Ye olde meme

When Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in 1976, he had no idea that it would explode like it did in the internet era.

Neither did he know that memes existed in the prayerbooks of Anglo-Saxon England.

Here is an interesting writeup by Kate Thomas of the University of York about Anglo-Saxon memes, much in the “share or you will die in 10 days” mould. Of course, similar benedictions are to be found in every world religion, threatening people with hell or extreme punishment for not doing an unusually specific activity. This kind of meme has like the very word made a major comeback in the 21st century, but this time taken ironically rather than seriously.

It could be argued that religion in itself is a meme in that one is believed to gain a spot in heaven by doing certain things, whether believing in Jesus as lord and saviour of mankind or abstaining from pork. And like these memes, many people now refuse to take religion seriously and those that do are mocked. The extreme legalism seen in many sects could be the reason why. Practices that even theologians are at a loss to explain are said to get you a ticket into heaven. Many of these practices don’t even appear in the main texts, and are customs for the sake of it.


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