Darrel Ray – The God Virus

October 16, 2009

Dr. Darrel W. Ray is author of three books, two on organizational psychology. He has been a psychologist for over 30 years. After practicing counseling and clinical psychology for 10 years, his focus shifted to organizational psychology and consulting. A longtime student of religion, his latest book is out now called The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Darrel Ray talks about religion being like a virus, elaborating on Richard Dawkins’ concept of the meme. He explains why the metaphor of God belief being like a virus of the mind is so useful. He details how religion is communicable, and propagated through vectors, just like biological pathogens, and why the rational “immune system” of children makes them more susceptible to the contagion. He explores why some people are immune to the God virus, and how to inoculate children from it, such as through exposure to many strains of the virus early in life. He describes the role that guilt over sex has in the success of the God virus. He discusses whether there is a skepticism virus, and why he feels atheism is a poor organizing principle, but why humanism is not. And he talks about the New Atheist agenda, and the best ways to engage in “public health measures” to protect people from the God virus.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, October 16th, 2009. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe growthy point of inquiries, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grass roots. My guest this week is Darrell Ray. He’s author of Free Books to an Organizational Team Issues. And his latest is The God Virus How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture. He’s been a psychologist for over 30 years, practicing counseling and clinical psychology for 10 years, then moving on to organizational psychology and consulting. He’s been a student of religion most of his life, and therein lies his interest in the God virus. Daryl Ray, welcome to the show. 

Good to be here. D.J.. 

It was great meeting you at the Midwest Humanist Conference earlier this year. Your presentation. There was a hit. I thought the listeners to point of inquiry might also like hearing your take on the evolution of religion, how it is infectious. Let’s start off with the metaphor you’re using in the God virus. It’s straight out of Dawkins, right? That religion is a meme. It’s like a virus of the mind. 

Absolutely. I loved toxin’s approach, the meme that memetics approach. And what I want to do with with my book is to take Dawkins, who is a biologist, and inject some psychology and some sociology and some anthropology into it. And when you put all those disciplines into it, it really comes off, I think, very rich and accessible to readers in a way that they know perhaps memetics turns people off. 

In other words, the metaphor is so useful. It’s such a rich metaphor. You can really go with it. 

Yes. The more I explored this, T.J., the deeper it got. I could not believe how well it worked. I thought at first I was kind of cute ideas. I started just writing an article on the whole thing and then I realized, wow, there’s there’s a lot more to this than I initially anticipated. So it’s I think it’s a very deep metaphor and it is a metaphor. I’m not I don’t claim in the book that religion is a real virus. You can put under a microscope, but it’s no more of a virus or less a virus than the kind you get on your computer either. Hmm. All those almost metaphors seem to help us understand things. And that’s what I hope to accomplish in the book. 

So, Daryl, using this metaphor of the virus, that’s how you kind of get into accounting for how religion is so contagious. It has to have this efficient means of spreading. You talk about kind of vectors in epidemiology and, you know, translating that as a metaphor in how religion is propagated. 

Right. And it’s remarkable when you when you go down the list of characteristics of biological pathogens, how it can be germs or viruses or or parasites, strategies with which biological organisms, in fact, look remarkably similar to the strategies that religions used to infect minds. For example, our immune systems are most immature when we’re young. So we tend to get lots of colds and other diseases. And in primitive culture, most children died. I mean, the majority of people die before they were four years old. Some kind of a disease. In most cases. Well, guess what? We get religion when we’re children, too, when our immune system, a rational immune system, is immature and incapable of discriminating. 

That’s when we’re most susceptible to being infected by the virus of God. And the great virus. 

Absolutely. And you almost always get the virus that your parents had. It’s very rare that you don’t get the virus your parents had as a child. So it tells us it’s passed down. Much like, say, the HIV virus can be passed down from the mother to the child through the birth canal. You know, I think you can get you get religion from your parents primarily. In fact, I think the whole idea of religion being communicable inside of a community, it’s like I get H1N1 swine flu from other people in my community. The NY H1N1 is not in my community. I can’t get it. And religion’s the same way. If I have no Scientologists in my community, it’s going to be hard for me to catch Scientology. Of course, the Internet’s kind of changing that right. 

These days there are social networking ways of spreading viruses, and I think that’s radical. 

I think that’s something we’re gonna have to start accounting for, that people can catch up, literally catch a religious virus from put on the other side of the Earth through the Internet. 

Before we get into that, let’s just back up a bit and continuing with this metaphor of the God virus. Well, some people, you and me, for instance, you know, some people are immune to the God virus. What accounts for that? Are we do we just have a different makeup fluke of nature? Or were we inoculated somewhere? 

Well, I’m not I don’t think I’ve got all the answer to that one, but it’s remarkable that some people resist it even. And I’ve met people who were raised in religious homes and it never seemed to take. But I think there are personality variables. There’s clearly personality variables in play here, even though the personality research and psychology is a bit mixed on whether religiosity can be predicted from personality variables. But first, there’s five basic personality variables, and the one variable seems to correlate at least it correlates inversely with religiosity is openness to new experiences. So people who are open and curious to new experiences have the least religiosity or at least susceptible. So I think a child born even in a highly religious family or her religious culture who has that that characteristic of openness to new experiences is probably less likely to be infected. 

Jim Underdown, I know a lot of folks, they might not be traditionally religious, but they’re certainly not immune to the God virus. They you know, they’ve been infected with some notion of some kind of God, maybe new agers or something. But Derald, they’re very open to new experiences. They’re not closed minded, you know, type of folks. Right. And yet they’re not immune to the God virus. 

Heavens, no. And they can they can be infected. I mean, it’s amazing to watch people, I think, throughout a life cycle if you watch them through their life cycle. How often often things happen to them, say, the death of a spouse, a child, a serious illness themselves. At that point, they become susceptible to suggestion, if you will. And God, viruses were generally right there to infect someone. Someone who’s been not not particularly religious or maybe in New Age will suddenly become evangelical or fundamentalist as a result of some stressful life experience. And that’s when their rational immune system is let down. At least that’s the way I analyze it in the book. 

There’s something really powerful about that metaphore. I, I definitely see the the elegance of that metaphor. It works for me, my own kind of personal history. I was an evangelical or kind of more fundamentalist than that as a teenager. And it really tracks along with what you just said. Religion may be my in quotes, rational immune system was weak at the time and religion really found a way to infect. Now, I should also say, though, that it wasn’t this horrible experience. You know, it worked for me. So that that virus. Kind of there was almost a symbiotic relationship. The religion into which I was so steeped, really extreme kind of version of fundamentalism for a number of years. It paid off in very real ways. So is it your position that the virus is always a bad thing? 

Well, I would I would be unaligned to try and say that. But I will say that on a spectrum, you know, you have to take a spectrum of scale, if you will, say some religions obviously are more harmful, more parasitic, more virulent than other religions are. And I think on the whole fundamentalist kinds of religions in United States, whether it’s fundamentalism, Protestantism or fundamentalism, Catholicism or, you know, in Saudi Arabia, fundamentalist Islam, those are fairly parasitic. And by parasitic, I mean, a parasite really doesn’t care if you live or die. All the parasite wants to do is get to the next host of the malaria parasite, wants to get from me to you by way of a mosquito, if you will. Well, religion, fundamentalist type religion, strongly fundamentalist ones don’t care if you live or die. Hence, you get suicide bombers and you get Catholic priests and nuns. Catholic priests and nuns don’t literally kill themselves, but they do commit genetic suicide. They do not replicate themselves. 

So if this kind of religion is bad for you, you argue repeatedly in your book that it is you know, your metaphor is that the virus is its violent nature. In other words, is what lets it persist. Right. This notion of it being like a virus, that really explains why it’s still around, even if it’s not serving people’s real needs, genetic needs, as you just mentioned, maybe, you know, with priests and nuns or suicide bombers. So your metaphor of religion being a virus, God, belief being violent explains why it’s around, even if it’s not serving our purposes. 

Yes. And we also realize that some viruses stay hidden in our immune system, for example, a chicken pox virus, and they can stay hidden. So, you know, when I hear people saying, well, liberal religion isn’t that bad or moderate religion isn’t that. And I really think of that as a virus that’s just kind of staying hidden. But at any given time, you look back through history, if a religion has the ability to grab the reins of power. It almost always does. Even religions that appear to be fairly innocuous, once given the opportunity to grab reins of power will and can’t do that. So we always have to be vigilant about the God virus. It may look benign. You know, shingles is the result of the chicken pox virus in adulthood, and it’s much worse than chicken pox. 

Well, I wouldn’t know. I don’t have it. Thank goodness. 

But my understanding of it is that it’s it’s just much worse than chicken pox. So if it comes back in adulthood, it really, you know, followups you and you’re suggesting the same metaphorically for religion. Maybe there’s a, you know, lesser variety of the God virus. But within it, you know, that it could it could just take off and become a more dangerous strain. 

Absolutely. Absolutely. It could. And I think that religions are constantly evolving, metamorphosing, if you will, moving in response to the cultural changes around it. So it’s just like any other biological virus changing to try and adapt and survive within a particular ecosystem. And you see these changes every now and then. One change can really have a have a powerful impact. And, you know, H1N1 can can mutate just a little bit and suddenly it becomes lethal. Religion could do the same thing. I mean, if you look at what appeared to be a pretty benign Catholicism or low level Catholicism in northern Europe up through the Middle Ages, and all of sudden Martin Luther comes along with a new mutation and it just takes over the entire northern Europe and causes vast wars to kill millions of people. That’s that’s a pretty lethal virus right there. And you could look at Islam as the same way. It just was a mutation of something that really got out of control fast. It swept the western eastern world, rather a much like the plague swept through the late Roman Empire and on through the Middle Ages. 

Daryl, I want to back up a bit and talk more about inoculating oneself against this virus. I remember speaking with Susan Blackmore or maybe it was Daniel Dennett on this point. I can’t remember. But but both of them have argued that a great way to inoculate yourself to the religion virus is actually to steep yourself in religion, to study it, not as a believer, but, you know, kind of just culturally. Right. So there’s nothing like learning about many different religions. They’ve argued to make you skeptical of all of them. And that, of course, juts up against Dawkins position that children should never learn religion or maybe his is more nuanced than that now. 

But. Well, I. I tend to believe the more you study religion, the more skeptical you’re going to be. And if you start and I’m mostly concerned, I used to work with families and children. I’m really concerned about how children are infected. And I think if parents are concerned about it, the more they expose kids to a wide variety of ideas and religious ideas at an early age, the less likely they are to grow up and be infected. What you’re doing is you’re really giving them the antibodies to these irrational things. You’re helping them see the rational side. Critical thinking around religion. 

So you side with Dawkins when he rails against indoctrinating children in a religious worldview. But you’re all for teaching children many different religions, kind of from an academic or even skeptical perspective. 

You know, I would take children if I was it. I’m not a parent. I mean, a parent now. I mean, my children are all grown up. But if I were having young children right now, I think I’d be taking them around and let them. Tom Behi and some Buddhists and some Catholics and some Baptists really get a good sampling of all these just really in give him an opportunity to see it and then sit down and talk with him. What what are the beliefs of these various groups and let the child come to their own conclusions? I remember when I took my two kids to Salt Lake City and we went to the Mormon Tabernacle and this young girl comes out who’s not much older than my daughter, and she keep telling us all about Mormonism. And I just let it go on and on and on. And then I ask a few questions that the girl was taken back and she couldn’t answer the questions generally. And I let the kids, my kids ask a few questions and then, you know, we walked away. We spent the next two days talking about what that girl was trying to tell us. Wow. It was really a great experience. They I think they were inoculated against Mormonism. 

So back then, did you have this metaphore you were seeing? Really? Begin with. In other words, were you thinking you were building up your children’s antibodies to religion? 

No. I only wish I had. I wish I’d been much more intentional. This was in the early 80s that I was doing this. I was still married, still on a family structure that required lots of religiosity, even though I would probably have said I was an agnostic. My family wanted, you know, my extended family and my wife wanted to raise the children in some religious setting. So I acquiesced on that. I don’t think I’d do that today. 

Yeah, you didn’t you weren’t seeing religion as a virus that needed to be eradicated at the time. It’s now. 

Not at the time. I wish I did and wish that I had my book 20 years ago to read. I think I would change my mind about some things. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can get a copy of Vegard Virus, How Religion Infects Our Lives and our Culture through our website point of inquiry dot org. Daryl, you were just talking about earlier on not seeing religion through this lens of it being like a virus and that earlier on you might have described yourself as an agnostic. I take it now you’re a little more descriptive on the atheist side. Right. Before we continue with your book, just tell me some about that process. How do you go from an agnostic father who brought your kids up in some church, for whatever reason, to writing a book called The God Virus? 

Well, I’d have to go a lot farther back, T.J.. I was raised in a very fundamentalist home in Wichita, Kansas, which, of course, has been in the news media, unfortunately. And my parents eventually, as they retired, became missionaries. I mean, that’s how committed they were and how fundamentalist they were. So I was raised in that calm environment. I did get a degree in sociology and anthropology at the Bathory level and then went on to get a masters degree in the ministry. I thought I was going to be a minister. I had a lot of religiosity in me at that point in time, although I was probably a pretty strong believer in evolution, even as I know it sounds crazy, but I was a fundamentalist and still evolutionist at the same time. 

Well, there are just a few of those right? Even now, even though even now there are there are few. 

But as a as I went through my education, I realized I couldn’t stand up and preach something. I didn’t believe myself, I, I never I never actually went into the ministry. I preached a little bit, taught a lot of Sunday school, sang in the choir that stuff, and went back and got my doctorate in psychology. Never really gone back into the church at all. 

So you educated yourself out of that fundamentalism? 

Yes. Yes. And I think early on reading Bertrand Russell, I read Bertrand Russell when I was still in college. I think Bertrand Russell put some big question marks in my head. Well, that at last, even until the day I think Bertrand Russell’s amazing was an amazing philosopher and observer of human behavior in life. 

Yeah. One of my favorite writers, too. And I love that you mentioned, you know, taking a doctorate in psychology led you to become kind of a skeptic on these religious points. I’m reminded of Dieter, the Enlightenment, fewer self detro his line. There’s nothing like a good Jesuit education to make you an atheist. Well, yeah. You got a real education in psychology. Made you a religious skeptic. 

Yes, absolutely. Mm hmm. 

Getting back to your book. Not only do you talk about God belief being like a virus, you get into all the peripheral issues, you know, kind of the personal implications of seeing God or religion like a virus. You also talk about sex and sexual ethics, and I want to zero in on that. Now, how does guilt in in your view, how does guilt over sex play into your notions of religion being like a virus? In other words, it’s part of the God virus or the religion virus to have a lot to say about sex. 

Every major religion uses sex in some way, shape or form to indoctrinate and create guilt and fearing people. I mean, just named. There’s no major religion that doesn’t use that, including religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Mm hmm. Well, you might get the argument from some people about Buddhism. 

Yeah. A lot of people imagine, oh, Buddhism is kind of very liberal and open minded. But I like to remind people that even the Dalai Lama is against homosexuality and gay marriage and believes that, you know, homosexual acts are inappropriate. I wouldn’t say sinful given his given his age. But, you know, it’s not that you can be a free thinker and just a easygoing Buddhist if you take that line. Exactly. They’re still wrapped around sex. Right. 

Right. So what you to ask the question, what makes sex so important to religion? What is the relationship between sex and religion? There is no apparent connection until you realize. That sex is such a powerful drive, if religion can capture that and use it in some way, that gives religion a huge advantage over other possible social organizing principles or means, if you will. And so what religion does is very early on teaches you certain things are wrong. For example, masturbation is wrong. Well, it’s such a powerful human drive. Every human’s going to do it or almost every human is going to do it. So once you’ve been taught it’s wrong, you do it anyway because you’re a biological primate, then you have to do something about that. But the cognitive dissonance is is enormous. And that that is expressed in the form of guilt. So the only place you can get rid of that guilt is in your particular religion. You know, a Protestant doesn’t go and confess to an immoral and a Moslem doesn’t go confess to a priest. You can only confess to your particular religious God virus, Representative Vector, if you will. 

So the guilt over sex actually increases the hold that the virus has on someone? 

Yes, because every time you do it, you have to go back and get forgiveness. You have to read the Bible more. You have to give more money. You have to confess your sins. You have to go to finish school. You have to do something to relieve yourself of the guilt from having done this horrible thing related to sex, whatever that is. Mm hmm. So if you consider guilt and you can tie that to sex, then it forces people to come back over and over and over again to their religion at times. And there’s there’s no escape. And at the same time, it forces incredibly bad showering practices on people. It interferes with sexual relationships with people. I mean, many, many a person sexual. As a psychologist, I’ve sat in an office and listen to how much religion screws up people’s sexual relationships. 

So you’re a therapist. You’re not just kind of a developmental psychologist or something like that. 

Well, I’m an organizational psychologist right now. 

But you’ve heard of the impact. You’ve heard firsthand of the impact of this guilt stuff. 

Well, I was I was in clinical practice for about 12 years before I went into organizational. So I know from both from both sides, if you will. And I just see how people’s sex lives have been screwed up. And you hear I’ve heard these stories for years, not just in the in the therapy room, but in interpersonal relationships and talking to people about this whole God virus issue. One thing that happened as a result of writing this book is I’ve just gotten hundreds of emails from people saying, wow, this explains why I have these feelings, whether they be sexual or emotional around around things. I had no idea they’d been so program in this in this way. I get e-mails from heterosexual people, from homosexual people who have a Catholic priest email me several times. And the funniest story he would he said when he was going through seminary, he got about 30 days before he had to masturbate and then he’d masturbate. And you think, oh, my God. Go to hell. If I if I don’t confess, we’d run straight over to the Capitol and find a priest and confess. And this went on for eight years. Throughout it it was kind of funny, but it’s tragic at the same time. 

But it’s really seems to vindicate your use of the metaphor. 

Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve gotten so much vindication or verification, if you will. 

So we’ve talked about sex. You’re used to this metaphor to explain a lot of these characteristics of religion, of God belief. But isn’t Derrell almost every cultural idea in society that spreads from one person to another? Isn’t, you know, every one of them similarly, like a virus. You seem to only, in other words, be using the virus metaphor to zero in on religion. Yeah, but it applies really to every kind of idea that spreads, right? 

Well, I think I think I try to focus on the parasitic aspects and that’s why I use the word virus that could have called it a God parasite or a God germ that I wanted to show something that everybody understands. Everybody understands what a virus is. Everybody’s had a virus on their computer and they know it’s not good. It tries to take over your computer. Well, our brains are a computer. There are insidious viruses that want to take over our brain. Some are even biological. If you think about rabies, tries to take over your brain when religion does the same thing or talk. 

So what is it? Toxoplasma. Right. 

God in cats cytoplasmic Condee does the same thing. So I try to discriminate. I think there’s three ways to look at and kind of we’re getting into memetics at this point, but there’s the benign meems or the benign ideas like the hula hoop that was pretty benign idea and swept the country and it probably had some positive effects. And people get more exercise, but it died. It didn’t come back very strong. You really. It’s just not a very strong idea. That stuck around. 

Right. Even if I have a hoop, it’s not because, you know, the hula hoop virus has infected everybody. 

So it’s benign. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you get beneficial ideas like, you know, the concept of algebra. That’s a pretty darn beneficial idea. And that propagates from one mind to the next mind and geometry and history and all the all the academic studies. A lot of them are are ideas that are propagating. But they’re not viral. They’re not parasitic. They don’t try to make you stop reproducing. They don’t try to tell you how to conduct your sexual life. Mm hmm. So in the middle and between these two extremes of benign and beneficial, we have the parasitic. And I think where religion falls clearly in that area. That’s not to say there’s not other parasitic ideas. I’m quite convinced there are. 

Yeah. Nationalism, let’s say. Absolutely. A kind of super greedy version of capitalism. Something like that. 

Yeah. And I also think Marxism is a is a parasitic religious idea, actually. Sure enough. You know, I talk about that in the book. 

But you’re zeroing in on religion as a virus because you think that causes the most harm. Right. Let me ask you. Do you think there could be a skepticism virus? I guess what I’m really asking is how can we make skepticism or critical thinking more contagious? Do we need to package it more like a virus? 

Well, you know, we have one big disadvantage as skeptics, and that is skepticism is not an organizing principle. Mm hmm. 

Yeah, it’s very hard to get people together in a movement around the common thing. You don’t believe in. 

Yes. Right. Right. And that’s why is such a poor organizing principle to it. It just you know, there is no anti Santa Claus club. And that was that’s kind of what an atheist club is. It’s an anti God. 

Well, you make me chuckle to myself because, you know, I’ve traveled the country. I’ve met with all sorts of interesting folks who care about these issues. And Darryl, I have bumped into people who whose idea of a good time is just to excite in God. We trust on all their dollar bills. The only thing that unites them is their lack of belief in God. Not my idea of how to spend my three score years and ten on the planet. 

But, you know, there are people who just focus on that, you know, yet another reason why God doesn’t exist. You’re saying there’s more to it than that? 

I do. I do. And I think there’s a lot for us to charta explore around humanism. I think humanism has got some organizing principle that we can all at least discuss. We may not agree on what humanism is. But there are some organizing principles there. But they’re not strong organizing principles like the Catholic Church has or Islamic faith has. We do have that disadvantage Jim Underdown. 

Right. We can’t really go door to door and say a smile. There is no God. Please join us. Right. When you’re dead, you know you’re dead and all your projects go to dust. And by the way, join our movement. That’s a hard case to make. 

Right. And in reading the book, I was trying to at least explain to people what we as a group are up against because the book is generally focused on those who are vulnerable to to nonbelievers. I don’t try to to eliminate people who are spiritual or new age or that sort of stuff, reading the book. But I do think that those of us who are not so done, in fact, with fundamentalism need to look at how do we deal with fundamentalists in our lives and in our world. 

Well, that really brings up this whole notion of the new atheists and the kind of the new agenda to be kind of out and proud as an atheist. We talked earlier about inoculating ourselves to the God virus. We’ve talked a little about spreading the skepticism virus, you know, the challenges inherent in that. But, you know, when you use the word virus, you know, it’s kind of a scary sounding word. You’re really saying religion is a bad thing as a virus. It’s almost like a public health imperative to eradicate it. It’s not just a matter of, you know, staying easy, going about your neighbor who’s going around infecting people with this virus. You say there’s something we should be doing about it. 


Although I’m not I’m not advocating elimination of any belief system. I don’t I’m not into thought control or mind control. That’s not what I’m suggesting in the book. I’m suggesting that we as nonbelievers need to stand our ground, need to understand what it what it’s like to be infected. And I try to use the metaphor in two ways. If you have a cold and I’m trying to communicate with you, I’m probably going to take that into consideration. I must say, you know, DJ Grothe not feeling too good. I need to talk slower. I need to not overwhelming with information I probably don’t want irritating. 

And I think we should think about the same in the same way with somebody who was infected with religion, all too often I see atheists or nonbelievers irritating and attacking people who are infected with religion. And all they get is more is more defensiveness from that person coming from the infection. 

Yeah, right. So why do you want to keep. I make in my presentations when I talk about this, I ask how many people have gotten to an argument with a religious person. Almost everyone holds her hands up. And I ask, how many of you won the argument? And almost nobody keeps their hands. You can’t win an argument with a virus. You can’t argue. I cannot argue with your cold virus and I can’t argue with a religious virus. 

I love that line that I simply have to make a T-shirt that says that you can’t win an argument with a virus. So, Daryl, if you can’t win an argument with a virus, how do you respond to it? I bet many folks, while just looking at your books sales figures, many folks are going to be alarmed by the God virus, what your book is like, the number one title in its category on Amazon.com. Yes, right. But the question is, so you can’t win an argument with the virus. But if someone wants to go out and try to immunize others from the God virus, what should they do? 

Well, first of all, let me raise your own children. Make sure you’re properly immunized. And here’s something I find a lot of people don’t realize is you were raised in a religious culture. You’re probably still affected by some of this stuff. So look inside yourself. And a lot of times people get upset and defensive because they haven’t dealt with their own crap. Their own religious upbringing are still mad about something. And I think that’s charity starts at home. Let’s start looking at ourselves first. So yourself and your children. And then the third thing is, is it really your job on the face of this earth to convert people? Or is it your job to influence people? 

Okay. But I challenge you a bit there. Look, you’ve done all this work fleshing out the metaphor of belief in God being like a virus. If it’s so similar to a virus, well, is it really my job to go out and help people not catch the flu? Well, there is a public health obligation, you know, to prevent the spread of disease. You’re likening religious belief to a disease. Right. So obviously, we’re mixing metaphors when you talk, converting vs. inoculating. But isn’t there an imperative to inoculate people, you know, far and wide from the God virus? 

OK, I yes, I think there is an imperative, but it’s the method that you use. Right. I mean, I remember at one point time when somebody got sick, they drank their blood out of. 

And they thought that might help them. Right. Right. 

I think nonbelievers have the equivalent technique. And it does not work. Don’t go out there and argue with a religious person. You’re not going to change their mind anymore. That they’re going to change your mind. Mm hmm. So let’s change the techniques and let’s change the focus. The focus should not be on I mean, I keep I’m going to keep arguing with you until you either leave me or you convert to the way I think. That’s not going to get anybody anywhere. Or you can say, I’m going to listen to you and listen to you as a human being. I’m going to interact with you in a compassionate way. And I’m not given any or God virus. For example, I use this example in the book. If somebody comes to you and says, I prayed for my daughter and she got she got well, you could say, well, prayer, doesn’t he? Or anybody, and they’ll just irritate him. Or you can say, man, I hear you really concerned about your daughter’s health. Now, that’s two different messages. And you focus on the emotional issue, your daughter’s health, you’re scared to death about your daughter’s health. That’s a human thing. And if we as as nonbelievers stay focused on the human side of the communication, not on the God virus, say the communication. We are much more likely to at least influence that person. It will not create a defensive war between you and the other person and destroy the relationship. 

You’re suggesting focus on the on the relationship and not on, you know, bludgeoning someone over the noggin with you being right as a nonbeliever. And that’s the best way to begin to inoculate people from the God virus. Right. 

Quite frankly, the person who is in pain doesn’t care if you’re an atheist or not. They care that you’re listening to them and you care for them as a human being. And I think that’s something we need to remember. Focus on the human part of it. And you’re much more likely to to create the opportunity to influence somebody. 

Thanks very much, Darryl Ray, for joining me on the show. 

Well, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me, DJ Grothe. 

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Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved with an online conversation about today’s show. Join the online discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the Center for Inquiry’s views, nor the views of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting the Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded from St. Louis, Missouri, Point of Inquiries. Music is composed us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailing. Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.