Religion goes viral

The Religion News Service (RNS) has a commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the fastest growing religious traditions in the United States. The piece reminds me of the accusation some people make that religion is a virus.

This is a pretty incendiary thing to say. No one likes to think that their minds have been overcome by a sickness. Yet there are, nonetheless, similarities between viruses (or, for that matter, any contagious pathogen) and religion. Religion, after all, has had thousands of years to converge on good strategies of spreading itself from mind to mind.

Three things in particular stand out in the RNS commentary:

1. Children are indoctrinated as early as humanly possible. We are told of a family who includes their 18 month old child in Bible study. This is akin to the construction of new viruses within an infected host cell. The new viruses must be put together carefully because mutations might destroy their development. And if that happens, they’ll never venture forth to infect other cells.

2. Every member of the church is required to evangelize. Most people are familiar with the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses going from door to door, trying to spread their beliefs. Most of these attempts fail, but a small yet crucial proportion succeed. In the same way, large quantities of new viruses are produced within each host cell, and while many of these viruses will fail to attack new hosts, a small yet crucial proportion will succeed.

3. Communities are insular. A Jehovah’s Witness’s support will generally come from other Jehovah’s Witnesses (I highly recommend this podcast from Reasonable Doubts, in which an ex-Witness discusses the insular social culture of the church.) This makes me think of mechanisms found in bacteria that allow them to escape the influence of the host’s immune system.

In summary, purity and proliferation are the two key ingredients. Maintain your identity and spread it to others.

It’s also interesting to read, in the RNS commentary, about the husband’s slow conversion to the church.  As is often the case in such matters, though, it’s clear he had several in-tact Christian beliefs before becoming a Jehovah’s Witness:

“Things just slowly progressed,” Chad Tate said. “I found myself starting to pray. But I’m a skeptical person. I’ve got to have stuff laid out in front of me. They had to show me from the Bible.”

Clearly Mr. Tate already considered the Bible to be a source of authority, and this is where so many people who get sucked into religion go wrong – they have been enculturated into believing certain aspects of Christianity, like the authority of the Bible, the existence of hell, the need for salvation, etc., long before they choose to become active, practicing believers. It’s a sort of cultural indoctrination.

Anyway, it’s always fascinating to look into the practices of different religious traditions. Calling them viruses may be insulting to some, but the analogy is certainly there.


15 Responses to Religion goes viral

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses are in *breach of the preach*.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses proselytizing is a false Gospel. (Gal. 1:8)

    Straight up doctrinal facts on Jehovah Witness.
    The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach preach that Jesus had his return aka second coming October 1914,then they spin all sorts of doctrinal embellishments on that date.
    They teach only 144,000 go to heaven,on and on and on with made up man made dogmas……They have infighting,crime and child abuse as bad as any church out there.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses promotion of their Watchtower sect has the net effect of stumbling and turning people off to the real Gospel.
    Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte; and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15)

    Danny Haszard born 3rd generation Jehovah’s Witness
    *Tell the truth don’t be afraid*

    • Keith says:


      I gather from your comment that you were born into the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but are now a Christian of some other denomination? If so, would you mind telling us a little about how you left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and what that was like? Obviously if it’s too personal, then don’t feel obliged to share.

  2. I think it’s kind of funny, Keith, that militant and fundamentalist atheists are now using the very tactics that Jehova’s Witnesses use in their attempt at evangelizing. Of course, to my knowledge, they haven’t started going door to door yet, but it’s coming, imo. I think they are even drawing up little tracts to hand out on street corners about how evil religion is in their “Richard Dawkins” frenzy. 😉

    Seems it takes all kinds…

    • Keith says:

      Warrioress: And *I* think it’s funny that your comment is based entirely on unfounded speculation about the future. If atheists do actually start going door to door, *then* let me know. Until then, why waste your time and mine by saying you think it might happen?

      By the way, did you know that Daniel Dennett, one of the “four horsemen” of New Atheism, actively supports religious education? Unlike Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheists like Dennett (and me) want kids to think for themselves. We want them to be aware of all the possible worldviews available to them, so that they can make an informed choice about which one to adopt, even if, in the end, they choose a religious worldview.

      The point is that it is their choice, and they should be fully informed when making it.

      This is in direct contrast to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other insular denominations, who go out of their way to prevent their children from becoming educated and informed, and from making their own decisions.

  3. Sabio Lantz says:

    Many cultures (Chinese, Indians ….) indoctrinate children and are insular. It is a valuable strategy — seems to work.

  4. It’s really not unfounded speculation, Keith.

    The Richard Dawkins Atheist summer camp is just another example of the atheist attempt to copy organized religion’s tactics at bringing kids to Christ through “Jesus Camp,” and atheists are using other evangelical techniques similar to those used by the Witnesses.

    Are you possibly familiar with the Blasphemy Challenge that was posted all over You tube? I think you’ll find that this was an attempt by the alleged “rational response squad” (a group of militant atheists) out to indoctrinate as many young people as they possibly could, easily putting them on the same level as Jehova’s Witnesses.

    It must be a little embarrassing to associated to this “pot calling a kettle black” scenario as an atheist, isn’t it?

    Of course, I know you’re a naturalist, but these people calling themselves “rational,” and behaving as they do? They are freely attempting to indoctrinate our American youth in so many inappropriate, sick ways and you’re writing about religion going viral?

    You seem to be overlooking and rationalizing what your own kind are doing, or maybe you’re just not aware of what they’ve been up to.

    • Keith says:


      I’m a little confused about your use of the Blasphemy Challenge. This is not a method of indoctrination. It’s basically a prank – a joke. And a bit of a silly one, I agree.

      Regarding Camp Quest UK, it’s possible you’re right – I don’t really know what goes on there. My sense is that it serves as a religion-free alternative to the summer camp scene, rather than a venue for indoctrinating kids into atheism.

  5. Oh dear…

    It appears I was right.

    The atheists *are* distributing their own “tracts.” Really, Keith, this is just …awkward.

    • Keith says:

      Oh yes, how terribly awkward, I’m so embarrassed!!! Lol.

      Yes you’re right, if you scour the internet you can find one example of an atheist tract. Well done.

      Let me know when you next see one of these things being handed out in the streets. And let me know when you next have an atheist knocking on your door to push his beliefs on you.

      In fact, let me know when these things happen to anyone you know. Ask around. Poll your friends on Facebook. Let me know how many of them are fed up with the pesky atheists knocking on their doors, or handing out propaganda in the streets.

      I’ll be waiting.

  6. Actually, I didn’t have to scour the internet at all; that’s what was so surprising to me.

    Here’s yet another link from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, offering boxes of these “non-tracts” as they call them. roflmao….

    Just wow. Atheist evangelism and indoctrination of children is at its peak! And how weak to claim that the Blasphemy Challenge was just a joke. I don’t think anyone but atheists though it was very funny. Mocking other people’s beliefs isn’t funny, imo; it’s disrespectful and rude.

    The Blasphemy Challenge is geared toward youth on You Tube. It was aimed at spreading an anti-theist message to the youth in this nation and around the world. You need to be writing about atheist evangelism gone viral instead of rambling on about religion doing what it’s always done. You atheists have become the very monsters you claim to be worried about. Friedrich Nietzsche comes to mind.

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

  7. Keith says:


    Well, to be fair, you don’t know that atheistic evangelism is at it’s peak. It could get a lot stronger 🙂

    Seriously though, I’m not denying that atheistic evangelism exists. It’s just not on the immense scale that Christian evangelism is. Indeed, if you say the word “evangelism” to someone, they’ll automatically think you’re talking about Christianity.

    For what it’s worth, there are forms of evangelism that seriously annoy me, no matter what the worldview being pushed. I dislike people trying to stop me in the streets, and I dislike tracts. Perhaps you like all of these things – as long as they’re Christian of course – but I don’t, and you won’t see me coming to their defense, even if they’re atheist.

    To close, I have a question: do you believe in religious freedom?

    If so, you do realize that this means freedom for people of *all* religious persuasions, not just Christians, right? Why, then, are you so exercised about atheistic evangelism? Don’t atheists have a right to have their voices heard along with everyone else?

  8. Of course atheist evangelism isn’t on the same large scale that Christianity is; they’re just getting started and are still fairly small in number — but you’re right, I don’t have a problem with the indoctrination of children because we have the right to free speech in this nation. Certainly I do believe in religious freedom. And yes, I believe in the right for atheists to be heard just like Christians are heard. My take on this, though, is that atheists have become complete hypocrites when they write nonsense about religion indoctrinating children and babble on about how wrong that is, but freely engage in the very same indoctrination of children! How stupid is that? How reasonable and rational is this kind of hypocrisy?

    Your posting, above, fails to mention that atheism is doing the exact same thing Christianity is, and has gone viral itself. Atheists are indoctrinating children as early as possible these days, through the same methods JW’s and Christians are using; I’ve already proven this via my links exhibited here and on the last two postings on my blog. You simply choose to make religion the bad guy, as usual, instead of looking at your own belief system and recognizing that you guys are pots calling a kettle black.

  9. Keith says:


    I’m sorry but you haven’t actually shown that children are being indoctrinated into atheism from a young age. Where is your evidence that toddlers are being told that there is no God? Where is your evidence that kids as young as 5 or 6 are being dragged along to atheist meetings? Where is the evidence that atheist children are being shielded from other worldviews?

    All you’ve shown is that atheist evangelism, targeted at older people, exists.

  10. Visit my current post about the atheist summer camp, Camp Quest, and make that comment again. You aren`t being honest, Keith. It is alarming that you turn a blind eye to what the militant among your non-faith are doing. Just like them, you excuse, minimize, and attempt to rationalize the indoctrination ocurring. You all are no different from the Jehova Witnesses these days. Please face reality.

  11. Keith says:


    Camp Quest is not indoctrination.

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