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Religion Virus [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Craig James
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Taschenbuch, 15. April 2010 --  


15. April 2010
Religions evolve, not metaphorically, but in a very real way. By applying 'survival of the fittest' principles to religion, we can finally understand how religion became incredibly infectious to the average human, perfectly adapted to its 'environment', your mind. Infectious ideas like the loving, personal father-figure God, the promise that death is not the end, the attraction of heaven, the threat of hell, and many others, are traced from prehistoric to modern times, to show why they survived while thousands of other ideas died out. The world's religions have amazing parallels to biological life: they reproduce, mutate, and compete with each other in an ongoing battle for the survival of the fittest. Like biological life, 99 per cent of the world's religions are extinct, but the ones that remain are quite remarkable, the very strongest and best. More importantly, 'survival of the fittest' does not necessarily mean survival of the truth, but rather the survival of the things people want to believe, whether true or not.


  • Taschenbuch: 208 Seiten
  • Verlag: John Hunt Publishing (15. April 2010)
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ISBN-10: 1846942721
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846942723
  • Größe und/oder Gewicht: 21,3 x 14 x 1,5 cm
  • Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: 5.0 von 5 Sternen  Alle Rezensionen anzeigen (1 Kundenrezension)
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: Nr. 492.456 in Englische Bücher (Siehe Top 100 in Englische Bücher)

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Like a selfish gene or a parasite, the religion virus catches a free ride in the minds of our species, infecting our history and culture. What Guns, Germs and Steel did for anthropology, this book does for faith. It puts the pieces together into a fascinating, coherent model that makes sense! (Dan Barker, President, Freedom From Religion Foundation.) Craig A. James has written an accessible book on evolution and religion that manages to explain memetics while being both funny and touching. (Wes Unruh, author, The Art of Memetics, editor of Full of powerful, ground-breaking ideas, packaged in a deceptively simple, easy-reading style. James has created one of those rare books where, every few pages, I find myself thinking, "I need to send a copy of this to so-and-so." This is the most fun I've had reading non-fiction in a long time. (Phil Steele, Editor, Fragment and The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics)

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Craig A. James is a writer, computer scientist, evolutionist, and movie producer. He lives in Southern California.

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Interessante Religionshistorische Betrachtungen 27. Juli 2013
Von hape
Format:Taschenbuch|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
"The Religion Virus" ist ein reißerischer Titel für ein interessantes und faktenreiches Buch. Mit religionshistorischen Belegen wird gezeigt, welche Prinzipien die Verbreitung von Religionen unterstützen oder verhindern. Das eher dünne Taschenbuch glänzt dabei durch einen auf den Punkt bringenden Schreibstil und ein richtiges Maß aus Fakten und erklärung.
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38 von 42 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen An easy-to-understand guide to religion's success 6. Januar 2011
Von J. Leard - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
Craig A. James' "The Religion Virus" has a title that sounds like a salvo directly in the face of organized religion, but it really isn't. It's a work that concerns itself with how the ideas of religion have evolved and coalesced over the years to be what it is now. James' perspective as an evolutionist allows a unique perspective that that really nails down why the major religions are still around, how they continue to grow or fall by the wayside, and how concepts of belief must evolve or die just like florae and faunae.

The first half of the book lays a foundation for James to fully express his ideas, and while this part is a bit dry, it presents the concepts that will factor in later very well. The latter half puts that foundation into action, and the book moves along at a very brisk pace through the end, where James does explain how all of this factors into his own personal point of view.

My only complaint is that he could have fleshed out the back half of the book a bit more, as there are some great ideas that he touches on before moving onto the next one, such as how what we learn as children impacts our belief system for the rest of our lives and how this fits from an evolutionary perspective. It's a whirlwind tour of exclamation point arguments, and this frenzied pace is effective but ends all too soon.

The book is a fascinating read because it breaks down what makes organized religion tick while also giving readers a crash course in basic evolutionary theory and how it applies to the schools of religious thought that thrive today, as well as those that have fallen by the wayside over the centuries. The price on the Kindle edition means that this book is an easy recommendation to anyone curious as to how religion has survived over the centuries and what makes it such a difficult institution to shake, and the tone throughout 99% of the book is merely factual, so tolerant people of all walks have something to gain from checking it out.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen New Framework for Discussing Religion 31. Oktober 2010
Von Hambydammit - Veröffentlicht auf
I don't say this about very many books, but Craig A. James's The Religion Virus can facilitate a wholesale change in the way we think about religion. By itself, it stands strong and makes a great argument. When it works together with the already growing "God Virus" meme, it forms a powerful meme-plex, and gives us a great framework for examining and talking about religion.
The subtitle - Why we believe in God: An evolutionist explains religion's incredible hold on humanity - might confuse some readers. Indeed, I expected to read about cognitive mechanisms or the evolution of human psychology. And to be fair, chapter 7 does cover one possible explanation for our seemingly innate attraction to religion. But that's not what this book is primarily about.
Don't let that deter you from picking up a copy, though. The Religion Virus is an engaging, entertaining, and educational journey from the earliest animist religions to modern Christianity, with a focus on the meme as a unit of "idea evolution." James takes us on a guided tour of religion's development as both a reaction and a shaping force in history.
Since memes are a relatively new concept, with an evolving definition, James helps us out by discussing and explaining his use of the word. In short, a meme is an idea. More specifically, it's an idea that is passed from human to human and/or generation to generation, and "evolves" as it moves through space and time. He is quick to point out that it does not evolve precisely the same way as organisms, but the similarities are striking enough to use the term "evolution" in a colloquial sense and be well justified.
The most important characteristic of memes is that they have "survival ability." A meme's survival is not dependent on its truth value. Rather, it relies on two main factors: Message and Motivation. A virulent meme must communicate a Message that makes people want to remember it. It must also generate some kind of Motivation so we want to tell other people, who find it compelling and pass it on to their friends.
In a delightfully ironic anecdote, James uses the popular meme "survival of the fittest" to illustrate that truth value is not as important as "catchiness." Survival of the fittest is a vague and ultimately inaccurate way to sum up natural selection. "The correlation between specific genetic characteristics and reproductive success" is much more accurate, but it's much harder to remember, and much less appealing. It just doesn't roll off the tongue.
The first section of the book concerns eight major ideas from the millenia preceding the birth of Jesus, each of which can be viewed as an evolutionary step in the meme that would become Christianity. When they are viewed in order through the lens of cultural and philosophical development, they present a concise and appealing account of how religion in general, and Christianity specifically, came to exist.
The earliest religionists were animists and spiritualists. They believed that "spirits" were a part of nature, and that each different "thing" - from rocks to trees to people - had its own spirit. When people prayed for something specific, like rain for instance, they prayed to the spirit who had influence over that sort of thing. While this was reasonable and practical for "primitive" society, it became a bit unwieldy as we moved into cities and increased our repertoire of abstract concepts like justice, wisdom, or temperance. This change of environment provided the "evolutionary niche" for the "General Purpose God" meme. Gods could now preside over multiple spheres of influence, or broad concepts.
The evolution of pre-Christianity from henotheism to monotheism is especially interesting. I can also see how it could be very threatening to believers. Using passages from the Bible and references to contemporary cultures, James gives us a clear understanding of Yahweh's evolution, beginning as a local war deity, becoming an angry and jealous god who demanded exclusive worship among the gods, and finally a deity who claimed to be the only true god. In its mature form, this is the Monotheism Meme. Other notable developments in the Christian meme included the Intolerance Meme, the Godly Origin of Morals Meme, and finally, the Asexual Meme.
We are also introduced to the idea of a meme-plex, which is roughly defined as a conglomerate of memes, some of which provide foundational support, and all of which can be said to exist in a kind of symbiosis. Religion is a meme-plex. For example, in Christianity, the doctrines of heaven and hell work together with feelings of guilt inspired by morality doctrines, making believers more likely to adhere to both doctrines than they would be to either one individually.
Next, James explains Paul's unique influence on the Christian meme - especially the popularization of "The Globalization Meme," which is best exemplified in The Great Commission. He also discusses Augustine's unique and powerful addition of the "Guilt Meme." At the end of each section, we are presented with a systematic overview of how new memes interact with and reinforce older memes, making Christianity a stronger and more virulent force with each new addition.
For linguists, Chapter Five will probably be the source of some dispute (good-natured, I hope!). Defying both Gould and Pinker (evolutionary psychologists), James suggests an alternate explanation for the evolution of language: "[M]emes evolved as a new mechanism for evolution. Memes replace genes as the primary adaptive mechanism for humans."
The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture,by Darrel W. Ray, is written in a similarly accessible style. Ray deals primarily with the mechanisms of the God meme, not its history or evolution.
Taken together, these two books form a cohesive account of religion's origins, history, and virulence. I mention this now because Chapter Six of The Religion Virusdiscusses religion's "immunity system," specifically listing six meme components which work together as a meme-plex to make Christianity virtually impermeable to attack from the outside. When the mechanics of the The God Virusare paired with the classifications from The Religion Virus,the resulting "eureka moment" is enough to make even the most scholarly atheist's head spin. In the interest of "intellectual synergy," I have to recommend that everyone read both of these books as if they were designed to be companions. They might as well have been.
Chapters 7, 8, and 9 deal with more contemporary issues: "Why is Religion So Appealing?" "The Atheist's Paradox." "Religion, Technology and Government." These chapters seem to be an epilogue to the main presentation, and serve to expand our vision and take in the whole picture in the light of modern technology, global communication, and the monster that is the blogosphere.
Throughout the book, there are brief "mini-chapters" called Interludes. Most of them are interesting little anecdotes or asides dealing with recently introduced material. While none of them are strictly necessary or foundational to the topic, they do provide some personal, emotional, and practical insights into the real-world impact of The Religion Virus. I was particularly moved by the account of James's Aunt Carolyn, who became an atheist at an advanced age after a powerful life experience.
The meme of religion and God as viruses is spreading, and I think that's a good thing. The analogy is so good that I believe it deserves the same kind of linguistic status as that of a computer virus. When The God Virusand The Religion Virusare taken as companion works, the resulting overview creates a kind of synergy. The two perspectives on the same meme are exceptionally powerful.
The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God: An Evolutionist Explains Religion's Incredible Hold on Humanity adds to a growing selection of books for the "casual non-believer" -- those of us without biology or anthropology degrees. A quick and easy read, it provides a general framework and vocabulary for non-believers (and probably certain more liberal believers) to think about and discuss religion through history. At 208 pages, it's short enough that most readers will be able to finish it in a couple of sittings, and yet it is still packed with a lot of good information.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Doctor's Review 16. Februar 2011
Von Book Shark - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
The Religion Virus: Why we believe in God: An evolutionist explains religion's incredible hold on humanity by Craig A. James

The Religion Virus is a well-written book that answers quite cogently the question of why religion succeeds as a meme. It's a book that takes a Darwinian approach on how religion has evolved. The book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Why is Religion like an Elephant's DNA? , 2. Religion's Infancy, 3. Evolution and Memes, 4. Religion Grows Up, 5. Why Do Humans Talk? 6. Religion's Immunity System, 7. Why Is Religion So Appealing? , The Atheist's Paradox, 9. Religion, Technology and Government, and 10. Closing Sermon.

1. An excellent, well-written, accessible book that answers to satisfaction why we believe in God.
2. Great use of Darwinian concepts of evolution and cultural concepts such as memes to answer the premises of the book.
3. Non-confrontational, even-handed tone throughout.
4. Excellent Kindle value. More wisdom per dollar.
5. Great list of memes (ideas that become accepted cultural beliefs) and better explanations on how said memes help religion survive.
6. Great quotes.
7. The evolution of the concept of god.
8. Sound arguments, good use of logic and supporting data.
9. Some arguments will stay with me. "Survival isn't the relevant term - reproduction is all that matters."
10. Mr. James does a wonderful job of tying everything up.
11. Great references.
12. A treat to read. Highly recommended.

1. I would have liked a table that summarized all the memes.
2. No links to references.

In summary, "The Religion Virus", was a fun, educational, relevant book that exceeded my expectations. An excellent Kindle value, I highly recommend it especially for laypeople.

Further recommendations beyond the books the author recommended: "The God Virus" by Darrel Ray, "Man Made God" by Barbara Walker, "50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God" by Guy P. Harrison, and for those hardcore, "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright. For those interested in evolution, my favorite book is, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Novel idea, but not enough meat 25. März 2011
Von Crazy Chester - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
The basic gist of the book is to suggest that religions are no more than ideas -- memes in the common parlance. The author suggest that memes are subject to the laws of evolution, and that they adapt over time to their surroundings. Religions today have developed a number of mechanisms, like monotheism, intolerance, indoctrination, promise of an afterlife, guilt, etc, that make them less than savory in many cases, but well adapted to survival.

It's a pretty neat idea to look at a religion as a meme, but the writing in this book relies far too heavily on analogy, piggy-backs on better works of non-fiction, and appears to use frequent summaries and interludes to pad the page count.

In the end, I have to conclude that this would have made for a cool magazine article; the book was unnecessary.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Passionate and broad, a few new ideas 23. Juni 2011
Von Ricardo Castro - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
I have mixed feelings about this book, but perhaps I was not the intended audience.

If you are not well read in evolutionary biology, if you have not been introduced to the meme theory and/or if you are interested in applying critical thought to religious dogma, then by all means I recommend this book. Go ahead and read it, it is a good "all-in-one" explanation. But, having read many of the sources used before, most of the text was redundant to me.

The book has essentially 4 sections (though the author does not divide it this way):

Section 1: The author introduces memetic theory and evolution. Very basic stuff, essentially a primer for those who are not acquainted. The author, however, not a biologist or history scholar. He may be making some slightly non-factual statements here and there. For instance, at a certain point he states "our highly developed ability to transmit ideas (memes) from one person to the next, is a uniquely human ability, one that makes humans truly distinct from other animals". He mentions primates as having some of that ability. But completely ignores birds, many species of which are "meme replication machines" when it comes to singing. Like the author, I am not a biologist... but I would guess many other species (beyond birds) also have the same "uniquely human ability".

Section 2: (and the most interesting to me) This is the greater part of the book: it identifies a number of "memes" that have evolved in the abrahmic religions (Judaism, Christianism, Islamism). A compelling story about the evolution of religion is made, and his observations should give anyone pause to thing. This section of the book, alone, justifies the a purchase.

Section 3: the author reviews one of his favorite books (which also happens to be one of my favorite books): Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond. Well, he actually gives a complete summary of Jared's book. I wish he didn't do that. Jared's book deserves to be read in full (summarizing it is really spoiling it). And having purchased a different book I would hope to spend my time on different, original ideas, not book summaries.

Finally there's Section 4, on the author's motivations and his personal history. This is spread out along the book, and I really didn't mind reading it -- his family's history does give an interesting perspective on how people deal with god and religion in their lives. However, I also think this personal exposition does not fit well on a argumentative, "ideas" book. Jared Diamond certainly didn't talk about his family in his books, neither did Dawkins. The inclusion of this personal angle seems to be a consequence of how insecure people still feel talking critically about religion. It is almost as if people have to apologise and explain themselves before pointing a critical finger at religions.

But so be it. In the end, I am in general agreement with the author's thesis and interpretations. The logic in Section 2 is solid and the approach sound. I resonate with his motivations and passionate dedication to this book. While for the reasons discussed above I think the book was a little bit more amateur than it needed to be (perhaps for lack of a good editor), it is still an honest, true and passionate defense of a non-traditional point of view. It deserves to be read.
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