Q&A Session on God, the Brain, and Faith

There were some really great questions in the Q&A time at Collective Church last week. They've releases the questions from both services on their podcast feed. Given the positive feedback I've gotten from blog readers about that talk, I thought this may interest some of you as well. Questions ranged from the way emotions happen in our brains, to dealing with trauma, and what it's like to be an atheist in church.

Check it out.

This is Your Brain on God

I recently had the opportunity to do some science at a 2Days with Rob Bell conference. As part of that time, I talked a bit about what happens in the brains of people who believe in and worship God. Some of the friends I made there asked me to write up that part of the talk, but I was too tired.

So I made a video for them instead.

I'll cover all this in more detail during my doubt series, as well as my talk at Good Samaritan UMC this Sunday night.

The Brain Power of Prayer

I have a thing for brain science. I told one of my coworkers about this fascination, and she replied, "That's not very exciting." I didn't miss a beat, "Do you know what happens when you get excited?" She frowned and said, "No."

"BRAIN SCIENCE!” See, brain science is the very definition of fun.

We've entered a new era in neuroscience because we now have ways to image the insides of brains while they work. The precision of these scans is admittedly low–there are thousands of brain cells in each pixel of our scans. Even this limited insight is illuminating.

As a person who is loves science and spirituality, neuroscience is even more fascinating. The ways people encounter God happens in the brain, and the effects spiritual practices have on us can be studied. Contrary to some popular notions, faith seems to be very good for us.

Most of us get stressed out about our daily lives. We worry, and dwell on our anxieties. We over think things, and get caught in mental ruts. Sometimes, we even feel guilty about how we live our lives, but can't summon the will power to do anything different. All these thoughts stir up the most ancient part of our brains, called the limbic system.

Our limbic systems are great survivalists, and work faster than other parts of the brain. Unfortunately, the limbic system powers fear, anger, and aggression. Rational thinking and creativity come from other parts of our brains. How can we get those parts of the brain to be more active in our daily living?

Prayer and meditation.

No seriously, that's what brain scientists say. Prayer and meditation cause increased activity in the parts of your brain responsible for focus, concentration, empathy, and compassion. Prayer is a remarkable way to escape the kind of negative thoughts that consume us and drag us down. Studies show that people who pray or meditate often change their brains in positive ways.

So, how should you pray? Neurologically speaking, the Lord's prayer is quite good:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come. 
Thy will be done in earth, 
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

This prayer speaks of God's greatness, his love, and his forgiveness. It speaks of  our thankfulness and forgiveness toward others. Finally, this prayer focuses on a goal of better living. All these things are recommended by neurologists who specialize in spirituality as ways to change our behaviors and feelings.

Jesus and neuroscience both tell us the same recipe for prayer.

  • Focus on God's love and goodness.
  • Be thankful.
  • Forgive others easily.
  • Focus on goals for better living.

Do this everyday, and your brain will change for the better. So will your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Pray without ceasing, indeed.