Roughly 200 people attended Darrel Ray’s The God Virus lecture at Reed College on October 7th. During the event, Dr. Ray made the case that religion is indeed a virus-like phenomenon, as it infects individuals and societies. Drawing heavily from Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and memetic theory, Darrel Ray argued that the idea of religion has a strong impact on our minds, and thus, upon our actions as members of society.
During Ray’s talk, the speaker went to great lengths in detailing the deleterious effects of religion. Not only does religion prey on human feelings of inadequacy, it also guilt trips humans into believing that they must worship x deity, or else they are destined for Hell. In short, a religion like Christianity necessitates its own cosmology by having an answer – Heaven through belief – to guilt of its own design.
Although the lecture was interesting, it was met with objections by many Reed students. According to an audience member, Ray was downright “inflammatory”. “What are you trying to accomplish,” the student asked, “by being offensive?” Another Reedie wondered why the speaker was invited, given that he had the temerity to make jokes at the expense of religion.
“I was disappointed by the sheer volume of jokes against religion,” event organizer, Leslie Zukor, said after the talk. “I expected the lecture to be provocative. However, I was hoping for a more serious presentation of the evidence.” Zukor also wished for more cultural explanations for religious phenomena. “He used memetics and biology at the expense of all else,” Zukor, an Anthropology major, explained.
Although some Reed students were critical of Dr. Ray, the off-campus attendees were satisfied with his presentation. Audience members comprised “recovering” Catholics, fundamentalists, and Jews. They were all enthused by the speaker’s rhetoric and were looking for more connections with the Portland freethought community. Darrel Ray vowed to start a “recovering religion” group in the Portland-area.
Despite the talk’s provocative nature, Darrel Ray offered a human solution to debating theists about religion. “When people talk about the human problems that have led them to accept Jesus,” he explained, “Be a friend to them. Don’t try to argue with their emotional conclusion with rational evidence.” According to some audience members, the conclusion felt out of place.
“How can you be a friend to religious people, when you mock and make fun of their beliefs?” audience members wondered. Despite all the criticisms from Reed students, the Center For Inquiry members who showed up were pleased at the crowd, Darrel Ray’s talk, and the information presented that religion is indeed a virus that infects our lives and culture.
We hope you will attend our next talk with Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein.