On Saturday, March 20, a long-awaited lecture took place in the patio room of Vista del Monte. Dr. Darrel Ray, prominent author of The God Virus and founder of the Recovering from Religion program, gave a down-to-earth speech to a group of around 100 people about the controversial issues of the “infection” of religion, sexual guilt, indoctrination, and blind faith. The talk, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Humanist Society, began with presentations by the organization’s leaders followed by a speech by Dr. Ray and then a short, yet spirited, Q&A session.
Darrel W. Ray, a former preacher, began the lecture with a satire on traditional preaching style after which he, as a practicing hypnotherapist, discussed the hypnotic methods that many preachers and priests may employ during a sermon. With the guest list including Humanist Society members, members of the Freethinkers of Ventura County, as well as curious observers, the room was filled with skeptical and analytical minds.
Ray, reportedly inspired by Richard Dawkins’s Viruses of the Mind, told the story of his mission to understand the behavior of religious believers and the religious leaders who perpetuate what he calls the “God Virus.” Ray addressed in detail the virus metaphor conceptualized in his new book, his fundamentalist upbringing, and even the history of some religions from a phenomenological approach. The similarities in the beliefs and behaviors between different religious groups (including Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and Scientologists) drove Dr. Ray, he said, to research the fundamental psychology behind the actions of a believer. He directly addresses the underlying theme in his book by asking, “Why can every religious person point out the inconsistencies in everybody else’s religion, but be oblivious to the flaws in their own?”
Analyzing the impact of religion on modern humanity, Ray expounds on his virus metaphor by explaining that the “God Virus“ works in a similar fashion to the rabies virus and even the rhinovirus that causes the common flu: A church is able to continually propagate, “infecting” the lives of one generation to the next, just like the flu forces the infected person to sneeze in order to further spread the disease. “The God Virus, like other sicknesses,” Ray explains, “infiltrates the body when you are young and your ‘rational immune system’ is underdeveloped or weak.”
Ray conveyed his message with clarity, intelligence, and relevance to the eager group, bringing up studies such as the supposed negative correlation between religiosity and IQ. He also provided advice about on how to communicate with religious people in a proactive manner, and even discussed how to — with a positive outcome — recover from a religious past.