by Edd Doerr
The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, by psychologist Darrel W. Ray (IPC Press, Bonner Springs, KS, 2009, 241 pp), presents a fascinating exploration of how most religions persist and spread, using throughout such biological metaphors as viruses, infections, vectors, natural selection, and competition. Ray writes from his personal experience as someone who grew up in a conservative Protestant milieu and evolved into a humanist, freethinker and psychologist. His analysis is quite persuasive, his warnings about the consequences of unchecked "God virus" infections useful and scary.
Ray tops off the book with a psychologist's sound guidance as to how to get along in a world infected by "god viruses" of various sorts.
Unfortunately, Ray's book stops short of acknowledging that "god viruses" can become attenuated and rendered less harmful (more benign?) or become "compartmentalized" and moved away from center stage. It is this attenuation and/or compartmentalization that makes it possible for humanists to work with a broad spectrum of people who bear assorted religious labels. Indeed, this broad working together across lines of religious/lifestance identification is the only hope for turning back the virulent drives to (in no special order) weaken women's rights of conscience on abortion and contraception; open pipelines between public treasuries and religious schools and other institutions; sabotage the religious neutrality of public education; undermine science; derail efforts to deal with climate change and global warming; ensconce fanatic theocrats in the seats of political power; return society to the neo-feudalism advocated today by whole phalanxes of aspirants to high office. I think that Darrel Ray would agree.