by Julie Clayton April 11, 2010
“Most modern Christians, Jews and Muslims would be quite surprised to learn that the Yaweh worshipped by Abraham (also called El, Elohim, and Jehovah) was quite different than the almighty God we worship today…The loving omnipotent, fatherly God we learn about today is the result of the longest and best ‘marketing makeover’ in history—four thousand years of changes and improvements to Yaweh’s image.” So begins the first chapter of The Religion Virus, a thought-provoking, convincing, and considered narrative of how man has shaped God’s image, through the cultural evolution of the meme of religion.
What do the world religions have in common with a virus? Ideas, like biological life, evolve. Religion acts like a virus, says author Craig James, because it has a code of information within it (a DNA) whose primary purpose is to make more copies of itself: to self-replicate. The historical evolution of world religions demonstrates analogous properties to biological life: reproduction, mutation and adaptation, and competition in the ongoing battle for survival (of the fittest). An interesting note is that memes don’t have to be true to survive; we just have to believe them.
The Religion Virus will open your mind, offering a perspective on religion and social evolution that few have presented, and none with such delightfully reasoned enthusiasm and varying analogies. As someone who tends to become semi-conscious whenever a book delves into religious history, I can assure you this book will keep you awake and engaged. I learned something new on so many levels that it was truly enjoyable and informative reading, and the ideas presented reverberated in my mind for days after each chapter. So much so, that as I sat down to write this review, I decided to read it all over again, just for the sheer joy of it.