Sunday, November 18, 2012

'How God changes your brain for the better'. Neuroscience and the Spiritual Disciplines

I once heard J John happily claim that Christians were brainwashed - because if you knew what was inside most people's heads, it certainly needed cleaning up. Browsing the Baptist Times (as you do), I stumbled across this fascinating piece, an interview with a neuroscientist researching the effects of spiritual practices and faith upon the brain.

here's a snippet

Can you talk about some of the evidence for how God changes your brain for the better?
Most of the current scientific literature shows that people who are more religious - often measured by church attendance or self-report - have lower levels of stress and anxiety, lower levels of depression, and better overall health.
Our more specific research has pointed to specific changes in the brain that are associated with being religious/spiritual, or doing certain practices. For example, we showed that doing the Rosary reduces anxiety in people.
And a meditation practice, called Kirtan Kriya, increases the function of your frontal lobes, which in turn helps to improve memory and reduce anxiety. Of course, there are examples in which religion and spirituality can be bad for people, but that is also my hope to help identify the potential problems so that they can be avoided and turned into something more positive.'

I'd be intrigued to know more about whether it's practices, beliefs, or a combination, which makes the most difference. The examples above are all in religious practice: prayer, churchgoing etc., rather than in the sets of beliefs which people hold.

Being in the more word-based, left-brain Protestant stream of things, we're less into practice and more into creedal truth. But an increasing number of writers (Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, John Ortberg) have pointed out the dramatic gap between knowledge and character which exists in many Western Christians, and called for a revival in spiritual practice - the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, confession, solitude etc. - as the means of grace for God to change us more into Christlikeness. It now looks as if this is backed up by science, as well as theology.

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