This article from Reason Magazine online pointed me to a very interesting study being done by the University of Chicago. They did fMRI scans of people’s brains while asking them some questions. They asked what famous people thought about 10 hot button religious topics, what they personally felt about those topics and what God felt about those topics.
What they found was The part of the brain that activates when people things about their own beliefs and God’s beliefs are the same.
[T]hese data provide insight into the sources of people’s own religious beliefs. Although people obviously acquire religious beliefs from a variety of external sources, from parents to broader cultural influences, these data suggest that the self may serve as an important source of religious beliefs as well. Not only are believers likely to acquire the beliefs and theology of others around them, but may also seek out believers and theologies that share their own personal beliefs. If people seek out religious communities that match their own personal views on major social, moral, or political issues, then the information coming from religious sources is likely to further validate and strengthen their own personal convictions and values. Religious belief has generally been treated as a process of socialization whereby people’s personal beliefs about God come to reflect what they learn from those around them, but these data suggest that the inverse causal process may be important as well: people’s personal beliefs may guide their own religious beliefs and the religious communities they seek to be part of.
Finally, these data have interesting implications for the impact of religious thought on judgment and decision-making. People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want. The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.
Now while Reason would use this article in an attempt to discredit any religous moral judgement, I would like to take a moment and examine my thoughts on why this may very well be true.
I am assuming this test was performed only on ortodox Christians for the sake of my discussion.
Too many of us simply don’t read the Bible, and even if we do, it is simply to confirm out own beliefs, and not to understand the divine revelation of God.
I have become fond of saying “If there isn’t something in the Bible you disagree with or wish wasn’t there; then you aren’t reading it right.” Not that we have the option of disagreeing with God, we must always assume when we disagree that we are the ones who are wrong. But far to often we read the Word of God like a fortune cookie and make it mean what we want it to mean. In Studies in Words C.S. Lewis made a great point when discussing how to intuerpret something you are reading:
If we read an old poem with insufficient regard for the change in the overtones, and even the dictionary meaning, of words since it’s date — if, in fact, we are content with whatever effect the words accidentally produce in our modern minds- the of course we do not read the poem the author intended. What we get may still be, in our opinion, a poem; but it will be our poem and not his. If we call this tout court ‘reading’ the old poet, we are deceiving ourselves. If we reject as ‘mere philology‘ every attempt to restore for us his real poem, we are safeguarding the deceit. Of course any man in entitled to say he prefers the poems he makes for himself out of his mistranslations to the poems the writers intended. I have no quarrel with him. He need have none with me. Each to his taste.
If we read something without considering the intent of the author but simply insert our own intent and meaning we are not even reading what we intend to read, but merely our own translation. We may have this perogative when it comes to poetry but when when it comes to the very words of God.
Once again I want to invite you to read through the Bible with me this year. Let us help one another to actually read the Word of God and to understand it better than we ever have.