efforts in the United States have almost always been lead by Christian groups. Suppression of competing religions continues today. Christians continue to characterize pagans as demon worshipers or witches. The destruction of the Aztec culture by the Spanish conquistadors is a prime example of complete cultural annihilation. The Christianity Meme has flourished in the Americas since the time of the Spanish conquests. The Christianity Meme played an important role in directing the actions of the conquistadors and providing support they needed.
InfectionIt is not enough for a host to be exposed to a meme. The meme must provide some compelling reason for the host to embrace it. Ideally, too, a meme should provide mechanisms for the meme to stay infected for a long time. Infection is required in order for the meme to gain control of the behavior of its host, discussed below. We now examine some of the mechanisms by which the Christianity Meme gains and maintains an infection in its hosts.
Without a doubt the most enticing hook that the Christianity Meme has is that of power. The two main tenets of Christianity--the promise of eternal life and gaining the favors of an omnipotent God through prayer--strongly appeal to man's desire for power. The Christianity Meme offers power over one's fears: one need not fear death because a believer will have eternal blissful life at God's side; one need not fear society because a society of Christians is (allegedly) moral and orderly; and one need not fear disease or other ills because praying to God will end your suffering. In the political arena, Christian groups wield their power, often in a mob-rule fashion. Belonging gives a sense of being on the winning side--God's side. The illusion of Christianity being in the midst of a religious war brings a measure of urgency to the wielding of Christianity's political might. At the same time, the Christianity Meme offers impunity for acts done in the name of God. (Consider the murders of "infidels" during the crusades or the psychological harm caused by homosexual conversion therapy.) What could be more enticing--power without responsibility?
On a more personal level, religious conversion is known to alter the chemistry of the brain in many people. The high of the born-again Christian is a state of euphoria with addictive qualities. The Christianity Meme need only provide religious explanation for the high, like "the love of God", to create a strong infection. For some, Christianity becomes an addictive means of escaping the unpleasant reality of their lives.
A more benign hook of the Christianity Meme is its association with virtue and righteousness. Christianity is the religion endorsed by God and espousing it makes one clean, pure, and more like God. The difficulty of studying the Bible adds to this sense of virtue. The very measure of Christianity is the strength of one's faith in God (or infection by the Christianity Meme). Those not deeply infected are said to be not "True Christians" or "errant from the flock".
The infection of the Christianity Meme in maintained through time by various mechanisms of creating dependency. The Christian philosophy that we are all sinners is a means of instilling guilt and shame that can only be resolved by living a life in the grace of God (under life-long infection by the Christianity Meme). The Christianity Meme discourages independent thought or religious criticism. The Bible emphasizes the evil nature of knowledge and the folly of educated individuals. In place of thinking, Christianity provides simple solutions to complex problems. Consider the recent cries for prayer in school and the posting of the 10 Commandments as solutions to the problem of kids bringing (and using) guns in schools. Instead of actively solving problems, the message of the Christianity Meme is to strengthen your faith and pray to God to solve them. The message is ultimately unempowering to the individual.