Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes - Building a Religion
For the September Phoenix meeting we attempted to build our own religions with a view to how this might be used in SF writing. This was a sequel to the popular Design a Planet session held some time earlier. Since this promised to be a much more difficult job than designing a planet, I spent a bit of time compiling a few notes for the meeting on a meme based approach to religions. In response to no public demand whatsoever, these notes are given here for your delectation and amusement.
The intent of this exercise is to look at the underlying building blocks of a religion. The approach is to look at this from a meme oriented view. With a bit of luck, it may be of use for people writing about or reading about religions - or possibly even in the analysis of current religious or quasi religious institutions.
The plan is to look at the basic memes of religion then look at how these are present in a real religion - Catholicism, because everybody knows at least a bit about it. Then we will try to quickly build a new religion for humankind and for an alien species that I will describe. Maybe it will give some ideas for writing stories.
MEME: (pron. `meem') A contagious information pattern that replicates by symbiotically infecting human minds and altering their behaviour, causing them to propagate the pattern. (Term coined by Dawkins, by analogy with "gene".) Individual slogans, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical memes. An idea or information pattern is not a meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else. All transmitted knowledge is memetic. (Wheelis, quoted in Hofstadter.)
MEME-COMPLEX: A set of mutually-assisting memes which have co-evolved a symbiotic relationship. Religious and political dogmas, social movements, artistic styles, traditions and customs, chain letters, paradigms, languages, etc. are meme-complexes. Also called an m-plex, or scheme (Hofstadter). Types of co-memes commonly found in a scheme are called the: bait; hook; threat; and vaccime. A successful scheme commonly has certain attributes: wide cope (a paradigm that explains much); opportunity for the carriers to participate and contribute; conviction of its self-evident truth (carries Authority); offers order and a sense of place, helping to stave off the dread of meaninglessness. (Wheelis, quoted by Hofstadter.)
The Religion Memes
BAIT: The part of a meme-complex that promises to benefit the host (usually in return for replicating the complex). The bait usually justifies, but does not explicitly urge, the replication of a meme-complex. (Donald Going, quoted by Hofstadter.) Also called the reward co-meme. (In many religions, "Salvation" is the bait, or promised reward; "Spread the Word" is the hook. Other common bait co-memes are "Eternal Bliss", "Security", "Prosperity", "Freedom".)
HOOK : The part of a meme-complex that urges replication. The hook is often most effective when it is not an explicit statement, but a logical consequence of the meme's content. (Hofstadter)
INFECTION: 1. Successful encoding of a meme in the memory of a human being. A memetic infection can be either active or inactive. It is inactive if the host does not feel inclined to transmit the meme to other people. An active infection causes the host to want to infect others. Fanatically active hosts are often membots or memeoids. A person who is exposed to a meme
but who does not remember it (consciously or otherwise) is not infected. (A host can indeed be unconsciously infected, and even transmit a meme without conscious awareness of the fact. Many societal norms are transmitted this way.)
2. Some memeticists have used `infection' as a synonym for `belief' (i.e. only believers are infected, non-believers are not). However, this usage ignores the fact that people often transmit memes they do not "believe in." Songs, jokes, and fantasies are memes which do not rely on "belief" as an infection strategy.
THREAT: The part of a meme-complex that encourages adherence and discourages mis-replication. ("Damnation to Hell" is the threat co-meme in many religious schemes.)
VACCIME: (pron. vak-seem) Any meta-meme which confers resistance or immunity to one or more memes, allowing that person to be exposed without acquiring an active infection. Also called an `immuno-meme.' Common immune-conferring memes are "Faith", "Loyalty", "Scepticism", and "tolerance". (See: meme-allergy.) (GMG.)
Every scheme includes a vaccime to protect against rival memes. For instance:
TRAPPINGS - this is not a meme. The trappings of a religion are the physical form that the religion has taken. This is the visible exterior of a religion and therefore what is most commonly written about - but not necessarily the most important.
As an example, we can consider Catholicism as most people have at least some idea of how it operates. Of course, it is a complex religion and can offer more than one example of most of these memes.
A New Human Religion
The challenge is to quickly design a new religion for humanity. A few ideas from movements in society at the moment may give inspiration:
A Religion for the Sleeth
The Sleeth are an alien race. The plan is to design a religion for them. The following are a few points about them and their society.