Not Just A Warm Fuzzy

  In Philadelphia, Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, conducted an unusual experiment. He took brain scans of Tibetan Buddhists while they meditated. After they reached their deepest stage of meditation, he injected them with a radioactive dye, and observed the changes to their brain. But what Newberg found to be a conclusion simply misrepresents the nature of faith. Newberg found decreased activity in the parietal lobe during deep meditation. The parietal lobe regulates our sense of self as apart from the rest of the world. So this led Newberg to speculate that this decreased activity accounts for the sensations and feelings people associate with religious experience. As he wrote in his book Why God Won't Go Away, "the brain is set up in such a way as to have spiritual experiences and religious experiences ..." And that, he wrote, "is why so many people believe in God." Well Newberg isn't alone in his conclusions. A recent article in the Washington Post described a "worldwide" effort to "measure," "better understand," and "even reproduce" religious experiences. Neuroscientists believe that changes in the frontal lobe account for "divine feelings of love and compassion." And the belief that God has changed your life is a product of your temporal lobe, which "weights experiences with personal significance." They're wrong, of course. And not just because they - - as the Post put it -- treat God "as a creation of the human brain, rather than the other way around." Their research is flawed in its understanding of what religious belief is about. It reduces all religions to a series of emotional. And this reductionism ignores the very important differences between religions. Like Eastern faiths, Christianity has an emotional and contemplative component. Throughout the centuries Christians have retreated to quiet places in obedience to God's command to "be still and know that I am God." And it's undeniable that the knowledge that our sins are forgiven and that we will live forever with God often affects us emotionally. But being a Christian isn't about an experience or an emotion. It's about affirming or confessing certain things to be true about what God has actually done in Jesus Christ and in history. Almost uniquely among the world's religions, Christianity has used creeds and confessions drawn from scripture to define who is inside and outside of the fold. There is nothing subjective about Christianity's great statements of the faith, like the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Nor is there anything warm and fuzzy about the Westminster and Augsburg Confessions. This is the point that is missing in all the talk about brain functions. Researchers may or may not be right about the activity of the brain in "religious experience." But it tells us nothing more about the causes of the experience or, in the case of Christians, the basis of faith -- which is not an emotion, but a historical fact. Christians have to set the record straight -- starting with ourselves. Many studies show that Christians increasingly think of faith only as an emotional experience -- just as the researchers do. So before we can tell our neighbors what faith really is, we better avoid the error the neuroscientists committed: forgetting that it is the words "I believe," and not "I feel," that are the true mark of the Christian.


Chuck Colson


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