Recently, Richard Dawkins, author of the Blind Watchmaker, suggested that religion was a virus.
Dawkins argued that the widespread presence of religion —despite its lack of obvious benefits—suggests that it was not an evolutionary adaptation. [...] Society provides a breeding ground for the “virus” of religion by labeling children with the religion of their parents. Children, in turn, absorb these beliefs because they are conditioned to do so.
Though it is universal, Dawkins said, religion is not widely beneficial. Rejecting the theory of many of his contemporaries, Dawkins argued that religion has not helped people to adapt or to survive. Beyond acting as a source of solace, religion provides no protection against diseases or physical threats.
“A person who is faced with a lion is not put at ease when he’s told that it’s a rabbit,” Dawkins said. Religion, in Dawkins’ view, not only provides false comfort—it is actively divisive and harmful. Designated as Christians or Muslims by their parents, children are apt to face the discrimination associated with these labels, Dawkins said. Dawkins pointed to the example of Protestant fundamentalists in Belfast spitting at young Catholic girls merely because their parents labeled them Catholic.