Thursday, August 7, 2008

Religion: It's Not in the Genes - It's in the Germs!

Unique bone chandelier at the Ossuary of the Roman
All Saints Church, Sedlec, Czech Republic

If I say "God Bless you!" to Someone Who Sneezes,
I Might Actually Be Saying "Get Away From Me!"

Religion has been characterized as an opiate (Marx) and as a disease (Dawkins), but two researchers have correlated it to the amount of diseases in a particular society:

Praying for health
Jul 31st 2008
From The Economist print edition

Religious diversity may be caused by disease

Mr [Corey] Fincher, [University of New Mexico] and his colleague Randy Thornhill wondered if disease might be driving important aspects of human social behaviour, too. Their hypothesis is that in places where disease is rampant, it behooves groups not to mix with one another more than is strictly necessary, in order to reduce the risk of contagion. They therefore predict that patterns of behaviour which promote group exclusivity will be stronger in disease-ridden areas. Since religious differences are certainly in that category, they specifically predict that the number of different religions in a place will vary with the disease load. Which is, as they report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the case.

So religious doctrines may really be a way of saying "stay away from me." The exclusivity of many Christian churches in the U.S. certainly demonstrates the theory of using religion as a form of protection and isolation: it's the "WE are right and YOU are wrong" of most denominations that separate them. Almost infinitesimal differences in doctrine act as moats which become more difficult to cross as the denomination becomes more powerful. Missionaries serve the purpose of "only we can save/protect you."

From the latest "prosperity theology" to Pentecostalism to faith healing preachers who "call you to The Lord!" there is a kind of righteous arrogance that underlines their creeds. Apostates are shunned as if they truly carry a disease.
And then there is the intentional isolation from larger religions or sects: Protestant vs Catholic, Southern Baptist vs Mormon, Christian vs Muslim, Hindu vs Buddhist, etc., etc. etc.

Proving the point involved collating a lot of previous research. Even defining what constitutes a religion is fraught with difficulty. But using accepted definitions of uniqueness, exclusivity, autonomy and superiority to other religions they calculated that the average number of religions per country is 31. The range, though, is enormous—from 3 to 643. Côte d’Ivoire, for example, has 76 while Norway has 13, and Brazil has 159 while Canada has 15. They then did the same thing for the number of parasitic diseases found in each country. The average here was 200, with a range from 178 to 248.

This theory posits the possibility that the "protective" factor of religion was inadvertently the cause of so many deaths (wars). Yes, I think it's possible. It would also explain why, after so many years (thousands), no one religion or sect has ever seemed to have "gotten it right." In the U.S. it seems that there are as many Elmer Gantrys today as there are Elmer Fudds (see previous post). Each sermon, each book seems to say "it will change your life...LIKE NO OTHER DOCTRINE/PHILOSOPHY CAN!!"

Lately we have seen attempts to unite differing religious beliefs for purposes (again) of protection or even a kind of passive-aggression (e.g., Christians United For Israel). Protection, therefore, can be as deadly (if not more so) than vulnerability. Religious intolerance, in becoming reactionary to social globalization may become everyone's own Apocalypse.

Just a thought.

I just ran across this picture and its commentary and thought readers might like it.

Freedom from war.
Freedom from death.
Freedom from pain.
Freedom from political ideology.
Freedom from religious hypocricy.
Freedom from racial, ethnic, or class intolerance.
Freedom from material or moral indulgence or imbalance.
Just what true freedom ought to be.

(Freedom by Shane Markie)

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