Does dealing with grief tend to make us any less hard-nosed?

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Discussion by: Esperanza
So I’m an 18 year old girl who became an atheist about 2 years ago (I used to be a pantheist), and I’ve noticed again and again that upon being incapable of defending their religious beliefs or of providing a good enough reply to my arguments, many people resort to the fact that we have a tendency towards faith and superstition, and this tendency gets magnified in times of extreme crisis.

Here’s an example: My father is a radiologist, and otherwise a fiercely rational person. Upon my relentlessly questioning his religious beliefs, he told me about his best friend, who never believed in homeopathy or any other form of ‘alternative’ medicine. After discovering a cancer in his mouth, this friend began, in extreme desperation, to go to a homeopathic doctor for treatment and taking some unknown Tibetan medicine.
My dad commented,”It is easy to criticise faith in good times.” I disagree with him that reasoning can fail entirely during periods of grief, but I understand where he’s coming from. Logic often gets disregarded during crisis and private feeling/ instinct gets put on pedestal. When you’re drowning, you are bound to grab hold of any twig that floats your way knowing fully well that this twig isn’t going to improve your chances of survival.
So here’s my question, or rather, questions: Do times of crisis really make you more likely to be religious/ superstitious? Does personal experience with grief or misery or death make you less hard-nosed and more ‘spiritual’? Is there anybody here who has had similar arguments thrown at them? How would you have responded to my father, or anyone with a similar belief?
Thank you so much for your time.

24 COMMENTS

  1. For some people yes, for some people no.

    When my dad’s wife died he became much more religious. He dearly wanted to think of his wife as living on in heaven, and that she was still in some way alive and looking in on him. I had no such reaction. I dearly loved my stepmother, but her death had no affect on my world view.

    Times of grief, more than times of danger seem to bring this out.

  2. In my case it’s the exact opposite. I’ve been though very traumatic events in my life, and so have some of my family members, religious nuts in some cases. “So much praying, where’s your f*ing God now?” I asked. Adversity made me a tougher atheist, and I’m sure helped some of my family members open up their eyes to the absence of that imaginary loving father figure in the sky.

  3. The best answer to your father is “It’s easy to criticize faith, period.”

    Sure, faith can make one happy or provide relief, but delusions do not cease to be delusions just because someone may find them useful (facts are not dependent on how one feels about them), and they can just as easily have negative effects too. For example, this friend of your father who is seeking treatment with homeopathy is not doing himself any favors. If his cancer requires serious treatment, he is delaying the necessary (Steve Jobs, for example, believed that he ultimately hurt his chances of survival by first pursuing alternative therapy). If this person’s case would’ve been hopeless, it may be better psychologically to come to terms with the inevitable and use the remaining time more wisely. If one can recognize when hopes are false, one can shift the focus to other things and thus live a more rewarding life.

    Certainly death can make people more religious (some have argued that without death religion wouldn’t even exist), but it can’t make you believe something you don’t actually believe. Both of my parents are atheists and they have lost loved ones, but their grief did not make them believe in the supernatural. My mother sometimes says, “I wish I could believe”, but than she also wishes she could win the lottery. (My mother, by the way, would totally agree with the sentiment expressed by your father)

    At any rate, just because many people have certain tendencies doesn’t make those tendencies good, nor does it mean that they can’t be corrected for. For example, people have a natural tendency for racism. I should also add that the negative consequences of religious delusions are considerably more serious than just bursting people’s false hopes, and those consequences can be read about daily in every newspaper (and on this site).

  4. I think its true that faith can be very comforting in times of crisis and grief, I don’t see how it follows that the things people of faith believe in are true or that faith in itself is a good thing. For faith try substituting alcohol or drugs. In period of grief people often turn to them. Does that mean we think getting drunk every night is something we should teach our children?

    The hard truth is that life is hard. Often practically unbearably so. The question is how do you want to deal with that? Do you just want to accept whatever makes you feel better or do you want to search for the truth even though it may be more difficult at times?

  5. “Do times of crisis really make you more likely to be religious/ superstitious? “

    Only if you still have some reason to believe that such things might be true. I have been in life threatening situations and in circumstances where loved ones have died or should have died (but didn’t thanks to modern medicine), and never was I even remotely tempted to call on supernatural interventions. It was and is as unfamiliar an alternative for me as calling on a witchdoctor or asking for a space alien to intervene…religious supernatural beliefs just aren’t in the ballpark of useful consideration, regardless of the situation.

    I think that those otherwise non-believers who may lean towards such supernatural beliefs in times of crisis are probably more likely to have some remnant of religious/woo indoctrination lingering in their synapses (I’ve never been religious), and/or perhaps they just aren’t very clear in their own minds with respect to why such views are unjustified.

    “Does personal experience with grief or misery or death make you less hard-nosed and more ‘spiritual’?”

    Not for me. See above.

    ” Is there anybody here who has had similar arguments thrown at them?”

    yeah, I’ve heard it before. It’s a variant on the “no atheists in foxholes” argument (which is nonsense). Likewise, the suggestions that Darwin and Hitchens would/did convert on their deathbed. Basically such arguments actually backfire on those who use them. Because they advertise that such beliefs are often based on fear and lack of perceived capacity to control a situation…which they are. But those aren’t good reasons to believe something, they are actually excellent reasons to be skeptical of the beliefs that might arise in such situations. In other words…”I was scared and thought I was going to lose X, and so I prayed to god” advertises that such beliefs are embraced because they convert the reality of a lack of control into a perception that one has some control.

    Not a good reason to believe something is true, but it is a good example of how we can understand why such beliefs arise.

    “How would you have responded to my father, or anyone with a similar belief?”

    By pointing out some of the above, and by emphasizing that there’s a fundamental difference between explanations or reasons for why people believe in times of crisis, versus actually having reasons or evidence that justify a given belief regardless of circumstance.

    If you care about truth, then the psychology of why we believe has to be separated from the justifications for those beliefs.

    Well, that’s how I think of it anyways.

  6. Esperanza…The human mind is a powerful entity. I believe it is impossible for any of us to know for certain what we will do in the face of imminent death. No matter how rational and firm our atheism is, I believe that one’s past personal involvement with spiritualism might have some influence despite what one perceives as “rock-solid” belief that god does not exist. For myself, I have always taken comfort in the thought that, if it turns out that there is, after all, “life after death” and I am forced to stand before a creator with the demand that I explain myself, I would just say words to the effect that, “hey god…you did give me a rational mind and I used it to the best of my abilities and that included a belief that you did not exist. It appears that I made a mistake, but all I can do now is throw myself on your mercy.” If there is a god, and it is rational, I would think it would have to agree with me that the Christian religion is chock-a-block full of irrational bullshit and, in perfect understanding agree with me and then send me off to eternity, preferably at an old airport with a grass strip and some old biplanes and a glider or two. (I hope you are laughing by now…)

    I think “times of crisis” can have an effect on one’s mind, but I start laughing when I think about it. I ended my formal dalliance with religion as a Roman Catholic. I converted, which always tends to make one considerably stronger in the faith than if one is born into it. It was attendance at a “Novena” that pretty much threw me over the athiest cliff. A Novena is a tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary which one attends once a week for nine weeks. The upshot of the exercise is to “get in tight” with god’s mom…and then ask her to ask her son for a special favor. Bottom line is that god will not be able to resist the entreaties of his mom (on the asker’s behalf) and thus grant the favor requested. (I am not kidding about this belief!)

    After the opening hymn and prayer, the priest always read the “petitions” for the week, but not the names of those asking. It would sound something like, “This week, O Blessed Virgin, we have 2 petitions for better grades, a petition for the sale of a house, 3 petitions for a better marriage, a petition for the sale of a car,a petition to stop drinking beer (I am not kidding!) a petition to get rid of acne, and on and on…One night I started to imagine god sitting on his heavenly throne and taking all this in and telling a host of angels to take care of Mr. Boudreaux on the car but Timmy Schultz is going to have to pray a lot more if he thinks I am going to roll over on his trip to Mardi Gras and I started snickering in the pew…I had all I could do to keep from a loud guffaw and my wife would glance at me with a very grim expression. I managed to get through that session but it was the last one! I never went back and never went to mass again, either.

    That was some 50 years ago. I am telling you all this because it was the irrationality of beliefs I was admonished to believe, to the point of laughter, that kept me away to this day. ( I did not become an atheist until I encountered Richard’s website about 10 years ago and that was because virtually everything the church was telling me was counter to my scientific training as a chemist, even though I was still nursing a background belief that maybe this god guy was really around. Maybe that is why god never answered any of my prayers. My wife is a Jehovah’s Witness and I went to church with her once because she asked me to go.
    The speaker really cracked me up by saying that “god ALWAYS answers prayer! Most of the time, the answer is “NO”!!

    Do “times of crisis” cause one to become more religious/superstitious? Depends how deeply you believed before you became an atheist. I had colon cancer in 1998. I spent nearly 2 months in the hospital before I was let go. I can’t say I thought much about spirituality during that time, and I was pretty sick! The longer you go not believing that god exists the stronger you are likely to maintain that belief under all circumstances. It’s not the belief that god exists or doesn’t exist, at least for me, but the realization of the irrationality of all the accompanying BS that goes along with any religious belief.
    Humor, for me, is the best medicine. I saw a bumper sticker on a pick-up truck once. It said “Curious about life after death? Touch my truck and find out!”

    I hope this helps…

    Jules Gilpatrick

  7. Emotions can be compelling even in the face of insurmountable evidence to the contrary. Many experience this in dire circumstances, or when confronting a traumatic event or a loss. As one in the psychiatric sector, this is how delusion manifests, whether that delusion is “It’s my fault my parents broke up” or “Cars are really sentient machines trying to kill us.”

    That said, the faith of crisis you describe seems like a grasp for control of the situation. We scapegoat firearm access or violent video games not because data shows a causal relationship between these and rampage shootings, but because it gives us a sense of control to do something, anything, to prevent the next one. When the best medicinal science can’t cure your fatal disease, quackery starts looking good in whatever form it takes.

    It’s an emotional reaction, as compelling as fight-or-flight. But many of us would rather face the truth that circumstances are beyond our control (no matter how terrible that may be) than delude ourselves into believing otherwise, despite what kind of crazy hopes we may consider in a fleeting moment of fear.

  8. Medical issues might be an example of greatly increased anxiety and uncertainty, at least when they directly affect oneself or a loved one.

    There is scientific evidence that mental states associated with anxiety and uncertainty alters mental processing. This can be measured by time delay variations when performing specific mental processing tasks under different conditions, plus fMRI obserations.

    A simple example might be Pavlov’s dogs. The common understanding of the ‘Pavlovian’ response is that a bell rings and the dog salivates in anticipation of meal. The real situation is that following prolonged mistreatment by some individuals, combined with loving attention by other individuals, Pavlov’s dogs would reverse polarity and lick the hand of the cruel attendants who were required to whip and beat them and instead would bite the hand of the attendants who fed and comforted the dogs, (Obviously this kind of experiment wouldn’t be ethically acceptable nowadays.) This is where the expression ‘bite the hand that feeds’ comes from. This research was also linked to Chinese and Russian government attempts to ‘brainwash’ humans to accept communism, mainly POW’s, during the cold war era of the mid-20th century.

    The idea is that the mind of the dog is plastic and changes strategy when things don’t make sense. So the dog’s mind attempts a radically different strategy. The new strategy might not be effective, but it’s worth a crack because the previous strategy was proven to be hopelessly ineffective. Dogs have been domesticated by selective breeding over thousands of years to adapt to whatever it is that humans want. Ranging from Paris Hilton’s lap dog to Nazi concentration camp Dobermanns and Rotweilers. Or my dog that has no particular talents aside from pissing on the carpet. There aren’t too many cold-war era governments left around these days, but you can imagine that this idea would remain very attractive to the politicians in places like North Korea, Iran, and Malaysia.

    What has been observed by psychologists and experiments in neuro-economics is that anxiety and uncertainty triggers mechanisms that suppress normal skeptical cross-referencing in the mind. So that when an information source appears credible (via clothing, stature, ritual, social proof, other status attributes) then whatever information is being presented is absorbed without scrutiny.

    It might be that supernatural quackery just happens to be the most readily available source of misinformation which also happens to be presented by people who otherwise take great trouble to appear credible, well-dressed (sometimes including very elaborate costumes) , informative, confident, and of apparently high social status.

    So supernatural spiritual quackery is absorbed by the anxious and uncertain merely because it is there and available. It might take some form of crisis to generate the essential level of anxiety and uncertainty. But the anxious and uncertain will take on more or less anything that is around at that time.

    In the right circumstances exactly the same situation might make someone more atheist and science oriented. It just depends on what is around that appears most credible at that most anxious and uncertain moment.

  9. beest666
    7

    I believe it is impossible for any of us to know for certain what we will do in the face of imminent death. No matter how rational and firm our atheism is,

    I have faced “imminent death” on three occasions.

    • Once when high on a ladder when it started to slide from under me.

    • Once when a fast moving car was being torn apart under me,

    • and once on a narrow ledge on a high mountain ridge when a gust of wind upset my balance.

    On all three occasions, rapid rational thinking followed by action, saved the situation. Gods could not have been further from my mind!

  10. You raise some good questions. I was just discussing this in a previous post.

    Do times of crisis really make you more likely to be religious/ superstitious? Yes its easy in times of crisis to look for something that will alter a tragic path. I think this can be answered independent of whether a person believes in God. I myself am agnostic verging on Atheism. If you look at the statistical data on any subject from health to economics. You will find no special allowance for spirituality or religion. Its truely a rational world we live in where causal agents are purely natural. Genetic disorders will still be inherited with a mendel statistical like probability. Genetic predisposition to ailments will be still passed down the generations regardless of any faith. If baldness runs in sibblings then the likelyhood of all sibblings becoming bald is very high. If I smoke , I’m likely to develop cardiovascular and respiratory disease , If I eat too much I’m likely to develop diabetes , If a parent is abusive and suffers drug addiction that increases the chances of a child developing mental illness , If people spend too much interest rates usually go up , if people spend too little the economy contracts , if governments do not spend long term on infrastructure , they will eventually become uncompetitive.

    It’s a rational world and no amount of Godery will change that.

    Does personal experience with grief or misery or death make you less hard-nosed and more ‘spiritual’? No for the reasons already stated, whats the point.

  11. The feeling of new love, believing the holy ghost jesus/god is in you, honoring a flag representing the land on which you live, a song or video you can relate to emotionally.

    Love is blind and fades. There is no god. It’s a world not a country. Your life isn’t a movie with a great soundtrack.

  12. Do “times of crisis” cause one to become more religious/superstitious? Depends how deeply you believed before you became an atheist.

    Thanks for your viewpoint. :) But on the contrary, I think if you’re surrounded by religions like Christianity, Islam or Judaism, you are more likely to detest religion as a whole, even if you used to believe deeply before. In India where I live, there are more grey areas than pure black or white. Hinduism doesn’t preach anything that may directly contradict science and I think there’s much more scope for doubt where everybody’s already cherry-picking so much and there are so many variations.
    In any case, I think it’s a matter of experience to learn to shove aside our natural survival tendencies and think critically and rationally. As I pointed out to my dad later, if your opinions are dictated by private feeling/ personal experience of some sort, they are likely to waver more easily. On the other hand, if you value logic, reasoning, and science above personal experience/ feelings, your opinions will remain rock solid irrespective of whether you’re happy with your life or not (unless evidence suggests they’re wrong). If the existence of a creator deity as described by most religions seems illogical to me at the age of 18, it is highly unlikely that it will suddenly become logical at the age of 50.

  13. Alan4discussion

    I have faced “imminent death” on three occasions.

    Once when high on a ladder when it started to slide from under me.
    Once when a fast moving car was being torn apart under me,
    and once on a narrow ledge on a high mountain ridge when a gust of wind upset my balance.

    On all three occasions, rapid rational thinking followed by action, saved the situation. Gods could not have been further from my mind!

    I think what beeest666 meant by “in the face of death” was not an instant moment where in retrospect you realise you could have died, but a period of deep reflection where the possibility of the potential termination of your life (or anybody else’s) haunts you. Being in a situation like that indeed can be terrifying. Even if you accept the fact that death is inevitable and think it through in a calm and logical way, it is a fear of the unknown and the fear of separation from your loved one(s) that can be scary.

  14. I completely disagree with your father’s foxhole argument. Stress brings out many traits that typically don’t come to the surface. It is absolutely ridiculous to assert there is any uniformity in how people respond to dire situations. Although, I can see why even an intelligent person would hold such an absurd belief. There is a lot of flawed evidence and folksy-reasoning to support such an argument. It’s just a cliche that people repeat.

    If a person values reason, they will not abandon it at such a time. That’s when it is most needed, when it most serves a person. The biggest problem with the foxhole argument is saying there is only one way to resolve myriad problems. Find out one has a terminal disease, believe in ghosts. Best friend commits suicide, believe in ghosts. Airplane starts to go down, believe in ghosts. Are there no other ways of having inner peace or understanding difficulties? This is why I use such strong language dismissing the argument. It is completely absurd and ridiculous.

    I think you instinctively indicate the problem by how you write ‘spiritual’. Spirituality has nothing at all to do with spirits or magic. Religion is a common source for spiritual development, and so is music, poetry, science, philosophy, friendship, romance, philanthropy, breeding, writing, sports, or even drugs. There is a common misconception that belief in ghosts is the sole source of spiritual development and refuge. To people who believe this, they can’t imagine how others can feel spiritual tranquility in the absence of believing in ghosts. This is why theists often wonder how atheists can enjoy life or have morality. I believe an atheists spirituality is stronger and provides more peace and joy, especially at challenging times. An atheistic spirituality is, as the Bible says, building one’s house on the rock.

    If there is any insight to the foxhole argument, it’s that in desperate time people explore a lot of options, and logical truth is one. When my grandfather was facing death, a lifelong Catholic and extremely intelligent man of staunch intellectual integrity, just before the end he had an existential crisis. To paraphrase him, ‘they tell you this stuff all your life, but nobody really knows’. I am grateful to be an atheist because I won’t have that crisis, that terror. I won’t try to take peace in ghosts. Rather, I will probably take peace reflecting upon the life I lived, maybe feel proud of the good I’ve done, or humble and appreciative before the magnificent mystery and grandeur of existence. I have no reason to doubt any of that, and it sounds more spiritual than hoping I’ll fly into another dimension to reside on Sugar Candy Mountain. I shudder to think people have their spirituality and last moments so cheapened by myths.

  15. “So here’s my question, or rather, questions: Do times of crisis really make you more likely to be religious/ superstitious? Does personal experience with grief or misery or death make you less hard-nosed and more ‘spiritual’? Is there anybody here who has had similar arguments thrown at them? How would you have responded to my father, or anyone with a similar belief?”

    With due respect to some of my compatriots above, the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, psychological studies have shown that existential anxiety is essential to epiphanic religious conversion. See the work of D. Battson and Lewis Rambo for more on the measurement of these (and other) psychological factors.

    JHJ

  16. Specifically, any of these sources will allow you access to the research.

    Batson, C. Daniel, Patricia Schoenrade, and W. Larry Ventis. Religion and the Individual. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    Hay, David. “The Cultural Context of Stage Models of Religious Experience.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religious Experience 11(4): 241-246.

    Jindra, Ines W. “Religious Stage Development Among Converts to Different Religious Groups.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 18 (2008): 195-215.

    Paloutzian, Raymond F. “Religious Conversion and Spiritual Transformation.” In Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, edited by Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. New York: The Guilford Press, 2005.

    Rambo, Lewis R. “The Psychology of Conversion.” In Handbook of Religious Conversion, edited by H. Newton Maloney and Samuel Southard. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1992.

    —. Understanding Religious Conversion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

  17. The simple and short answer to your question is ‘Yes’.
    To get some insight into why this is the case it’s worth dipping into Andy Thomson’s ‘Why we believe in gods’, a synopsis of, and lecture on which you can find on YouTube. Andy Thomson will tell you that for very sound evolutionary and survival reasons, we are so predisposed toward believing in things that aren’t necessarily so (from scant evidence) that the default option even for a sentient and imaginative species is to be religious. The numbers seem to bear this out because more are than aren’t.
    The problem is that even for atheists with no doubt in mind about the utter absence of a hereafter or a god, for reasons that Andy Thomson details, it is still very difficult to imagine somebody whom you love as having ceased to exist utterly.
    I lost my daughter two years ago and even though I do not believe in a hereafter or a god (I have been an atheist all my life and come from the world’s most secular family) the picture of my daughter in my mind’s eye is so clear and so real, and the longing to hold her once again is so overwhelming that I could quite easily cast rationale to the wind and let longing turn to hope and hope to a new conviction that I will see her in a hereafter. It is not to be but I don’t blame anybody who hopes it will.
    It is easy to be, and atheists can be (see one or two previous contributions to this thread), sanctimonious about people who fall prey to their deepest desires and longing and pray for, or believe in things that cannot be. Trust me here, considering what grief can do to you, you’re entitled to any daydream that gets you through. It is only a daydream but I will continue to daydream because I cannot help it. Bereavement is the one thing that will keep people trudging to places of worship long after everybody has dumped every other daft reason for being religious.

  18. This is the old argument that there are no atheists in fox holes. Well, there are no Christians or Muslims either. People in fox holes are desperate people who try to survive an extremely unfriendly environment. In such a situation in the end everything boils down to sheer survival instinct behavior. A phenomenon well studied and understood by modern psychology. So, to use such an extreme example as evidence either for or against religion or the existence of gods is pure madness. All the religious people who use this example just demonstrate how utterly ignorant they are of the human condition in extreme situations. They are the fortunate ones who are happy to not have been in such a situation themselves. Hence, I have nothing but despise for religous people who use the fox hole analogy.

    But, what about grief? Well, some clearly turn to religion in times of grief and personal tragedy. But, to me that is a sign that they really weren’t atheists in first place. They were people who just had not really made up their mind and all it took for them to change their minds was a personal tragedy. My mother died a few years ago, and I can honestly say that I did not for a moment turn to gods or religion either for comfort or as an expression of anger and frustration. And the reason why is pretty simple. Because I just don’t believe in gods or other supernatural claims. It’s not some protest or way for me to justify a life in sin, as many Christians seem to think. I truly don’t believe in gods. To me it would be just as absurd to turn to the Christian god when I face a personal tragedy as it would be to turn to Zeus, Tor, Wotan or any of the countless other gods that no one cares about anymore.

    The “there are no atheists in fox holes” argument is truly a superficial and absurd one in every single way. As said, every one who uses this argument just shows that they truly have no personal experience of either personal tragedies or being in an extreme environment…

  19. Not sure if anyone else has answered this as I don’t have time to read through.

    I wish I could remember the podcast I heard it on. Perhaps it was the Brain Science Podcast.

    Basically (and i’m going to make this a terrible description because I don’t have time to check and i’m not a neurologist so I apologise for mistakes) our rationality is handled by the frontal lobes. Emotions involve parts like the amygdala and insula cingulata. I guess the point is that there is some modularity and communication between different parts of the brain. In times of stress the electrical activity effectively overwhelms the front brain activity. So we end up being less rational and more emotional. We says things like ‘I don’t know why I did it’, ‘I can’t believe I did it’ and ‘I was just really stressed’. Plug this into models of consciousness and we get an idea of our inner voice and higher thoughts focusing around those big frontal lobes and the activity in them, the ‘us’/the ‘mind’ being overwhelmed by the signals from the other parts of the brain, which when not stressed don’t interfere so much.

    To me that model speaks volumes about what it feels like when we get stressed and why we make the choices we do that we ordinarily wouldn’t – as well as that feeling we have that ‘I can’t believe I did that’.

    Factor that into why people make less rational choices and why normally rational people opt for theological options during times of high stress (and i’m willing to bet there is still a correlation with earlier indoctrination – i.e. in times of stress a former Christian is not likely to drop into Islam etc when the back brain starts firing up and the normal signals in the frontal lobes become suppressed by increased activity elsewhere in the brain)

  20. In reply to #22 by gryphaea:

    Basically (and i’m going to make this a terrible description because I don’t have time to check and i’m not a neurologist so I apologise for mistakes) our rationality is handled by the frontal lobes. Emotions involve parts like the amygdala and insula cingulata. I guess the point is that there is some modularity and communication between different parts of the brain. In times of stress the electrical activity effectively overwhelms the front brain activity. So we end up being less rational and more emotional.

    Factor that into why people make less rational choices and why normally rational people opt for theological options during times of high stress (and i’m willing to bet there is still a correlation with earlier indoctrination – i.e. in times of stress a former Christian is not likely to drop into Islam etc when the back brain starts firing up and the normal signals in the frontal lobes become suppressed by increased activity elsewhere in the brain)

    You might be interested in these links:-
    Researchers find brain differences between believers and non-believers- http://phys.org/news155404273.html

    Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

    “You could think of this part of the brain like a cortical alarm bell that rings when an individual has just made a mistake or experiences uncertainty,” says lead author Inzlicht, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They’re much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error.”

    Distinct ‘God Spot’ in the Brain Does Not Exist, Study Shows

    “We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”

  21. In reply to #16 by Esperanza:

    I think what beeest666 meant by “in the face of death” was not an instant moment where in retrospect you realise you could have died, but a period of deep reflection where the possibility of the potential termination of your life (or anybody else’s) haunts you. Being in a situation like that indeed can be terrifying. Even if you accept the fact that death is inevitable and think it through in a calm and logical way, it is a fear of the unknown and the fear of separation from your loved one(s) that can be scary.

    Well put, and I agree. Having been in a foxhole myself, the times when I was shot at (thankfully few) I felt a surge of adrenaline and a lot of focus, and I didn’t really think about much of anything except not getting killed/clearing the problem. It was the times in between, when I had hours staring out at a desert and was alone with my thoughts, that I thought about my own mortality and how I had dramatically increased my chances of having a shorter life by signing up for the Army. The idea of death took considerably more time to work out than it did when posed as an immediate concern.

    That being said, I feel the adage ‘there is no true faith that hasn’t been tested’ applies to ANY belief, regardless of how well founded. A system that one builds for his or herself out of purely rational arguments may yet come crashing down in the right circumstances; I have known rigid atheists who have converted, for whatever reason, even as I know folks who have given up their faith. The one example that I find most striking, and inexplicable, is my mother; due to a severe illness, she was clinically dead for a few minutes at the age of 5, and since then asked her a-religious parents to bring her to church. To her credit, she didn’t take to Christianity, and doesn’t really hold to much of any religious belief, but is still a spiritual person. I find that those who have come back from death have some of the most interesting stories, because while I’m aware of the endorphins that flood your body just prior to, the vagaries of the mind are still being explored, and this particular topic would likely be difficult to test (I imagine that while you could find volunteers to ‘die’ temporarily, there would be CONSIDERABLE red tape involved).

    Monotheism and the West in general seem to cultivate an ‘all or nothing’ attitude; you’re part of the club, or you’re not. Whether you include other monotheistic faiths or think that your pastor in podunk USA is the only one who can guarantee you access to Heaven, this seems MUCH more prevalent than in the East, where religion and philosophy blend and mix until in some cases one becomes the other. (I recall the Dalai Lama saying that if science ever proved anything in Buddhism to be false, then Buddhism would have to change.) Our all-or-nothing gets in the way of any meaningful dialogue, because so many people seem to think that if you even want to talk about God, or god, or pantheism or ignosticism/agnosticism/spirituality, then you must sign on for a whole lot of riders to your beliefs. So if someone does have a profound experience and thinks, ‘hey, there’s more to life than what I thought’, rather than cherry-picking a few beliefs about love or community or perhaps looking into the theories that consciousness has a quantum component that’s poorly understood and that we are a bit more than what classical mechanics says, you have to jump in with both feet and answer ‘God?’ with a yea or nay.

    • In reply to #24 by GospelofJudas:

      I have known rigid atheists who have converted, for whatever reason, even as I know folks who have given up their faith.

      I doubt someone who has really given these things a thought would be capable of honestly going right back to the kind of absolutist fundamentalist religion that most people believe in. Spirituality/ pantheism on the other hand should be easier to accept seeing as how it is more vague and doesn’t directly contradict science (although there is a lot of pseudoscience involved). Perhaps those friends of yours did not want to rely on truth anymore, and instead chose to believe comforting things? Tough times can change a man’s point of view. Not that doing so is justified.

      Monotheism and the West in general seem to cultivate an ‘all or nothing’ attitude; you’re part of the club, or you’re not.

      I’d have to say that about Hinduism (I live in India) and other religions as well. It seems people cannot accept the fact that there could be people who can actually reject the notion of a higher being so important to them, and live wonderful lives. I have been told that Hinduism includes every single worldview including atheism, and hence, I too am technically a Hindu (absurd seeing as how I don’t believe in a single theory proposed by that religion). I don’t think you can call yourself an Aristotlean if you only agree with a couple of things he may have said.
      Even if I admit that a few beliefs of Hinduism aren’t all that bad, the people who believe claim that I agree with Hinduism. Desperate much?

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