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Hsin-Jui (Ray) Chou

Professor Thomas Keith


Philosophy 202
27 April 2014
Religion, Susceptibility, and History
In his 1991 paper Viruses of the Mind, Richard Dawkins describes the ultimate mind
virus - that of religion. It readily spreads, similar to the behavior of a virus, and a harmful one, at
that. In fact, 84% of the world is religious, a testament the effectiveness of the spreading of
religion. Not all widespread ideas are necessary beneficial for mankind, however. Richard
Dawkins is entirely correct in his assertion that religion is a viral and harmful entity.
Dawkins argues that religion is viral amongst humans because of the human capacity to
obey rules, and he cites crazes among schoolchildren as evidence. Though this may not serve
as sufficient demonstration, for some, that the human mind is a friendly medium to these viruses,
there are many other examples, particularly certain tricks performed by British mental illusionist
Derren Brown. The demographic of Browns audience is relatively diverse (amongst the British,
at least), yet he is able to perform some of the most impressive manipulative stunts using memes
as his primary weapon. In his 2005-2006 tour of his show Something Wicked This Way Comes,
Brown is able to accurately predict, before the show, a specific word on a specific page of a
specific newspaper, that an audience member, selected at random (he threw a stuffed monkey
and whoever caught it was chosen) would select after a series of free choices. He explains how
it was done at the end of a show - and that, throughout the show, Brown was using suggestion
and subliminal messaging to manipulate the audience members, as it had to work on all of you
(Brown, youtube.com, 1:07:28). Albeit an extreme example, and a demonstration of Browns

mastery of memes, Browns ability to cause an event with close to 0 probability multiple times
along his tour of England is a testament to the overwhelmingly compliant nature of the human to
obey orders. Such a vessel is incredibly easy for an entity like religion to command.
On a different note, anyone who attempts to argue that religion is not harmful is either
incredibly naive or spectacularly deluded. History is littered with examples of war, genocide,
oppression, and numerous other atrocities committed upon people primarily because of a
belonging to a different religious affiliation. In 399 BC, Socrates was put on trial for refusing to
recognize the gods recognized by the state, and of introducing new divinities. He is also guilty
of corrupting the youth (Linder). He was forced to drink a cup of poisoned hemlock, resulting in
his death, merely for his beliefs. The first Christians suffered similar fates under the Roman
Empire; in the summer of 64 AD, Emperor Nero lit Rome ablaze, destroying a majority of the
city. He then used the Christians as scapegoats, tortured them, gathered them, and killed them in
the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome (eyewitnesstohistory.com).
The Christians themselves, however, were not innocent from such acts of brutality. In
1095, Pope Urban II launched the legendary Crusades - a series of attempts to rid the Holy Land
of Jerusalem from the control of the Muslims, a conflict with effects lasting to this very day.
Perhaps the most barbaric/infamous of the many devastating episodes that occurred throughout
the Crusades was the event that occurred upon the Crusaders entrance to Jerusalem after its
surrender. Despite the fact that the Christian armies massacred much of the Byzantine empire, as
well as numerous Jewish towns along the Rhineland, it was still not enough for them; they
slaughtered hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children - after promising them that no harm
would come to them.

One may raise the objection that the three examples previously used were outdated, as
thinking in the ancient times was not as developed, and attitudes were generally more medieval
than modern times. Recent history, however, is full of examples as well. In 1947, the United
Nations passed Resolution 181, which effectively gave part of Palestine away to a new Sovereign
Jewish nation called Israel. This led to the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, which resulted in an Israeli
victory, a lot of deaths and savagery, and three more wars after that. Even as recent as 2009 the
violence has continued; Israeli forces bombed two schools in Gaza, killing more than 50 people.
There are numerous other examples, including the Indo-Pakistani conflict (and even some
conflict among the Sunnis and the Shiites themselves), the Muslim insurgency in Southern
Thailand, the Muslims and the Catholics in the Philippines, Roman Catholics and Protestants in
Northern Ireland, Christians and Muslims in the Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia, and the list could
go on and on. Religion is the cause for a significantly large amount of conflict in the form of
violence, which results in widespread tragedy and death all across the world.
Opposers to my previous statement may attempt to defend religion by citing its positive
effects on people. Most religions to teach a moral code, offer a theory/explanation for the
universe, and acts as a coping mechanism for when tragedy occurs to a person. For example, one
is reassured when a close family member dies that a divine entity has taken said family member
to a better place, and there is usually a description of how much better said better place is
than the mundane, mortal world. However, is it right to tell (or, in most cases, state as truth or
promise) someone something that has not been proven to be true for temporary relief from their
own emotions? Consider the following scenario concerning a young teenager named Bill, a poor
man working at a chocolate factory, giving every last dime he has to feed his family. One day,
Bill causes an accident (on accident, of course) which forces the building the evacuate, all of the

chocolate to be dumped, and causes over $100,000 of damages. Bill is now very distraught, and
needs a coping mechanism, but his supervisor tells him that everything will be all right, and that
he will not be fired. Bill, for the moment, is assured that he will continue to be able to feed his
family. Two weeks later, however, Bill is brutally fired by Headquarters (without the supervisors
knowledge). Is it right to tell someone that might not necessarily be true for short-term relief?
Though his supervisor had good intentions, Bill would probably have been better off being told
that he was to be fired in two weeks, and that being fired anyway was probably more devastating
to him, as he could have spent that time looking for a job. Similarly, there is no guarantee that
anything preached by religion about the afterlife is true; what if, when one dies, one stumbles to
the afterlife and discovers that their friend, who died before them, had actually been suffering
the entire time as opposed to living a wonderful life in heaven? The suffering bestowed upon
the victim must surely then be worse than that had he/she not been made any false promises.
Furthermore, even if religion does aid in the helping of coping with lifes many tragedies,
the damage done by religion only seeks to cause more tragedies, therefore nullifying its purpose.
Numerous examples of violence, torture, and slaughter were given previously in order to
illustrate the harmfulness of religion. Would these tragedies not have been prevented if religion
did not exist to begin with? Suppose there was a religious mother who lost five children in a
religious conflict. Does it really make sense to tell her that her children are flourishing in
whatever heaven with whatever deity she believes in? If religion had simply not existed in this
case, would this mother be suffering to begin with? The suffering caused by religion greatly
overshadows the benefits religion has to deal with suffering.
Religion spreads like wildfire, and can be incredibly harmful, as it has contributed
significantly to a very large number of deaths in the history of humankind. Even in the bible

itself, God is said to command his men to not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child
and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (1 Samuel 15:3). The world is a scary place, full of
atrocities and suffering, and therefore it is natural for people to want to seek refuge in something
that has such allure and capacity for distribution. However, to do so would be incredibly
dangerous.

Works Cited

"1 Samuel 15:3." BibleHub. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://biblehub.com/1_samuel/153.htm>.
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Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
<http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/09/25/india.kashmir.explainer/>.
"CENTER FOR REDUCTION OF RELIGIOUS-BASED CONFLICT." CENTER FOR
REDUCTION OF RELIGIOUSBASED CONFLICT. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
<http://www.center2000.org/>.
"Crusades." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
<http://www.history.com/topics/crusades>.
"Derren Brown- Something Wicked This Way Comes." YouTube. YouTube, 28 Nov. 2013. Web.
28 Apr. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEpr3P1i1Fg>.
Harper, Jennifer. "84 Percent of the World Population Has Faith; a Third Are Christian."
Washington Times. The Washington Times, 23 Dec. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
<http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2012/dec/23/84-percent-worldpopulation-has-faith-third-are-ch/>.
Linder, Doug. "The Trial of Socrates: An Account." The Trial of Socrates: An Account. N.p.,
2002. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
<http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/socrates/socratesaccount.html>.
McGreal, Chris, and Hazem Balousha. "Gaza's Day of Carnage - 40 Dead as Israelis Bomb Two
UN Schools." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 07 Jan. 2009. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-obama>.

"Nero Persecutes The Christians, 64 A.D." Nero Persecutes The Christians, 64 A.D. N.p., n.d.
Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/christians.htm>.
Rockliffe, Sophie L. "Christianity and the Roman Empire." BBC News. BBC, 17 Feb. 2011.
Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/christianityromanempire_article_01.shtml>.
"A Synopsis of TheIsrael/Palestine Conflict." A Synopsis of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. N.p.,
n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <http://www.ifamericansknew.org/history/>.