virus: Jesus as a Memetic Engineer

Eric Boyd (
Thu, 24 Jul 1997 19:02:15 -0500

Jesus as a Memetic Engineer
and what Iíve learned from him as suchÖ


Ever since Reedís post about the Lordís Prayer, Iíve been thinking about
this issue. Was Jesus a memetic engineer? Did he understand how ideas
propagate? It sure looks like it...

Iíve been thinking some more about Justice, and what I consider Jesusí
take on the issue. It is very difficult justice. How many people would
actually be willing to turn the other cheek? If I punched you now, what
would you do? Itís called assault in the courts. But Jesus says to
turn the other cheek. Damn hard thing to do, I bet.

And so Jesus knew that it wouldnít be accepted just on vague moral
principles (like I was saying: itís a *higher* order justice. Two
wrongs donít make a right. But it sometimes feels like they do). And
so to get people to accept it, he /deferred/ the Justice (punishment) to
God. We donít have to judge and condemn and punish here in this world,
Jesus says, because God will do it for us, after we die.

I personally donít like the idea of just deferring Justice. But it *is*
a viable way to make people buy into the "new" justice. A memetic
package, if you will -- designed to make people more comfortable with
the new ideas.

And then, of course, there is the entire idea of <faith> <your message
here> <evangelize>. Iím not sure we can credit Jesus with this one, but
certainly his Church used it.

Now this is where I again move off the beaten track.

Is it possible that Jesus himself didnít believe in God? Could he have
been a full fledged memetic engineer, only using the idea of God to
propagate the memes he considered worthwhile?

Probably a question we can never answer. However, it is a useful
exercise to look at Jesusí memes and see exactly why they *have*
succeed. Theyíve lived for *2000* years. Obviously they have done
something right. (intentional stance assumed at my own risk)

The first trick will be to separate the actual memes he *wanted* to
propagate from those memes he used as vehicles for propagation.
Understand this is my separation, here. Iíve picked out <justice> as
one of the key concepts. And <God> as merely a memetic vector.
Probably not a standard interpretation...

One obvious vehicle is "authority"Ö Lets face it, being considered the
son of God (even if you arenít) is a very powerful way of elevating what
you have to say. And the secrecy that Jesus tried to maintain just fed
right into that. Some people knew, and that knowledge made them part of
an "in club". Like the twelve disciples. The fact that Jesus wanted
to keep his "divinity" secret made it all that much more powerful in the
minds of his followers. Authority is a powerful way to get your ideas

"The Kingdom of Heaven" is another vehicle, to my way of thinking. It
provides justification in many different circumstances. He used it to
convince people to do what he thought was good. That and Hell, of
course. It does not matter whether or not Heaven exists. The act of
believing it does engenders the desired behavior. (or at least that was
the theory)

And, of course, "Truth" is another obvious vehicle. Itís sort of like a
battering ram. "I am the way, the truth and the life" Forces itís way

And then he used the "time is running out! The kingdom of Heaven is at
hand!" meme. Nothing like the end of the world to make people act like
you want... [2]

Then there are all the "anti-bodies"

Jesus tells us that faith is *proven* in adversarial circumstances. We
are to stand firm under persecution. "Faith can move mountains"Ö or
rather, faith stands firm, even when mountains are movedÖ

And then that pesky "the Kingdom of Heaven is above this world, pay no
attention to evidence" anti-body. I had thought this was just the
Church that had come up with this one, but Jesus said it too (if we can
trust the Bible to be free from the influence of the Church, that is)
"A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign, but none
will be given it, except the sign of Jonah" Matt 16:4

And, of course, there is the good old "cover my ass" deal, too. Jesus
said a lot of contradictory thingsÖ Pretty much covered his ass for
*any* agenda people want to twist his words to. Ever wondered why
Satanists use the same Bible? Itís cause the Bible supports them at
least as well as the Christians. "For I come not to bring peace, but a

Then, the primary button pushing:

Food. The Holy Communion. Blessing meals. Got this one pretty well

Danger. A wrathful and vengeful and "just" God of the Old Testimate.
Lots of nice stories of fire raining down on unbelievers. Hell.
"weeping and gnashing of teeth." Got this one covered to the point of

Sex. Well controlled through the institution of marriage and laws about
adultery. I donít think he made as much of this as he could have...


Now, the entire idea here is to introduce the basic idea behind the
entire mailing group here: the development of *new* churchís, including
the CoV. We must learn to use the memetic tools that we say the Church
is based on.

First, we need a viable propagation scheme. Since we (just me?) are
unwilling to embrace the <faith> <evangelize> paradigm case, we need a

But such a substitute seems just a disguise to meÖ no matter how you
arrive at a belief (say, by reason), it still seems to both me and John
like faith, at least to some degree. And if you are to spread the
message at all, even intentionally, you could still call that

Nevertheless, for my Church of Freethought, I propose <freedom>
<responsibility>. We are free to believe what we want. But we have a
responsibility, because of the /dangers/ of freedom, to act
*responsibily*. Both pre and post belief. And (hereís the memetic self
propagation) we have a responsibility to ensure that others are acting
responsibly with the freedom they have been given. In that way, the
<freedom> <responsibility> duality [3]propagates itself, and forms a
basis on which to build a Church.

Because, you see, once you have engendered the concept of retroactive
responsibility, you can use that to ensure that people attend Church.
Essentially, this is the <cheesy evil angle> that the CoV uses, in
disguise. Since *freedom* is dangerous (total freedom is *anarchy*,
frosh), you have a responsibility to make sure that what you believe is
"good" and "right". The Church is here to help you with that burdenÖ we
will be discussing issues of "meaning" and value, exploring religious
"truths" and positions, and generally encouraging all forms of open
minded inquire into "whatís out there".

Now, other buttons I think we should consider pushing.

<Authority>. Prof. Tim. I canít believe how badly I fell for that
cheap memetic trick, Tim. You had me fooled. I thought you were a high
ranking, possibly retired, Prof. from a really good University. It
certainly coloured the way I interpreted your memes. Anyway, it was an
object lesson for me. Authority is a powerful button.

However, I donít think this one is for me. I canít convincingly play a
true "pastor". Instead, Iím going to use <community>. Iím a *student*
of human nature, just like you! Weíre here to Journey together, and
perhaps learn a few things along the way.

(as a large aside, however, I do plan to use some "authoritative"
quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Robert
Persig, Ambrose Bierce, Nietzsche, George Orwell, and a lot of others.)

<Truth>. Since I have no desire to get into a debate with all those
other "true" religions, I think the place to base the Church of
Freethought is in Post Structuralist theory. Not the truth. But, even
better than that, I think we can justifiably ignore the entire truth
spectrum, and instead focus on *meaning*. This Church isnít here to
tell us what "is" true. Iím hoping, instead, that it will help you
discover meaning in your life...

And I think we can do <the end of the world> deal quite nicely with a
couple of talks about death and old age. Time is the most important
quantity you have, frosh. Is watching television really what you want
your life to be about? Weíre all going to die. The Grim Reaper could
Come for you tomorrow. Start to do something *meaningful* with your
life today... there wonít be any second chances.[1]

All that covers <danger> pretty well. Iím still working on <sex> and
<food>. Maybe Iíll serve donuts and beer after the gatheringsÖ (this is
a twenty year old crowd, after all) J

As for <sex>, Iím not sure. I donít think itís really in a Churchís
field at all to say anything or do anything with <sex>. This requires
more thoughtÖ could I possibly get some female input here?

Comments[4]? Suggestions? Criticisms?


[1] Note that this assumes atheistic (or at least non afterlife)
beliefs. Iím working on the other anglesÖ Although Iím sure that in the
end the fear of death is a genetic thing, and really canít be overcome
with memes. Even Christians have a hard time with the death of loved

[2] Note that despite my criticisms of Christianity, I think Jesus had
some very noble things that say. The fact that he used means to achieve
his ends that I find very distasteful is really my only gripe against

[3] Interesting how Iíve based by Church on a "circular" system, whereby
the creation of freedom requires responsibility to deal with it, which
then provides a justification for the Church which imposed the freedom
in the first place... Very similar to the "original sin" + "Jesus our
Lord and Saviour" deal. However, I like mine better because I like to
think we all have "freedom" before we come to Church. In fact, I wasnít
very happy with the "Church of Freedom" idea before, seeing as *any*
organization limits the freedom of the individual. However, with the
addition of responsibility, the Church serves a viable purpose.
Circular constructs are awesome!

[4] I have an interesting moral question for all you practiced memetic
engineers. Should this particular post ever be shown to members of the
future Church? Do they have a right to know that Iím *intentionally*
designing a memetically based religion? If so, should I be open right
from the start? Only after a few months?

My current feelings are that I should wait to tellÖ in the short run,
such knowledge would hamper the Church, but the long standing members
would benefit from the knowledge, no question.