Ideas that make sense, replicate better than those that do not by the very nature of the human mind. Pretty straight forward, right?
One of the most powerful memes in our society in the last centuries is the meme of religion, which deserves to be spoken about in more depth, and as Richard Brodie believes as well is an excellent example of the impact of a meme on people and society. Religions that have explanations for tough questions are much more popular than those that challenge people to think for themselves, such as Zen. Of course, those answers regarding tough questions do not have to be true, as long people can relate to them and understand.
Rituals are used in most religions, from Sunday church to saying grace before meals. The more an action, idea, or belief is repeated, the more comfortable we get with it and the less we question it: we become conditioned or programmed by it. Successful religions have evolved to embody what any advertising executive would tell you: repetition sells. Many religions are based in fear: Fear of God’s wrath, fear of burning in hell, fear of ostracism by one’s community. Setting up artificial dangers (pushing our primal buttons) and claiming to be a safe haven from them is a very powerful part of a belief system. Most people also have a button that draws them to belong to a group.
A good example of the strength of rehearsal is the Koran. The koranic requirement for public prayer five times a day spreads Islam by enunciating the faith within earshot of nearby non-Muslims. The frequent recitation of these prayers also helps preserve the faith by preventing Muslims from forgetting what they believe. According to Aaron Lynch this matters most in historical and modern regions of low literacy, since scriptural “memory” depends on reading. If we take stories in general as an example, any story or event that has great emotional impact, or has the effect that you cannot stop thinking about it, will go round and round in your head. With you thinking a lot about this event/story, you are more likely to pass it on to someone else, who may be similarly affected.
A religion formed in this way, as a cultural virus, evolves not toward truth, not even toward the betterment of its adherents, but toward more effective memes. According to Richard Brodie this is the most crucial point: meme evolution is not designed to benefit the individual. Although memes could of course be beneficial to the individual. Many individuals have many personal benefits from believing and having faith in a religion, alone or in a community.
We have entered a stage of human civilisation where memes can have a long lasting life, due to the never-ending internet. Do we enter a stage where memes have a continuous influence on our lives or even stronger put; will memes (not only religious memes) lead our lives even more as they see fit? Will the continues transmission of ideas, in a medium like Twitter, have more impact on us than the newspaper of 10 years ago?