NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column earlier this month titled: The Neural Buddhists: The cognitive revolution is not going to undermine faith in God — it’s going to challenge faith in the Bible. (He references a 1996 article by Tom Wolfe, titled Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died.)
In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.
In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day.
Brooks sees these four ‘beliefs’ (bullets are mine) emerging from the scientists who are writing books on this subject:
- First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships.
- Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions.
- Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love.
- Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.
Related to all this is the story of brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor and her stroke. The video of her presentation at TED in February (transcript there, too. YouTube version of her video here) is an internet sensation. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran this article: A Superhighway to Bliss: Jill Bolte Taylor’s message, that people can choose to live a more peaceful, spiritual life by sidestepping their left brain, has resonated widely.
She ends her speech with this (see the complete transcript):
So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are — I am — the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.
Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.
I’m not one to embrace her New-Agey conclusion of world peace. And she completely misses one entire element of her stroke experience that I think is more significant as it’s easily available to the average person: self-awareness. Georgianne Giese, one of the commenters on that TED page, wrote:
Dr. Taylor’s “self awareness” module was able to monitor, record, and remember everything that was happening to her throughout her stroke experience. Just where is THAT located? And how was it able to describe and record both the functions and non-functioning of both sides of the brain during this episode? This “self awareness” module goes beyond the analysis and feeling processes Dr. Taylor described, as it was able to observe and reason about both.
Since I don’t go to church, I’m curious about which Northfield churches, which ministers, are talking to their congregations about any of this stuff.
At the most basic level, do any ministers even discuss the problematic aspects of believing in a personal God and the Bible as his word?