Using brain imaging studies of Franciscan nuns and Buddhist practitioners, and Sikhs and Sufis -- along with everyday people new to meditation -- Newberg asserts that traditional spiritual practices such as prayer and breath control can alter the neural connections of the brain, leading to "long-lasting states of unity, peacefulness and love." ... And though meditation does not require a belief in God, strong religious belief amplifies its effect on the brain and enhances "social awareness and empathy while subduing destructive feelings and emotions."This research, however, does not invalidate the possible existence of God:
Newberg argues that religious belief is often personally and socially advantageous, allowing men and women to "imagine a better future."
"Neuroscience cannot tell you if God does or doesn't exist," Newberg states with appropriate humility. Neurobiology helps explain religion; it does not explain it away.But, Newberg offers a critical analysis of faith, as the image of God that people choose to worship profoundly affects the brain:
Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain -- particularly the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate -- where empathy and reason reside. Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is "filled with aggression and fear." It is a sobering concept: The God we choose to love changes us into his image, whether he exists or not.While Newberg provides numerous other - too many to post here - riveting observations, he does offer this thought on the nature and purpose of faith:
Mature faith sometimes involves self-sacrifice, not self-actualization; anguish, not comfort. If the primary goal of religion is escape or contentment, there are other, even more practical methods to consider.Whether believer or not, spend a few minutes reading the whole op-ed.