Day after day I see Atheist Nexus members argue scripture details, spreading theistic memes here, without realizing their self-betrayal. Memetics still seems, to most, an abstract intellectual debate. We can't grasp religion as an infective agent. We can't see ourselves as merely copying machines for viruses.

A visual metaphor intrudes on my mind, of atheists holding one inch feces balls in their palms, peering at them closely. "Look at these glittery golden bits on the top." "No those look like silvery sparkles to me." "But these green inclusions below them are more striking, take a look!"


Imagine religions as infective agents which pass to hosts through feces, as many parasitic worms do. Infected feces balls draw the attention of new hosts, who pick them up and absorb the virus as they linger. Then hosts begin to produce identical feces balls, to pass around to everyone else. People become zombie copying machines for the infection, without knowing. While many hosts become knowing dedicated parasite spreaders, others pick up and spread the virus to make fun of the poo lure.


"This doesn't make sense, how can a ball be glittery green and sparkly pink at the same time? Take this one in your hand to examine it closely. Don't you see the contradiction?"

"Take this one, see how disgusting!" "No, this other ball is even more revolting, (passing it over)?"




Quoting scripture to criticize it, satirizing Jesus, they're alternative ways to pass the poo. It's still infected poo. The only defense is "Call it infected poo and don't pick it up." Don't give it a place in your brain. Don't make it come out of your mouth, or type it out with your keyboard. It's a mind virus. VIRUS!

This is not to imply that I'm immune. I've posted satire which spreads those religious memes too. *sigh* We have to start by recognizing our role in viral contagion.

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Comment by Frankie Dapper on August 27, 2012 at 8:54am


Yesterday I was on a date with a christian. She knows I am an atheist. I coughed. She said bless you. I said that is offensive to me. She of course looked at me in disbelief. Then I explained the origin of bless you.

None of it made any impression. Christian priv. is sooooo pervasive.

Comment by Diane on August 27, 2012 at 1:25am
Joan, love your humor and direct messaging. I'll definitely keep those ideas in my quiver in the future with some of my family and friends.

One of the reasons the friend I mentioned is such a good friend is that she listened to what I said about the invisibility of "Xian Privilege." She was able and willing to recognize the truth of that concept and compare it in her mind with White Privilege" which can also go unnoticed by white folks like me. Bottom line: She changed her behavior and perspective.

Rare for a Xian! It probably helps that she "hates Christianity." For most of the ones I know,"Don't slaughter any goats" is perfect--especially those who are praying for me to return to the fold.When pigs fly. lol
Comment by Joan Denoo on August 26, 2012 at 3:56pm

Diane, I am a hard-core anti-theist, and when I host family dinners I always give thanks to the people who grew our food and cared for it until we received it for our meal. One time a relative was here who had not been part of my life and when I was finished, she said, "Is that all?" I told her it was all that matters. 

When having some health problem, family and friends who believe in supernatural things, told me they would pray for me. My stock answer was, "Please don't sacrifice a goat!" That is not original with me; Daniel Dennett said it when he had his heart surgery. 

Comment by Diane on August 26, 2012 at 1:27pm
I recently had a conversation with a good friend who has gone over to the Xian side and saw no problem with asking us to participate in her pre-dinner prayer ritual. It led me to explore "Xian privilege" and "religious privilege." Those privileges so deeply saturate the US cultural matrix. Their toxins can be hard to recognize and stay aware of and wary about. Thanks for this trenchant analysis and metaphor. I'll remember it.
Comment by Joan Denoo on March 11, 2012 at 3:53pm

Ruth and Sentient Biped, you both have ways of tickling the brain and evoking thought. Yes, we need to remember the past, yes, we need to focus on the future. That is what president of Whitworth University taught me, stop living by looking in the rear view mirror and look out the windshield. 
That said, creating an image of a preferred future is the remedy. OK, I prefer the religious right do not gain more power in our USA. I prefer we focus on education, health care, renewable and sustainable energy, and start living as though the earth matters. 
These are the categories, now, the processes. 
Science of all kinds have solutions to unsolved problems; more time and energy put into these.
Education empowers us to develop these scientific skills.  
Health care requires not only a change in our delivery system, but improvement in research.
Energy presents problems that dedication to scientific inquiry can solve.
Earth health means challenging those who deny the scientific evidence.
Religion needs to be confronted when it gets in the way of inquiry. 
There must be more topics and more specific actions we can take and encourage. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on March 11, 2012 at 3:34pm

Sentient, while doing research on family violence I ran across many studies about "learned helpless" and how easy it is to teach an organism how to be helpless. Some of the more fascinating experiments involved rats, pigeons, fish, octopus, dogs, and human prisoners of war.
After trained to be helpless, these creatures can be trained to not be helpless, but it is harder.

Once trained to not be helpless, it is more difficult to train them to be helpless again ... a kind of inoculation that produces immunity to learned helplessness. Not totally, but harder.  
Sorry, I can't find films to demonstrate what I am talking about, so I will send this and if/when I find good films, I shall send them. 
I know, it looks like I am off topic ... the point is, people can be "taught" religion, when faced with real life problems and they learn to not be pro-active, they have a lower probability of finding a solution. That is learned helplessness. 

Comment by Daniel W on March 11, 2012 at 3:27pm

For what it's worth, there may be benefits to some parasitic infections too...  that's the problem, and also the benefit, of thinking by analogy.  I agree that it's important to look toward the future, of course.  In the other hand, to use the clichéd aphorisms of Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", and "Only the dead have seen the end of war".   On that second aphorism, I would modify to "Only the dead have seen the end of religion" as well as "Only the dead have seen the end of disease".  I do understand the importance of looking forward, but with more people living under the yoke of religion now than ever in history (I'm guessing), understanding religion is also understanding now, and tomorrow.  We have politicians who are increasingly  popular who actually want to turn back the clock to times where society was more dominated by religion.  We have voting populations in entire regions of the country, and nations around the world, who want more religious influence in politics and society.  If some of us don't understand what they are doing, and where it comes from, they will win.  Not really meaning to disagree and I do acknowledge the importance of "tomorrow".  Maybe for some there is too much emphasis on our societal & philosophical evolution.  But I think that such understanding is vital, not something that poisons our minds or discourse.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on March 11, 2012 at 2:27pm

Thank you for the very thoughtful response, Sentient Biped. I was aware of some successes with fecal transplant, but didn't know about Rabbits and B-12.

My analogy was chosen not so much to elicit disgust at feces, but a parallel to parasitic transmission such as with parasitic roundworms. As a former biology teacher, I actually appreciate the value of feces.

The other point I was trying to make, which you seem to have missed, is that by paying attention to religions we focus our minds on the past. Religious memes are past-oriented. To survive our unprecedented survival challenges we need to focus our brain power and attention on the future. Hours spent critiquing ancient scriptures are hours in which we are unaware of the crisis we're creating for ourselves by present practices. In a sense it's an escape as much as the crap fantasy TV in which I indulge.

In Living in Denial, Kari Marie Norgaard makes the point that how a culture perceives reality comes down to many choices. Turning collective attention to the past, as a way of emotionally coping with an uncomfortable present and unpromising future, creates a shared reality. What we notice and consider worth our attention is subtly but powerfully shaped, outside our awareness, by many collective "choices". Paying attention to religion is such a choice.

My concern is that the Atheist community will find itself, in the not too distant future, trapped in a world falling apart (Climate Destabilization), and be surprised. How did this happen? We will have been complicit in our species demise, despite our intellect, education, and love of science, because we weren't paying attention. If any community can create a shared reality adequate to this challenge to long term survival, it should be us! But first we have to pull our heads out of the dusty meme-infected books which seem so fascinating.

Comment by Daniel W on March 11, 2012 at 1:20pm

As a late entry in this discussion, I skimmed the responses, so may be repeating someone - I don't think so  but maybe.


If I understand the original post, it's that by discussing religious thought or religious history, there is danger of spreading religion, infecting people with the religious "virus".  If my understanding is correct, I don't agree with that idea.


To carry the concept of infectivity further, I would like to share some concepts about infectious disease, both in modern medicine, and in  history.


-Ive been re-reading the book, "1491", which describes historical thought about the Americas prior to the entry of Europeans, along with their (our) diseases, technology, culture, and other properties.  The book makes a case for the Americas being far more populous, developed, and socially sophisticated than we were taught.  However, almost immediately on arrival to the New World, Europeans were accompanied by viruses and bacteria that the Native peoples had never seen, and had no immunity to due to their prior isolation.  Smallpos, chicken pox, measles, typhus, viral hepatitis, human and livestock-borne diseases spread so fast that the most deadly epidemic in human history killed, possibly more than 90% of the original inhabitants, long before they ever saw a European.  The diseases spread like wildfire, and were able to because of lack of immunity, lack of prior exposure, lack of knowledge about practices like quarantine, and possibly some genetic homogeneity.  Europeans were largely unaffected by the diseases they carried, for exactly the opposite reason - they were immunologically experienced & diverse, knew about quarantine, and to some extent the darwinian aspect of those genetically susceptible were no longer in the gene pool.


-One of the strongest principles in infectious disease is that properly managed exposures to modified, selected, or weakened infectious agents results in long term immunity.  This is the basis for most vaccination.


-There is thought currently that American over-cleanliness is actually harmful, and that exposure to more antigens would reduce prevalence of asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and some other conditons.


As for fecal analogies, there are some animals that would die if not able to eat feces, such as rabbits.  Rabbits obtain vitamin B12 from their fecal bacteria, but the production is too low in their colon for them to benefit.  By consuming feces, they obtain the critical vitamin.  Many species of animal practice coprophagia, as a necessary part of their nutrition.  There is also some, not fully accepting, thought that in cases where antibiotics have wiped out many beneficial bacterial species in the colon, resulting in susceptibility to infection (such as the sometimes fatal Clostridium difficile, becoming frighteningly common), a "fecal transplant" may be beneficial.


-Feces is the best compost possible.  Especially from chickens, horses, cows, sheep, llamas.  Some zoos now sell "zoo doo" so that you can feed exotic animal poop to your tomatoes.


I could go on, but I'm not sure if I'm addressing the metaphor.  Bottom line - I see a lot of benefit, and not much harm, from exposure to religion, understanding religion, and learning how to conteract the harmful effects of religion.  Plus, a lot of religious history is just plain cool - learning about Aztec and Inca religion and culture is fascinating, Zoroastrianism is like science fiction, and all of the religions play an inseparable and necessary part of understanding human behavior.


I hope this is taken as the respectful response that I intend.

Comment by LBGT Atheist/Secular Humanist on December 28, 2011 at 9:35pm

Interesting analogy Ruth :)  How about a final Poo Gas (remember the Freakazoid cartoon?) theory. Imagine those glittery golden bits processed, via digestive pathways + catalytic conversion, into a holy aura (perhaps an 'essence') that propels itself upon unsuspecting passerby's. A lingering, sensory 'immaculate perception' Per Se.  :)


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