An ant climbs up a blade of grass, then falls down but keeps coming back up the blade, over and over again for no apparent reason and for no benefit to itself…why? It ends up that there is no biological reason for the ant to act like this, but it does because it has been commandeered by a tiny parasite, the Lancet Fluke, which needs to get itself into the belly of a cow or sheep in order to complete its reproductive cycle. The Lancet Fluke parasite is leading and compelling the ant into a subordinate position to its own need and the need of its offspring. Are there other hitchhiker parasites that can infect other species just for the benefit of the guest and not the host?
According to a new book by Daniel C. Dennett, (philosopher and co-director of Tufts Center for Cognitive Studies) titled “Breaking the Spell – Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” this parasite phenomena also takes place in human beings, they are called Concepts! Dennett draws this parallel between a worm and an idea, and even though ideas are not organisms like worms that can invade a host, but are created by the mind and can act in the same manner as a parasite in terms of taking over the brain for it’s own purposes. Not only that, but “ideas and concepts can spread from mind to mind like a parasite, surviving translation between different languages, hitchhiking on songs and icons and statues, coming together in unlikely combinations in particular people’s heads, where they give rise to yet further new creations, bearing family resemblances to the ideas that inspired them but adding new features, new powers as they go.”
So what happens when these parasitic ideas as concepts have their own agenda, one that is independent from the health and well being of the person it is in? What happens when concepts obsess the brain and their own cause becomes more important that of the individual host? What happens when these ideas and concepts encompass religious belief and the issue of faith?
Dennett seems to be dealing with some of these questions in his book by asking more questions concerning why human beings have the instinct to adhere to religious and spiritual doctrines, though he does not seem to be attacking religion outright. His subject is why people believe in religious doctrine in this day in age that are capable of causing repugnant behavior, like war, suicide, political domination, child abuse and the abuse of women.
His subject is not dealing with the existence of God or even why any one individual personally believes in God, but focuses on how and why people adopt religious dogmas, particularly when they may be harmful to the person who holds them. He is more interested in the “Belief in Belief” which can result in fixated religious convictions.
So, can religious beliefs and dogma that harm individuals be considered like parasites that take over a host mind and act for the benefit of the belief and not the individual?
My personal history in ISKCON would believe me to say, yes this is very possible. I would not say this is true for everyone involved in religious institutions like ISKCON, but it can help explain what happens when an institution loses track of its purpose of helping facilitate a persons search for self, higher truths and the concept of GOD, and instead becomes a religious belief making business, focusing on looking for converts and confirmation of their own beliefs, imparting information that may not be of particular benefit to the individual, but only to the institution. I would say that many religious institutions active today are in the belief business, imparting mental parasites, asking people to adopt various religious and metaphysical beliefs, not to mention psychological notions like high self esteem, trust and a sense of worth. These beliefs as parasites then drive their own agendas, making a person believe that they now belong to the one and only truth, and that if you follow those particular rules and practices being taught, that then you are right and now only good things will transpire for the good of self and the world. It answers questions of Birth, Life and Death, with a historical party line and offers a comradeship of fellow believers in that particular business of belief. In this belief business, one has to have the right belief because the stakes are high. You are compelled to hold on to them tightly for dear life or suffer the consequences of all the bad things that exist outside in the dark world that does not share the one truth that you now have.
This is not to say that one should not have a spiritual faith or belong to a religion or believe in God. No, this is just stating that once you are free of having to believe in anything, you are then free to believe in anything you choose and want. One could adopt traditional or non-traditional methods of religion, politics, economics, metaphysics or psychology and not be guided by an obligation to a belief that is not having any benefit to you personally anymore. Kill the parasites within and climb the blade of grass because you want to or get off the damn stalk if it does not serve you or society in general. This may explain why with maturity, many people here at Gaudiay Repercussions have left ISKCON or Gaudiya Vaisnavism completely, while others may have stayed or kept one foot in and one foot out. It may be that after finally choosing their faith and spiritual conviction, many went back to being practicing Vaisnavas, trying to reform the historical mess of child and women abuse and political unrealized Guruship that has fouled something so idealistically promising.
Once the parasite concept has left you as a person, you will no longer find yourself serving a cause that is a detriment to yourself anymore and you may then choose freely to be true to yourself and be open to whatever truth becomes freely realized internally, with the realization that yes, you can change your mind, your faith, your direction or even go back to where you started from with a deeper understanding of why you chose that faith in the first place. Freedom to choose and create your life based on strong underlying realized structures that are not based on fear or what someone has chosen for you, seems to be a good way to ensure that no parasites exist within and that your faith is a healthy one, no matter what form or traditon it may take.