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Most email users will have been annoyed from time-to-time by hoax messages warning you about a virus that will destroy your computer if you click on some apparently innocuous message. The writers of these hoaxes clearly will not gain anything of value from the hoax, other than a feeling of satisfaction that they succeeded in fooling a lot of people.
This may not be a new phenomena. What if Christianity was a similar hoax? How could you tell the difference?
If you wanted people to accept an idea, without having to provide evidence, then a concept like faith is perfect. If you can promote the idea that having faith is a virtue; even better.
According to the bible: "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, accepting certain ideas as true without adequate evidence.
How can you tell?
How can you tell that faith (and the rest of Christianity) is not just a hoax?
Answer: Because you have abandoned basing your conclusions on weighing up the available evidence, you can't.
Religions and Memes
The concept of a meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. The thrust of The Selfish Gene was that evolution is driven by genes and not by organisms. The gene simply uses the organism to reproduce itself - it doesn't "care" about the organism; only it's own survival and reproduction. It may well be in the interest of the gene to help the organism, and many do that - but only in so far as it helps them. Hence the "selfish" part.
At the very end of the book Dawkins hypothesised about the existence of what he imagined to be memes. Ideas that would work socially in the same way that genes would work biologically. He again assumed that they could be good bad or neutral and considered the properties they might have.
The perfect meme would: - spread through the generations; include a very specific instruction within itself to continue spreading that meme; include a belief that discarding the meme would cause dire consequence for the meme-holder; possibly include instructions to kill those who don't carry that meme.
Many more-or-less innocuous things would have these properties. Virus warnings on the internet would be a good example. But probably the most lethal memes come to us in the form of religions when they have the "Kill the unbeliever" portion activated.