Random Reflections on Religion and Republicanism

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I walked out of the wine store the other day and into the loving arms of two Jehovah Witnesses passing out copies of the Watchtower.  A man of faith would have taken this experience as a sign from higher up that maybe I should consider Leviticus 10:9…”Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations”. However as a devout agnostic I do  not confuse association with causation. In other words, God, should he/she exist, probably has better things to do than  send me a personal message.

It was a rare hot humid day for Northern Ontario  and they were in semi-formal wear. This was true in Belize as well where it was most of the time hotter than a snake’s gluteus and where dripping sweat and drinking beer as an antidote was a common pastime. Yet there they were in starched shirt and ties. Must be nice to have faith like that.

This led me to consider the biology of belief. My patient in the Meaning of Life part 1  was envious of those who  had faith and who used it effectively to manage anxiety. It appears that faith is coming to know “God as a person” (John 17:3 ) and that prayer is the means by which one accomplishes this end and where we experience his active help (2 Corinthians 10:15).  The kind of help that reduces anxiety.

The nervous system may be in some folks hard-wired towards religious belief systems.They, as a consequence of evolutionary design, are programmed to be in a state of fearful anticipation of disaster-what I like to call pre-traumatic stress disorder: there will soon be wars, rumours of wars, famine, pestilence, hurricanes, Iranian induced red sea partings, alien invasion (Mexicans), and an outbreak of the heartache of hemorrhoids. The antidote to this other than intense  preparation, is belief in a protecting, nurturing, higher power. Prayer then becomes a potent defence mechanism against calamitous anxiety. So it is no surprise that conservatives are theologically inclined.

It may be that conservatism is a Darwinian relic, a selective adaptation to primitive circumstances. And perhaps that includes religious faith, which might make it an anachronism in modern times.

Studies of faith and its demonstration thereof -prayer-reveal distinct mechanisms in the frontal lobe supportive of bio-mechanisms…

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There is cross talk to the limbic system, the relay centre of fear and aggression and the ensuing   flight or flight reaction. Thus the home of belief seems to rest essentially  with neurology. Both survival and hope are biologically based.

What becomes even more intriguing is the prevalence of religious delusions in schizophrenia as portrayed in the film Altered States: God is talking with them, inserting thoughts, maybe they are Jesus incarnate and so on. This leads me to the psychiatric adage that  those who hear the voice of God talking to them are experiencing schizophrenia, while those who talk to God but hear no response are simply praying. But both mechanisms involve communication between the frontal lobes and the limbic system and the underlying dopaminergic chemistry imbalance  may be parallel.

Of course this seems to imply that religious thought especially in a Judaea Christian format are biochemically based delusions. Beliefs without empirically verifiable data. That indeed may be so.

Nevertheless if the comfort factor applies then perhaps it is morally and pragmatically justifiable. Indeed as for anxiety..one can “ask God for his help and for  wisdom to make the best of a stressful situation” (Philippians 4:8). Real faith then, can be as effective for anxiety as lorazepam eg “when the siren goes off I ask God for to help me control my feelings”  and that is because “he is near to all those calling on him, to all who call on him in sincerity” (Psalm 145:15)

What I conclude from all of this is that the bio genetic mechanisms of faith demonstrate a similarity between conservatism and psychosis. But given that, those of deep faith do have a powerful treatment for anxiety in the form of prayer and that is a big plus over benzodiazepines or psychotherapy. And  everything bad that happens can be relegated to a theological explanation: you just need to have faith.

But since most people I see are secular and sociopolitically liberal that’s a very tough prescription to fill.

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7 Responses to “Random Reflections on Religion and Republicanism”

  1. kristina nadreau says:

    not logical

  2. Allan Seltzer MD says:

    I employ lateral thinking Kristina:
    ” solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic”

  3. Kat says:

    Oh my goodness. I think that your brain is definitely on a higher plane than mine as I struggle to grasp the implications of some of your assertions! Way over my head!

    What I do want to say though, is that I have a very deep faith, and I struggle HUGELY with anxiety. I don’t find that knowing God / having a relationship with God makes a lot of difference. Perhaps it should, I don’t know.

    What I do think that know (I’m being careful here) is that we can’t seem to get to God via logic. ‘Lateral thinking’ and ‘faith’ don’t really appear to be mutually compatible, though I think that CS Lewis might disagree slightly).
    This kind of explains why intellectuals and scientists often struggle to believe in God.
    I’m not here to preach, but what I will say is that somehow, I KNOW that God is more than just a biochemical necessity and that prayer is more than a relay of messages between the frontal lobe and the limbic system (I might not have that neurology bit right!!).
    Faith, by its own nature, can’t be reasoned. Atheism and agnosticism CAN be.

    I’ll stop waffling!

    Hope you are well.

    firefly

  4. Allan Seltzer MD says:

    Well I wrote this UIC (under the influence of Cabernet). My point, such as it is, is that conservatives are religious by nature and that is fear based and required for survival at one time. Prayer is making a phone call to God without anyone necessarily at the other end. My thinking is reductionistic. That there are biochemical mechanisms behind belief says nothing about God’s existence. Thats left to philosophy. Indeed faith cannot be reduced to biology.
    However the best arguement against God is the problem of moral and natural evil

  5. Kat says:

    So… do you have any arguments FOR God? I mean… are there any decent arguments for his existence?

  6. Allan Seltzer MD says:

    There are several. The best IMHO is the design argument. David Hume used the complexity of a watch to say that intelligent design suggests an intelligent designer. The complexity of a flower is the analogy, so God exists as the designer. There are other examples in nature. Of course there are counterarguments based on the enormity of geological time allowing for chance to create perfection.
    Faith cannot be reduced to science or reason. it is non rational but not irrational.

  7. Carole Kocian says:

    This discussion speaks to one that we have on occasion. The impetus is my husband’s Catholic upbringing in a parochial atmosphere of a small Polish town. His uncle was a Bishop and another a Monsignor. So God EXISTED in his town and family, dysfunctional as they were. I am a baptized Presbyterian descended from an array of Doctors of Divinity, Methodist Episcopal, deceased before I was born which I regret because a discussion with them has been something I wish could have happened. I am too cerebral to believe there is a being which could resolve all matters that trouble humans by praying. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think there is something larger than “us” that created us and the Earth on which we live. All things in nature are intrinsically intertwined such that life is interdependent between things human and animal. Simply believing that ignoring a troublesome matter because it can be left in the control of God is learned helplessness, IMHO, and delusional.

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