Abstinence Only. It’s Tradition.

When the word, “meme,” is brought up in conversation, most people think of internet memes such as “lolcats” or images of “planking”. However, memes affect so much more. They can be found on trivial web sites, but they can also be found in the Bible or behind the deepest fears of societies. Abstinence is one of the most transformative and infectious memes in our society, and has been for centuries. This meme has many affiliated memes that are interconnected to the religious codes that construct the abstinence meme. Celibacy is a theistic meme that uses the same theistic ideas that abstinence does, such as purity and respect. Marriage is another theistic meme that is passed down through generations due to the conditionings of previous generations. Susan Blackmore can relate many different religious memes, including abstinence, into a theistic “memeplex” that she identifies in many articles for the Journal of Memetics.

This meme creates a strict code of religious conduct that, if not followed properly, causes serious detriment to the dissident. The idea of abstinence can be found in religious texts and models throughout history, but for our purposes, we will focus on this meme as it is used in Christianity. Cultures have not (and do not) always practiced abstinence on a broad social level, so it must be assumed that at some point in history this meme was created and past down through generations. In an articleImage for the Journal of Memetics, Susan Blackmore cites the definition of memes created by Richard Dawkins, a famous  as “units of cultural transmission which ‘propagate themselves in the meme pool by … a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation’”.  

Abstinence is a meme because it is a cultural idea that is imitated by others in the same culture. However, this meme has changed over time. 100 years ago, abstinence was an extremely important component of society that, if ignored, would cause serious social indignation. It has been so widely replicated due to strong cultural reinforcement. The idea of abstinence is not individually learned. We are conditioned to accept and promote it from social learning. Over generations, the meme has been transmitted to others while also mutated to fit with new social standards. This variation has resulted in the abstinence meme losing imitators to propagate the meme.

Abstinence has been inserted itself into religious concepts and texts to ensure it’s propagation and survival. Memes and the meme theory built by Richard Dawkins is incredible in it’s ability to pinpoint the method of cultural transmission of things which societies take for granted. We, as humans, are capable of extremely complex imitation that is so subtle as to be unnoticeable in daily life. The meme theory proves how this is possible. However, the meme theory is also very broad. It can be difficult to decipher what is and is not a real meme. There are many forms imitation takes in humanity. Not all of these are memes, yet they can easily be classified into this category. The meme theory should be narrowed down in order to specify what it truly incorporates.

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