Few mechanisms for propaganda distribution are as easy, seamless and effective as propaganda from the pulpit. When messaging is combined with an authority figure who “speaks for God” from behind a pulpit to a congregation of willing participants, a narrative illusion can be created with shocking results. Memes are replicators. They are copied with variation and selection and therefore have replicative power. Memes compete for their own survival, not solely for the benefit of their host, because memes exist outside their host. Religious elements, mental representations, cultural variants, and culturally contagious ideas are memes. Religion fits within the memetic template. Most variations thrive at the expense of others. Faith is deeply rooted in kinship through familial and communal relations. The beliefs and practices of prosocial religions generate increased reproductive and economic success, which in turn, aids intergroup competition. Successful groups thrive, expand, mutate, and are imitated by less successful collectives. Secular memes, such as universal suffrage, sexual equality, human rights, humility, and generosity, can be understood by different denominations and, in fact, are almost universally shared with other religions, because most religions imitate the successfully transmitted memes of other faiths without replication of the failed memes. Even the lack of belief or the rise of secularism can be explained through analysis of the competition of transmitted memes within a society, the cultural niches available to those memes, and the secular pressures on them. Population size and opportunities for spreading competing memes will have substantial effects on the size of the meme pool and the strength of selection pressure within it. Relevant factors include the ubiquity of education, the availability of education, the pervasiveness of freedom of speech, the independence of the media, and the utilization of technology capable of rapidly disseminating new memes. That said, memetic competition often overcomes secular influence. For example, traditional Islamic values clash with secular ones. According to Susan Blackmore, “At the extreme, if there is a battle between secular institutions and sharia law, it will not be decided by the genetic advantage of religious groups, because the process would be too slow. It will be determined by memetic competition” [48].

Online platforms have expanded both the number of religious vectors and the ease at which religious materials can be disseminated. Religious figureheads preach from Facebook, YouTube, and nearly every other social media platform. Spiritual organizations fundraise on practically every digital vector. In an objective sense, members of congregations are indoctrinated to their communities centered on charismatic figureheads. These community leaders influence audiences through effective communication, concise messaging, and selective fearmongering or reassurances. Digital religious outlets proffer answers to questions, reassurances against reality, and the promise of change, often for a price. Obviously, genuine religious leaders exist; however, many online manipulators are charlatans intent on fiscally or politically benefiting from the susceptibility of their audience. These operators regularly demand tithes, collect donations to their personal LLCs and S-Corps, and sell their congregation’s information received via email and surveys. Memes, especially “like and share” variants, are transmitted on social media to maintain persistent relevancy in the daily lives of the target demographic and to recruit new members via socionic connections. These opportunistic leaders and institutions rely on many of the aforementioned psychological tricks, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies, rather than strictly adhering to the core tenets of their religion. For example, Islam relies heavily on meme tricks that are prevalent in the pro-social faiths: threats; promises; the beauty trick (linking religious memes with awe-inspiring music and art); the altruism trick (persuading believers that they are right by virtue of being believers, supporting other believers or spreading the faith); and admonitions to have faith, not doubt [48].

People subscribe to religion either because it resonates with their worldview, it provides them a sense of purpose, or they were raised into it. In any case, the congregation is at the mercy of the leader’s influence attempts. Astute members may disagree on nuanced points or question aspects of the message, but they remain just as susceptible to mental programming via internalization as their less opinionated peers. Once the meme, the message of the sermon, is planted, it will take root in mind and begin to influence decision-making. As a result, leaders have a profound responsibility to disseminate only proactive content; however, due to the nature of competing religions and worldviews, proactive is relative. Acceptance or xenophobia carry the same potential in religious influence operations, as do numerous other societal and political issues. These subjects often manifest when leaders attempt to make their sermons relevant, when they are responding to an incident, or when they have a biased agenda. Worse, some leaders subvert the trust of their congregation by subjecting them to the wills of special interests by proselytization of prewritten sermons provided from online distribution networks [49].

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