There is a short story on Reuters here about a new book, How God Changes Your Brain, by Andrew Newberg.

"In essence, when you think about the really big questions in life -- be they religious, scientific or psychological -- your brain is going to grow...It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu, or an agnostic or an atheist."

This could be argued, of course. I'd have to read the book first to know more details. However, the story also includes an assertion I find it hard to accept.

"Brain scanners show that intense meditation alters our gray matter, strengthening regions that focus the mind and foster compassion while calming those linked to fear and anger" and "a growth in the compassion that virtually every religion teaches and a decline in negative feelings and emotions."

My problem is the religious right. They don't seem all that "calm" or "compassionate" to me. Are they doing it wrong?

Tags: calm, faith, meditation, neurotheology, religious right

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I think that the claim of religion teaching compassion is bogus. If anything, religion teaches subjective compassion directed only towards individuals who share the religion. For me, true compassion is expressed regardless of cultural, social, or ideological differences.

Maybe the religious right doesn't receive the purported increase in gray matter in the compassion regions because they don't actually think about the "really big questions."

Who knows...but I agree, they are definitely doing something wrong, lol.
Regardless of either things effectiveness, I think the difference between how most people pray and meditation is huge - even if meditation does do what this book claims, that says nothing about what prayer should do to people, considering most people don't pray like people meditate. At least in my experience, and I have watched many people pray and meditate, and tried to do both seriously at one point in my life or another.

So yes, I would have to say they are doing it wrong, but I'm extremely skeptical as to whether or not doing it right would make a difference (by altering gray matter, etc).
Very few fundies do intense meditation.. after all They don't have to according to their ideology. All they have to do is accept Christ Crucified, get dunked under water, say the sinner's prayer and profess all this in public.

but people that do intense meditation actually do change their brain. There was a study that showed that Buddhists were the happiest people on the planet....(and they don't believe in an anthropomorphic deity)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3047291.stm
http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2009/08/17/how-god-or-more-prec...

"Some book titles are too good to pass up. “How God Changes Your Brain” is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg’s fourth book on “neurotheology,” the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like “Born to Believe” or “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn’t be “How God Meditation Changes Your Brain.” As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.

That’s not to say Newberg doesn’t have some interesting points to make in this book. His brain scans of meditating monks and praying nuns show that the frontal lobe — the area that directs the mind’s focus — is especially active while the amygdala — the area linked to fear reactions — is calmed when they go through their spiritual experiences. His studies show these brain regions can be exercised and strengthened, like building up a muscle through training. And his treatment of a mechanic with a faltering memory showed that a traditional Indian meditation method, even when stripped of its spiritual trappings, could bring about these changes in two months."
I have only begun to skim the book, but I am quite disappointed. My disappointment stems from the number of unsubstantiated assertions the authors make (a pet-peeve of mine) in concert with the idea that change in itself is good. So far, my primary argument would be that any mechanism that separates us from a tangible reality is a 'bad thing,' a deficit. The fact that people are more calm when entranced is not necessarily a good thing nor a validation of religion / god any more than drunk people are generally happier. The fact that neurons grow is not inherently a good thing if the neurons are growing to amplify an individual's capacity at delusion. Many of his subjects are studied while communing with the 'god' of their own brain - which they are all too happy to do. No wonder they're content. Now, take that personally-idyllic image and challenge it, threatened it, with the personally-idyllic image of another person and you've got a time-bomb on your hands - and, Poof! Right-out-the-window goes his theory of betterment and in comes the reality of strife. I am thus far convinced that the author has made an error in his conclusions.
"Brain scanners show that intense meditation alters our gray matter, strengthening regions that focus the mind and foster compassion while calming those linked to fear and anger . . ."

What kinds of tests did he presents that verified the growth of an abstract feeling like 'compassion' and the decline of feeling anger....?

Some anchorites spend their whole lives 'meditating'; yet don't seem to divine any great purpose to life or come up with any startling revelations--if they have, they keep it to themselves.
Great critical thinking, Willailla. I have had similar kinds of thoughts throughout my review of the book. I have so many such questions and demands for citations, evidence, examples, that I have polluted the margins of the book with commentary. I really wonder how this got as far as it did thru editors, etc. Positive assertions made in the absence of citations, evidence, (or some sort of substantiation) are little better than make-believe, IMO.

Thank you for your thoughts.
I got excited for a second because I momentarily mistook the title to be "Neuroethology" instead of "Neurotheology"...
I dont know if you could say they are doing it wrong. I think there is a direct correlation between fear and religion. That is to say religion is at least partially a result of the fear of death. ( I dont wanna die, so I create a thing so powerful it can defeat death and it promises that I wont really die if I believe and I am nice). This relieves the stress and fear of death, so I fall back to my natural inclinations toward communal life. We are by nature social animals so compassion is a genetic trait, not any type of biblical one. This is a very simple version so please dont hold it against me, lol. As far as meditation goes, I'm pretty sure there are studies that show if done long enough it causes hallucinations and all sorts of side effects.
Good points, BryanPaul
are they doing it wrong? well, right and wrong are relative. if you think something is right, then it is right. What they are doing might be logically wrong, but when you seek the security of a religion you don't really have to worry about if you are wrong or not. after all, you can always repent.

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