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“This is Your Brain on Religion?”

by Dr. D ~ June 18th, 2009

The human brain

(picture via Wikipedia)

In an article on Monday in USA Today by Andrew Newberg, the author makes the following evaluation of religion:

“Faith can bring out the best in people (love, generosity, compassion) — and the worst (fear, hatred, violence). Whether people are the former or the latter depends on how they view the God they worship.”

Among the supposed ‘worse’ is an example of ‘strong negative feelings’ from Newburg’s youth:

“When I was in high school, I dated a girl whose family regarded themselves as "born-again" Christians. It was my first encounter with devoutly religious people who strongly disagreed with my perspective on faith. They were always pleasant to me, but they were quite clear that in their view I had deeply sinned by not turning to Jesus. Oh, and because of this, I was going to hell.”

Early on in the article he concludes that religion is generally a positive for those involved:

The research that I have come across, if not definitive, seems clear: Religion and spiritual practices generally have a positive effect on one’s physical, emotional and neurological health. People who engage in religious activities tend to cope better with emotional problems, have fewer addictions and better overall health. They might even live longer than those who lead more secular lives. Indeed, many studies document that religious and spiritual individuals find more meaning in life.

So far so good. But then he goes on to talk about what he considers to be ‘good’ for you religion verses a bad understanding of God which ends up being ‘bad’ for the brains of those involved. All the bad ‘dark side of religion’ examples he gives including the earlier high school example, are Christians with a decidedly Biblical view while the good folks seem to be those who have no definitive standards at all.

Most dangerous of all for me is his penchant for couching the whole thing in natural physiological terms and viewing the religious responses of people as due to their healthy or unhealthy understanding of God—which somehow according to the author actually ends up physically changing the brain.

In the end, Dr. Newburg has only the most superficial understanding and theology of God. The god he defines for himself as being ‘good for you’ and your brain has only the positive attributes of love, generosity and compassion. The ‘bad for you’ god is the one who asks for discipline and demands certain standards of living along with potential judgment.

Newburg’s god is not the God of the Bible which by his definition he would consider ‘bad’, nor the god of any other world religion—but really is a construct of his own convenient imagination—a religion of his own brain.            *Top

<<Here’s Dr. Albert Mohler’s take on the same article>>

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