12. It works (mostly!)

December 1st, 2019

This page in brief ….

In the previous eleven posts in this series, we have seen that many different aspects of life (the universe, human life, the history of Jesus and human experience) all seem to make more sense if there is a creator God, than if there is not.

In this final post, we look at the ultimate road test – how does belief in the christian God work out in life. Is it good for the believer, and the world, or is it bad?

While this may not prove that belief in God is true, we would certainly doubt belief was true if it led to bad outcomes.

The information on this page comes from research by secular psychologists and neuroscientists. Links to references are at the end.

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Atheists and religious traditions

November 24th, 2016

Today is Thanksgiving in the US. Thanksgiving can have different meanings for different people, but probably the two main emphases are a day for family to get together, and a day to thank God for his many blessings to us.

So what does a conscientious atheist do? Should she just shut up and join in? Might he spoil the family occasion if he refuses to join in a prayer of thanks? How can they be honest yet not disrupt the family occasion? (Christmas and Easter may present similar difficulties.)

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We cannot be kind to each other here for even an hour?

June 12th, 2016

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his poem Maud wrote:

Ah yet, we cannot be kind to each other here for an hour;
We whisper, and hint, and chuckle, and grin at a brother’s shame;
However we brave it out, we men are a little breed.

Most of us, upon reading that, would probably smile ruefully and agree. If we’re honest with ourselves, we might even reflect on times when that has been us, and hope we can do better in the future. And yet, on the internet or behind the wheel of a car, somehow we so often show Tennyson got it right.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett has some suggestions for those of us who discuss and sometimes argue on the internet.

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Health, happiness and God

June 5th, 2016

Most of us have experiences, both positive and negative, about religion and God. In each of our lives there have likely been religious people and institutions that have left a positive impression, and others that have hurt us.

And if we look at the world around us, now and through history, we can easily form a positive or negative impression, depending on whether we focus on the crusades, pedophilic priests, televangelists and bigotry, or on the social welfare, peace-making, justice and personal development work of christians.

Personal impressions are inevitable, but really, if we want to know the truth, we need a larger sample and a more rigorous way of assessing the impacts of religious belief.

I recently updated the Life section of this blog – more than 40 pages – which required reviewing the content of most of the pages.

And I was struck again by some of the findings of psychologists, doctors and neuroscientists about what actually makes people happy and healthy.

It’s worth another look.

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Why your brain needs God

June 7th, 2015

Happy

faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain

Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman

I couldn’t resist ….

I am researching my next post on Choosing our religion, which is taking a bit of work, and I came across this quote by two neuroscientists.

Here is the quote in context (from Why Your Brain Needs God):

“A theologian will tell you that faith is essential to religious belief, but our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.

By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world. When you do this — through meditation, prayer, or intensely focusing on a positive goal — you strengthen a unique circuit in your brain that improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances social awareness and empathy toward others. And it doesn’t matter whether the meditations are religious or secular.

However, when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better. Our research into how people describe their own spiritual experiences speaks directly to this fact. On one hand, it seems that people use a tremendous diversity of descriptions in recounting deeply meaningful, spiritual experiences. For some it is love, for some awe, for some it is the experience of direct contact with the divine (however they define that). However, in spite of these many different descriptions, each person describes a transformative element that changes their mind, their health, and their life. In fact, our research shows that the more you engage all parts of your being, your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, social interactions and spiritual pursuits, the more it enhances your brain’s function. But most importantly, this requires a focus on the positive — on love, forgiveness, optimism, and inclusiveness.”

What is says …. and doesn’t say

This quote doesn’t suggest that neuroscience proves God exists. But it does show that belief in God, and the attitudes and actions which should result, can make us healthier, happier and better people. Which of course is consistent with God really being there.

Picture: MorgueFile.

Prayer for healing seems to work

February 17th, 2015

Healing the deaf

I have long had an interest in the effectiveness of prayer for healing. My initial reaction to healing claims tends to be mild scepticism (I believe healing can occur but I don’t believe all claims of divine healing are credible), but I try to find cases where there is good evidence.

So I am interested to see how medical science is exploring the value of prayer and faith in providing real help to suffering patients. One researcher is Professor Candy Gunther Brown, a historian in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

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“The sun came up from the ocean, red with the cold sea mist”

January 31st, 2015

Sunrise 4

I’ve been away on a short holiday for the last week, at a beautiful spot on the NSW coast. Our holiday unit is right on the beachfront, with views over the Pacific Ocean.

We sleep just inside large glass doors, so we hear the sounds of the surf during the night, and wake as the sun begins to shine over the eastern horizon and small wrens begin to hop across the grass. Watching the sunrise one day this week gave me a few ideas.

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Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you?

September 2nd, 2014

Moonrise

“The moon rose over an open field.”

Teen angst. Most of us experienced it at one time.

The teenage years, and into our early 20s are a time of new experiences that can often lead to feelings of extreme helplessness, alienation, even suicide. Most of us get over it in time – most of the time anyway.

Does this mean we know better, that life is good after all? Or is youth a time of greater clarity, greater insight into life?

I was thinking recently about life weariness and the 1968 Simon and Garfunkel album, Bookends.

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