That meme with the tough-faced toddler holding up his fist to signal an accomplishment?
LOLcats, Good Guy Greg, Doge – none of the most famous Internet memes, as people have to come to know them, come anywhere near what Sacramento State professor Sarah Stroud says is by far the largest and most culturally significant meme of all time.
On Wednesday night Stroud was a guest of both the Stockton Atheists and Freethinkers and the Stanislaus Humanists in the McFall Room at the Manteca Library. He spoke not about the existence or non-existence of God but about how religion and the traits associated with it have survived and even thrived across long periods of time.
Using Richard Dawkins’ ideas on memetics, Stroud talked about how a meme – an element of culture or a behavior that can be passed from one person to another through elements like imitation – has become representative of key elements of major religions.
But according to a Pew Research study that she cited, those elements might be going by the wayside.
As many as 44 percent of the 35,000 that were surveyed were practicing a religion other than the one that they were raised with, and as many as 70 percent of those who took the survey believed that other denominations to theirs were also paths to eternal life. Only two – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses – believed that their Christian faith was the only path to heaven.
Those findings, she said, were in stark contrast to the way that Americans thought just a few decades ago let alone 100 years ago. And as more information is being learned about evolution and science and man’s place within the world, more of those eternal questions are becoming answerable.
One, like the out-of-body experience, has become an explainable phenomenon, Stroud said. When the portion of the brain between the temporal lobe, which gives humans their sense of self, and the parietal lobe, which interprets visual information like depth and distance and planes of sight, fails to connect the two, a common sensation of “floating” is described between those who experience it. What was once credited as a proof of a divine being, she said, has now become explainable by scientific theory.
Wednesday’s meeting of the two groups was without the consortium of Christian churches outside at Library Park that began gathering when the non-believing groups first announced that they would be meeting inside. Hundreds of people had gathered in the park to pray and sing while the meeting went on indoors, but complaints about several members of the freethinking groups feeling threatened by church members that were hanging out near the entrance to the McFall Room prompted practices like circling the building to pray to halt.