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The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture

The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture


Dr. Darrel Ray, psychologist and lifelong student of religion, discusses religious infection from the inside out.

What makes religion so powerful? How does it weave its way into our political system? Why do people believe and follow obvious religious charlatans? What makes people profess deep faith even as they act in ways that betray that faith? What makes people blind to the irrationalities of their religion yet clearly see those of others? How does guilt play into religious infection? Why is sexual control so important to so many religions? What causes the anxiety and neuroticism around death and dying? If these questions interest you, this book will give you the tools to understand religion and its power in you, your family and your culture.

This book owes a great deal to Richard Dawkins’ concept of viruses of the mind, but it seeks to go a step further to personalize the concept of religion as a virus and show how these revolutionary ideas work in everyday life. The paradigm can explain the fundamentalism of your Uncle Ned, the sexual behavior of a fallen megachurch minister, the child rearing practices of a Pentecostal neighbor, why 19 men flew planes into the World Trade Center, or what motivates a woman to blow herself up in the crowded markets of Baghdad. Learn how religion influences sexuality for its own purposes, how and why it protects pedophile priests and wayward ministers, how it uses survivor guilt to propagate and influence, and how it might even influence a person’s IQ.


Introduction 11
Chapter 1: Religion As a Virus 17
Chapter 2: How Religions Survive and Dominate 35
Chapter 3: American Civil Religion 57
Chapter 4: God Loves You — The Guilt That Binds 83
Chapter 5: Sex and the God Virus 99
Chapter 6: The Myth of Unchanging Morality 117
Chapter 7: Jesus My Personal Savior: The Roots of American Evangelism 133
Chapter 8: Intelligence, Personality and the God Virus 161
Chapter 9: Understanding and Living With the God Virus 175
Chapter 10: The Journey: Living a Virus-Free Life 197
Chapter 11: The God Virus and Science 207
Chapter 12: The Future of an Illusion 221
Index 235


“Darrel Ray has made a marvelous contribution to our understanding of ourselves. The description of religion as a cultural virus is not new, Darrel is the first to put the virus on a slide and pull out the microscope. The God Virus goes beyond analogy, offering a fascinating and detailed look at the wiggling, maddening virus itself: how it moves, how it survives, and how and why it continues to thrive.”

— Dale McGowan, Harvard Humanist of the Year (2008), author/editor of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers

“The God Virus offers a unique and provocative framework that goes a long way toward understanding, and ultimately combatting, the pernicious religious mania of the human species.”

— Dan Barker, author of Losing Faith in Faith; Maybe Yes, Maybe No; Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong; and Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists

“For those hungering for more after reading the books written by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, Dr. Darrel Ray’s The God Virus is a logical and thought-provoking follow-up. By extending the metaphor of religion as a virus, the reader gets a better understanding of the incredible power religion can have on anyone’s way of thinking (Dr. Ray shows that even your IQ is negatively affected!). Lest anyone think this is just a putdown of religion, it also gives excellent advice on how to live life without a God, from marriage to raising children. It’s a book that nonbelievers will enjoy and religious readers can only dare to read.”

— Hemant Mehta author of I Sold My Soul on eBay

“Dr. Ray’s approach is nonconfrontational. He advocates understanding and tolerance. While his study is professionally founded, it is not overly technical. His writing is jargon-free, lucid, and accessible … He gets inside the American fundamentalist movement in ways which show that such entities have a life of their own, functioning as large-scale organisms which their individual members may not themselves understand or be aware of.”

— Earl Doherty, author of The Jesus Puzzle

“I am a religious person, a churchgoer. Nevertheless this one of a kind book is a vital reminder of the fact that we need to look objectively at what religion does to us.”

— Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God

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