Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lived Religion on Atheist Meme Base

In this segment, I will be focusing on answering the following questions:
1.) What are the common visual and creative techniques seen in my sample? In other words, what are the common characteristics of content and stance?
2.) How do the common characteristics of content and stance impact how the memes communicate their message about religion?

Throughout my sample, I have noticed that the memes communicate using repackaging and imitation or obvious visual reference to Christianity. Repackaging and imitation is the re-telling of a joke or message with a slight alteration of a recognized form (Shifman, p 19). By "obvious visual reference to Christianity," I mean that something in the image tells you that the subject is Christianity before you read the text. When one reads the text of these memes, the stance of the creator on the religion of Christianity becomes visible. All 12 of the memes in my sample group focus on the contradictions of Christian beliefs to science, contradictions between different Bible verses, or contradictions between these Christian beliefs and the lived religion* of its followers. The memes seem to be sarcastic and ironic while focusing on the use of referential and phatic communication. Referential communication is oriented toward the context or the "outside world," while phatic communication "serves to establish, prolong, or discontinue communication" (Shifman, 41). The use of these two forms of communication points to the intention of invoking a reaction or discourse among those who read the memes. I believe that the sarcasm and irony of the text is intentional in order to help the reader remember what is being said, while the use of referential and phatic communication is meant to encourage the reader into thinking for themselves instead of blindly following what they have been taught.

*For the purpose of this research, lived religion is defined as the phenomena in which "language and images of the sacred become definitional tools to redefine contemporary life" (Heidi Campbell lecture, 30OCT14). I like to think of lived religion as how the everyday follower chooses to express their beliefs on a daily basis through action, attire, and text or spoken word.

In this meme, one may first recognize the background which originated in the advice animal memes. One may go on to notice the placement of God's head in the middle of the image, the usual position for the head of an advice animal. The name, the Advice God, is even an imitation of the Advice Animal title. For these reasons, this meme can be defined as a product of repackaging and imitation. The text points to the directions from God given in Exodus 31:15. The phrasing "or something" gives a hint of sarcasm to the meme while using the text to point out the irony of another Christian contradiction. The meme implies the question, "if God is really who Christians and the Bible say he is, why would he lie?"

This meme does not use the repackaging method, but instead chooses to use an image in which one can see the religious symbols. These images include the Bible in the man's hand and the worship area behind the man that is complete with the classic stained glass often seen in churches.The text is written as if the man has had a sudden epiphany about the faith he believes in. The man seems to have begun to slightly question his faith, which can easily lead to thinking for himself or the metaphorical opening of his eyes. Irony is again used to highlight the man's skin color and the topic of slavery as viewed in the bible. Irony also draws attention to the problem of supporting the words of the Bible without objectively studying them. Why would someone support the enslavement of their ethnic or cultural group? Why is it ok to discriminate against one group but not another? This ironic meme could quite easily provoke discourse within the reader's community.

 This meme also does not use the repackaging and imitation method. Instead, it uses an image from which one can easily determine that the focus is on Christianity due to the front-and-center placement of the Bible. However, it is a little clearer from the image that the point is hilarity or sarcasm than what can be seen in the images of the other sample memes. This meme allows the image to do more of the "talking" instead of using words to portray the sarcasm. The irony is still found in the contradiction of the two verses placed at the top and bottom of the image. The meme draws attention to a contradiction in the sacred text of  Christians in the expected sarcastic way.

The study of these memes has led to my conclusion of the Atheist Meme Base community's view of Christianity as that of a joke in the sense that it cannot truly be believed. The community also appears to use the memes to highlight their belief in the need to think before choosing to simply follow as well as to encourage inquisitive discourse. However, they use sarcasm and irony instead of direct accusation. This may be due to the idea that people will be less offended or more willing to listen if the content is displayed in a laughable manner.

Note: I have decided to add the second meme into my sample group, and I have removed one that no longer fits my criteria.

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