Philosopher Daniel Dennett writes in a book titled Religion As A Natural Phenomenon, a tiny parasite called the Lancet Fluke has captured the brain of an ant, and forced it to climb the tallest blade of grass. The ant gains nothing from this, but the Fluke profits by using the ant to get itself into the stomach of a sheep or cow to reproduce itself. The cow eats the grass, and the Fluke produces another generation. Of course the ant has no reproductive machinery, and perhaps that is the reason the Fluke can use it so easily. Perhaps there is a kind of “ecstasy of the cells” in the ant when they discover they have a driven purpose of reproduction, even if not their own. Other parasites infect fish and mice for similar reasons. Dennett writes:
“Does anything like this ever happen to human beings?….We often find human beings setting aside their personal interests, their health, their chances to have children and devoting their entire lives to furthering the interests of an idea that has lodged in their brains.”
Dennett proposes a connection and writes:
“The word of God is a seed, and the sower of the seed is Christ. These seeds take roots in individual human beings, it seems, and get those human beings to spread them, far and wide (and in return the human hosts gets eternal life…)”.
Certainly this eternal life cannot be proven, so there is no actual biological profit as far as anyone can tell. But something is definitely reproduced, and it grows and changes in time.
In spite of the fact there is no proof for such sacrifice, millions of people will sacrifice their lives for an idea with no guarantee of any kind of personal reward. There is a kind of ecstasy associated with this kind of faith, and the individual will quite willingly sacrifice himself along with millions of others, even if that individual is not certain s/he will receive a reward for doing so.
Are we acting out of free will in such situations? If the ant could have a concept of free will, would it not conclude that it was freely acting as it climbed the tallest and juiciest blade of grass? Is it possible that the ant might feel a kid of joyous celebratory effect as it waited to be eaten?
Eric Hoffer and Erich Fromm have written that the individual joins a mass movement because it allows him/her to escape a miserable, lonely existence. It is, as Fromm wrote, “escape from freedom”.
Humans desire to transcend, and they can’t transcend if they’re not part of something more wonderful than themselves. Nazi Germany shows us that individuals, even decent individuals, can lower themselves to the most horrible atrocities simply because their countrymen are also doing it.
Christianity takes it for granted that the word must be spread, as does Islam. This who do not accept and repent are fodder forever burning hell. The drive becomes so powerful that, as Jesus said, those who kill you will think they’re doing God a service.
The atheist will look at the idea of christianity and scoff, as well he should, because christians gain a proselytizing zeal that often borders on fanaticism, again, similar to Islam.
Christians do not see it as an infection of a parasitized brain, but rather a duty, a God-given prime directive to make others like themselves. They consciously accept the “parasite” without question. Even worse, they will argue that their “mission” is righteous and holy and is of God.
At this point, I have to go back to the old standby scriptures, Matthew 24:23, Romans 8:7, and Isaiah 55:8. If the natural mind is enmity against God, and cannot be subject to God, and if God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways, then it stands to reason that our desire to convert the masses to “one way” cannot be a drive that is Biblical approved, and is the reason Jesus told us not to believe any of them. It is as much a disease of parasites as the Lancet Fluke that captures the ant’s brain. The only difference is that humans breed the disease within themselves from their own desires to transcend.
“From whence come wars and fighting’s among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have no, ye kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain…(James 4:1-2)”.
The “self” disease, however, is not something we can simply correct by developing laws that are righteous, because the most stringent and enforced laws are themselves subject to corruption. The disease is within ourselves, but we are a collection of uncounted parasites that inhabit our bodies and use our bodies for their own reproduction as surely as the Lancet Fluke uses the ant’s brain. We are a culmination of all those germs and bacteria that accumulated to create “me” and “you”. There is no separation from this drive. It is innate and basic to everything we do.
And all that is subject to genes, whose main purpose is to replicate themselves from generation to generation while seeking to minimize and control change. So, the “lusts that war in our members” are drives that come from the combined needs of billions of microorganisms that use our bodies to reproduce themselves. At the conscious level, we seek to extend communities of those like ourselves, to extend our own reproductive success statistically, with genes selecting those most like themselves, as E.O. Wilson pointed out in his concept of sociobiology. Given n o perceived kinship, we tend o act selfishly, to preserve our own interests at the costs of others. Given a kindred family, we see it more successful to our own genes by preserving those genes most like our own. It should be no surprise, then, that we seek to “convert” others to “brothers in Christ” or in Islam, and eliminate them if they do not believe.
Christianity and Islam are purely biological processes that parasitize our brains and use us to control environments so that the genes replicate with as little change as possible, and the idea of heaven as the reward of the “saved” allows for total sacrifice of self for the good of heaven, even if it destroys the world in the process.