We are all indebted to Richard for coming up with the idea of the meme. In the remainder of chapter five of ‘The God Delusion’, having disposed of the adaptive significance of religion to his own satisfaction, Richard considers religions as clusters of self-replicating memes. One obvious consequence of the ‘meme’ model is the concept that in any successful cluster of ideas, or memeplex, there will be ideas that have no logical connection with the others but are only there to ensure the survival of the memeplex. The most important of these ‘selfish memes’ is surely the meme: ‘Only this memeplex is true’ (e.g., this meme is clearly part of Richard’s aggressive scientism). Closely allied to this meme is ‘You will be punished for not adopting this memeplex’ (e.g., in Richard’s worldview, those who cling to the God delusion are punished with various psychological problems and their societies remain barbaric and dysfunctional).
By recognising these omnipresent ideas as examples of the selfish meme, we can discount them. They are just things that any successful memeplex will tend to accumulate as it goes along.
Here is an exercise you should try:
(1) Get one of those little New Testament and Psalms that the Gideons hand out on university campuses around the country.
(2) Read through the Gospels in the order scholars are agreed they were written. That is, Mark first, then Matthew/Luke, then John.
(3) As you read through, take note of any statements along the lines of ‘No one shall come to the Father but through the Son’, or similar assertions either that Jesus is the only way or that those who reject him will be punished. Colour these passages in with a coloured pencil you have procured for the purpose.
You will find that there really aren’t any statements like that in Mark, that they are present but not frequent in Matthew and Luke, and that John ends up mostly coloured in. What do you reckon? Is it plausible that some evangelists just happened to write down all these robust assertions of Christian supremacy and uniqueness, while others didn’t? Or, is it more likely that these are selfish memes that have crept in along the way, and that Mark corresponds most closely to what Jesus really said and did?
This is the main reason I am most fond of the Gospel of Mark and least fond of the Gospel of John.