My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Metaphors are useful in describing any social phenomenon. In the case of Darrell Ray’s “The God Virus”, the metaphor is pretty obvious: Religion is like a virus of the mind. It “infects” the brain and reshapes our thoughts. Just as a virus hijacks the machinery of the host’s cells in order to reproduce more viruses, so does religion cause us to “infect” others with religion by seeking out converts.
Ray compares religion to real life diseases like toxoplasmosis, a disease that causes mice and rats to lose their fear of cats and actually make them attracted to the scent of car urine. Toxoplasmosis needs to pass through a cat’s digestive track in order to complete its life cycle, so, by changing the behavior of rodents, it encourages them to get eaten and thus the virus gets inside a cat. So, under this metaphor, people infected with religion have had their modes of thinking that alters the way they view themselves, sex, and how they relate to others. Your particular strain of the virus also “inoculates” you against other strains. Thus, if you are a Christian, you develop thought patterns that “immunize” you against becoming a Muslim or vice-versa.
It’s an interesting way of looking at religion, one that addresses how religious beliefs use conformity of behavior, community, fear of the outsider, and guilt to reinforce their grip on society, though Ray often stretches this metaphor well beyond the breaking point.
Ray is a former minister turned atheist and naturally, has a negative view of the affect religion has on society. He has little positive things to say about religion, so be aware that this is not an evenhanded examination of the impact of religion on society. Indeed, his thesis is that religion is a disease and needs to be eradicated for our good. He makes many arguments and examples to bolster this view, some of which are more convincing than others, but at the very least, he gives readers something to think about.