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The Common Memes of Religious Scripture

Religions are all about socio-memetic10.4 scripture and very little about God. This of course makes perfect sense. First of all, I don't care if you are me or you are Moses, you don't know diddly about God - I'm working on establishing as a fundamental principle the fact that you don't ``know'' much about anything at all, however much you choose to assume about everything. God may or may not be beyond human perception (I have an open mind on that and am in fact personally inclined to think that God is not beyond human perception in at least a projective and inferential sense) but it is absolutely certain that God as a Superentity is subtle in the Universe. Either you see God everywhere, including the only place you can really look, the only place where you see anything at all, or you see him nowhere, as things seem to evolve in time pretty well according to the Laws of Nature without any outside guiding hand or invisible and undetectable fairies being necessary.

No, instead religions are socio-memetic superorganisms that have co-evolved with the many societies and cultures of the human species. Within them, humans have routinely parasitized the intuitive concept of God, ruthlessly co-opted God and asserted (as humans, after all) Prophetic Knowledge of God's Word to justify what are, for the most part, scriptural memes.

Like normal humans all share genes for two arms, two legs, one head and one body, have genes that regulate an immune system, the ability to digest food, and even a reproductive system and differ in the details of how all of this is arranged and put together into individuals, normal religions share memes for identity, for defense, for growth. Like a human, they are less concerned about the individual health of any cell it its body and more concerned with the health of the superorganism itself. Religions even have an explicit form of ``spiritual surgery'' for eliminating the ``cancer'' of members who have the temerity to doubt or try to alter the accepted common scriptural memes - excommunication10.5.

Here is a listing of the most important and common axioms of the religion of your choice:

  1. The Axiom of Certainty: These Axioms are True.

    This is the Prime Axiom of the axiom sets of all religions, and of course always a handy one to have if you wish to be able to ``rationally'' derive the truth of your beliefs (ooo, oxymoron city) from your principal axioms:-). At this point you will recognize that this is a self-referential axiom of precisely the sort that leads to a Gödelian knot. As good logicians, we should therefore expect to find incompleteness or inconsistency, and not be terribly surprised to find both.

  2. God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibeneficient (at least to Believers).

    Note that this asserts a form of completeness. Gödel shows us that for self-referential axiomatic systems, completeness implies inconsistency. So we can conclude from these two axioms that all religions that assert these two axioms are logically inconsistent. No terribly big surprise, but...

  3. God has kindly revealed, usually to otherwise unremarkable people given to fasting in caves or living on locusts and honey, by various prophetic and religiously inspired and sanctified means, this set of Axioms, which are axiomatically True (see Axiom 1), Complete (omniscient), Mandatory (omnipotent), and Good (omnibeneficient, see Axiom 2)).

    If you're not dizzy with following the circular ring of reasoning here, the Axioms are True, because they tell us that God told them to us, and what God tells us must be true because among other things God has revealed is that he is a really Good God and certainly would never permit a religiously inspired person to be mistaken10.6.

  4. All other (possibly competing) sets of Axioms are False, except maybe ones that are later revealed by God

    We've identified ``self'' - that which follows these axioms. We now identify ``other'' - those that don't. Again, it is left to a dutiful audience to pick up your favorite religious scripture and measure just how much of the prose text is devoted to just how often and colorfully God has smote ``other'' to lift up the Good Guys, and how when he didn't it was always because the Good Guys were being Bad and worshipping golden calves or something (never mind that a few thousand miles away a population several times as great as the entire middle East was positively thriving under a religion that, among other things, worshipped cows).

    This also presumes that the religion in question doesn't have have as an Axiom the following:

  5. These Axioms are Complete as given. No fair adding more or altering them. Ever.

    Seal of the Prophets, anyone? Or do you prefer John's warning in the Bible? Mohammed and John should have had a talk with Thomas Jefferson, who argued quite persuasively (as one can see graved to the side of his memorial in Washington DC) that we can never assume that the Truth as we see it is eternal or beyond question. Boy, has history proven him to be right! All human history is an evolutionary process to a higher, better, more perfect understanding of pretty much everything, advanced step after painful step over the broken and crushed bodies of mistaken ideas, discarded through a process of natural selection in favor of better ones (often discarded in their turn).

    Jefferson of course created a supersociety - one that could change so fast and so powerfully that it literally out-evolved the rest of the world put together, at least until memetic sharing and some elimination of the societies that refused to drink at this particular fountain occurred. Thus far, however, religions have resisted the obvious path to the creation of a superreligion, largely because of this axiom.

  6. God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent and omnimalevolent to Unbelievers.

    That is, anyone who fails to accept these Axioms as The One True Axioms in their deepest heart of hearts is a Bad Person, and this will be known by the omniscient God, who will then omnipotently cast you into an eternity of Eternal Torment out of the goodness of His (emphasis intentional on masculine humanthropomorphism) omnibeneficient heart at some unspecified point after your miserable death.

    In the meantime, he's gonna get you, and your entire culture too. Fire and brimstone and pillars of salt. Floods and famines. Frogs and locusts. Deaths of your loved ones. If you haven't ever in your entire life been touched by sadness or grief or misfortune, trust me, it is prophecied and like all prophecies of doom and despair, sooner or later it is bound to come true and when it does it is because you are bad.

  7. All Priests Gotta Eat.

    Let's get down to important things, like titheing the priesthood. No kidding, this is an axiom of almost all the faiths on the planet. If a priest has to earn a living by the sweat of his or her brow, they become ``just like everybody else''. This creates an unhealthy atmosphere, one where individuals in the congregation are expected to think for themselves and establish and maintain their own relationship with God.

    Seriously, the priesthood is the ``brain'' and nervous system of the superorganism, and therefore demands support from the rest of its cells just as aggressively as your own brain does. Scripture (and unwritten custom) are the rules of regulation as to how this is supposed to occur, but occur it does whether one is a wandering mendicant monk in Japan or a Baptist preacher in Georgia. A very few of the protestant faiths have gone through periods where (from sheer lack of adherents) the priesthood had to work and preach and even made a virtue out of necessity, in Hindu and Buddhist culture it is common enough for working people to also be Brahmins or saints, but the general rule still holds. If its priesthood doesn't derive any material benefit or social benefit from being a priest, a religion is more likely to fail compared to nearby competitors whose priests are kept fat and powerful.

    Besides, preaching is hard work and worth a bit of coin. Speaking of which, as this part of this book is undeniably a sermon, let's put on some suitable hymnal music and I'll get out my electronic beggar bowl. I'm ``rgb'' at, and (especially if you are reading a free copy of this book instead of one you bought in a store) I would dearly appreciate it if you would take just a moment to drop in a small donation. Or even a large donation. Heck, go ahead, endow me so I never have to ``work'' again10.7. I can use the money for the betterment of Mankind at least as well as any TV preacher you can name, while conveying these divinely inspired interpretations of Holy Axioms to the less Holy...

  8. Religion is Good for You

    Finally, all good religions have axioms that lay out rules and rituals for all the phases of human existence. These provide real benefits to their members; for thousands of years they were the primary source of societal structure, even though a large part of what they necessarily taught was that people should obey their earthly King.

    Scripture regulates how to celebrate birth, how to mourn death. It ritualizes adolescence and coming of age, provides rules for marriage and the raising of children, for the caring for the elderly, the sick, the poor, the widow and the orphan. It defines both proper and improper behavior, duty and ``sin'' (the latter a catchall phrase for behavior that threatens the superorganism in any way or - to be fair - is considered to be offensive to God in an of itself) and wrap both up in Holy Writ - be Good (where Good is what we say it is according to the divinely inspired Word of God as infallibly laid out in this compendium) and avoid Evil (where Evil is what we say that is ditto).

    It carefully specifies both carrots - heaven and other (earthly) rewards - to the Good and sticks - hell and other (earthly) punishments to the Bad. It spends most of its scripture on this one last thing - writing out a social specification with Divine justification and only says a few words here and there about the True Nature of God, most of it quite mysterious and beyond understanding. And it never, never attempts to justify just why God would be shocked and wounded by a woman showing a naked breast in public, why God would give a rodent's furry behind whether two or more member of the same sex choose to stimulate one another to orgasm in some friendly or loving way.

    Note that this is really a placeholder for a rather long list of Axioms - too many to list - and that these Axioms are highly differentiated by culture. At one point in time there were plenty of religious cultures that did not think that a woman's naked breast (or pretty much any portion of a woman or man's exterior except maybe a few inches square around the genitalia) was all that big a deal. Now there are religious cultures that hide 99% of a woman's external integument10.8 and would shoot for 100% if they could practically manage to force them to wear gloves along with a burka. I personally find it pretty difficult to believe that God cares either way, except possibly for thinking that it is pretty stupid to wear a full-body-armor coverup in the world's hottest climates and (possibly) a tiny bit evil to treat women in general like chattel.

Add whatever additionals axioms you like, of course, and they are provably true, see Prime Axiom. According to the scripture and more extreme adherents of at least some of the religions described by these Axioms, I am doubtless doomed and destined to Eternal Torment for the ``sin'' of daring to doubt that which I do not know to be true, that which does not follow from reason according to my own Prime Axioms.

To them it does not matter that I ``doubt'' nearly everything including my own axioms (however much I choose to assign to them a degree of conditional belief, to live by them as an act of faith). It does not matter if I live an otherwise blameless and even praiseworthy life, loving my neighbor, being kind to children and pets, giving to the poor, and even loving God. According to the Axioms above, one either loves God in the prescribed way, with the permitted rituals, while obeying and supporting the priesthood and above all, acknowledging that the scripture followed by the adherent is literal truth and beyond all questions or one goes straight to Hell without collecting $200 as soon as a lightning bolt comes along to smite you out of your sorry, sin-laden existence.

I, of course, choose to doubt this. Even worse, here I am writing out this doubt, communicating it to others in what I hope is clear and uncomplicated prose10.9, clearly hoping to convince others to become, if not openly apostatical10.10, at least wise enough to replace the Axiom of Certainty with the empirical observation of doutability. Just this one act - acknowledging that it is possible that your axioms, your assumptions, yes even those assumptions about God and the World that you hold most dear could be wrong is all that it takes to potentiate a personal transformation that could lead you - anywhere10.11.

Maybe the transformation will take you right back to your original faith. Maybe you will become an apostate of that faith and adopt another. Maybe you will stop using scripture of any sort to tell you what and how to believe and pray and live, and start to use your informed reason instead. Whereever you end up, though, I strongly suspect that you will never again10.12claim moral certainty or be intolerant of the beliefs of others, however crazy you might find them.

This is one of my open goals in this work. Intolerance, especially religious intolerance practiced by adherents to some religion, especially religious intolerance practiced by adherents to some religion that have by any means assumed a disproportionate degree of political power, is openly dangerous to humans in both the religion itself and (especially) the broader society of unbelievers. This is a matter of historical record; in fact it dominates much of the historical record.

If God indeed created us with Free Will, then by what right10.13 do men seek to take it away, when it is plain to see that nobody can be certain that the religious scripture they are imposing on others by force are correct. I'm perfectly comfortable with you wearing your metaphorical burka woven from scriptural axiomatic threads if you don it to cover your natural state of naked, ignorant wonder with the illusion of moral or religious or scientific certainty of your own free will, but I damn sure don't want it forced on me, any more than you would want me holding a gun to your head while saying ``strip''. I mean hey, nobody's making you read this book10.14.

next up previous contents
Next: Memetic analysis of the Up: The Fundamental Axioms of Previous: The Fundamental Axioms of   Contents
Robert G. Brown 2007-12-17