Memes like genes, need to survive long enough to replicate and spread. No meme matches religion for longevity. Dawkins, who coined the term ‘meme’, described religion beliefs as "mind-parasites", analogous to biological viruses. If so, 6.6 billion people, or 85% of the world, are ‘infected’.
It helps that religions adopt memorable symbols: crosses are on display from Moscow to Rio de Janeiro. Religions that agitate their hosts to indicate their tribe, turn followers into brand ambassadors. Religious symbols you wear or that decorate your home, serve as constant reminders of your commitment, and attracts the curiosity of others. The tallest, most beautiful buildings are often places of worship: awesome reminders of religious power. Religious texts are the most printed books – they serve as a memory aids, message preservation tools, and new recruit training manuals.
Institutions don’t survive for long in the ‘noosphere’ – the collective human consciousness – without evolving with the times. That’s why early Christians rebranded Pagan holidays, like Yule to Christmas, to make the transition easy. Today you see 500-year-old institutions ditching collection plates for contactless payments.
Memes that benefit their hosts get actively remembered and propagated. McGrath cites a meta-review of 100 scientific studies which 79 found religion positively impacted well-being, in particular mental health. Religious institutions provide a social safety net for those who fall through the gaps of government-run programs. When Nietzsche declared “God is dead” he lamented that evidence-based reasoning alone can’t provide the meaning religion provides.
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