Book Review: "The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture", by Darrel W. Ray

In The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture, Darrel W. Ray presents a reasoned metaphor for the propagation of religious belief. While this is not a new analogy, The God Virus is the first book to deeply explore the concept of religion as a social virus.

Though theists may be offended by the comparison of religious belief to a virus, Ray makes an effort to offer his analysis without rancor. The book is written with the goal of understanding why otherwise intelligent, rational people put faith in the fantastic claims of their religions. It also offers advice for nontheists living in religious societies.

Through his analysis, Ray tackles both religion and the actual belief in a god (or gods). Examples throughout the book strengthen the god-virus analogy by showing striking similarities between theism and the functions of a virus. Among the analogies: A mosquito is a vector for malaria, as a minister/priest/imam/rabbi/shaman is a vector for a specific religion; Cow pox vaccinates a person against small pox, while being indoctrinated in one religion shields a person from believing in another religion; Both viruses and religions use mutations as a survival strategy.

Chapter 1 explains these and other analogies which describe the foundation for the god-virus concept. The book then goes on to explore how religions survive and affect daily life for both believers and non-believers. In particular, the book analyzes important topics such as guilt, sex and morality.

While "The God Virus" is a thought provoking read throughout, arguably the most practical information comes later in the book when Ray discusses Understanding and Living With the God Virus (chapter 9) and The Journey: Living a Virus-Free Life (chapter 10). Through his background as a psychologist, and his own religious upbringing, Ray understands how religion negatively affects a person's mental and emotional health. As an American atheist, he has experienced the occasional difficulties in living among theists and offers useful advice for how to maintain relationships despite religious differences.

To finish, Ray gives a brief, rational response to questions of religion and science, which largely focuses on the presence (science) or absence (religion) of error correction. The final chapter looks at what the future may hold.

For nontheists, "The God Virus" may shed some light on what makes a god (or gods) so appealing to believers and may help with living in a religious society. Ray's approach of responding to the person, not the virus, will likely ease religion-infused conversations and help to respectfully avoid conversion attempts.

While the subject matter may be uncomfortable for some believers, those who are willing to read this book with an open mind may begin to think about some of the practices of their own religion. Regardless of how it affects their personal faith, the concepts presented may help believers become more tolerant of both other religions and non-believers.

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