Aug. 30, 2006
Sept. 1, 2006

Aug. 31, 2006


A new study suggests there is no single "God spot" in the human brain. This finding is in tension with previous research that indicated our ideas about God may be a natural result of the way we're wired. We may not have a "God spot," but most religions would say God has a soft spot for humanity.

* * *


Americans, it turns out, aren't very comfortable with the way political liberals and political conservatives try to connect religion and public policy. At least that's what a new poll shows.

PiechartThe poll was conducted for the Pew Research Center for People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

To my mind, it reflects a general unease with the way that religion and politics get mixed in together these days in our society. I share much of that unease because people who would identify themselves as liberal sometimes think there is no place for religion in the formulation of public policy while people who think of themselves as conservatives sometimes think religion is or should be the only or primary basis for deciding such policy questions.

Both of those positions give me pause. And apparently they give lots of other Americans pause, too.

An interesting finding in the poll shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans think the influence of religion in public life is declining, and they identify that as a bad development. My view is that religion should have considerable influence in public life, but the idea that public policy should reflect only one particular religion's views is troublesome.

Religion, I think, should be among the voices -- even if it's quite a loud voice and many-toned voice -- in the discussion, but our system of government is designed to prevent the government from promoting the views of any religion and to make sure that all religions can speak freely.

So take a look at the Pew survey results and see how they strike you.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.

AND a P.S.:

I'll be teaching a weekend writing class Oct. 6-8 at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, Pa. Think about joining us. For a description of the class, click here. It's called "From Pain to Hope through Writing." In it, we'll spend some time thinking about what Christianity means by hope and then we'll go to those places of personal or collective pain in our lives and write about them, remembering what it means to have hope. We'll also share some of that writing with each other. Writing about pain can be a healing process as we write toward the light. The weekend begins with a Friday evening dinner and session and ends with lunch on Sunday. An Autumn weekend in the Poconos spent with words. What could be better? Hope to see you there.



Re Brain Studies:
I have only read a little on brain studies and religion but wonder why this study chose to map the brain during the narration of a religious experience, rather than to map during an actual religious experience, like prayer or other worship.

It would seem the latter would yield more credible results.


Good wishes for your weekend writing class, Bill. And safe trip. It sounds as will be a very emotional and fulfilling weekend. I hope that you'll write about it.


Re: The Public's Discomfort about Religion

"Religion, I think, should be one voice -- even if quite a loud voice -- in the discussion,"

I could not agree more and used to hold that as ideal. More and more, however, I question if it is realistic. Achieving one voice requires an awful lot of negotiation and compromise and recognition of common values. I don't see that happening in public forums, but rather see the insistence of one religion dominating.

Maybe you could do one blog on some suggestions of how to achieve the "one voice".


Regarding the Pew Center Research:

I found it interesting how much of a foothold evolution has gained in Christian circles - even in the “literalist” Evangelical camp. How sad.

Also, 60% of Mainline Protestants do not believe in Christ's Second Coming. I can’t say that I am surprised. I wonder how many of those polled believe in a bodily resurrection. I guess that Second Coming stuff is just a part of Christ’s teaching and NT writing that was created and then inserted by an apostolic/post-apostolic Christian community (who actually wrote the Bible) drawing upon popular Jewish apocalyptic traditions of the time.


Well, here we have limited human intelligence telling us there is no spot in the brain isolated for God. If there is one, God will reveal it to us if and when he is ready. We know from Scripture that we are indwelt by Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is our possession of Christ's righteousness that makes us acceptable to the Father. The Holy Spirit aides us in learning Truth. Part of the Christian life is to train our minds to think with divine viewpoint instead of the human viewpoint around us. We are in this world, but not of this world. Maybe they should do this study with an unbeliever and a believer accomplished in thinking and acting on Biblical truth. By the way Bill, God loves us with a perfect love, so I would say it was significantly more than a "soft spot".

SC in KC

Regarding the "God Spot"...

I think it's interesting that scientists would study this, and I'm amused that they didn't find what they expected. Rarely, it seems, do we find what we expect when we go looking for God, but we always find something wonderful.

Regarding the public's discomfort about religion...

I would hope that everybody would apply some sort of moral or ethical filter to the political decisions they make. When you put the label of religion on those morals and ethics, though, people seem to get their back up.

Still, I think the problem goes deeper. I am unaware of ANY religion, for instance, that promotes abortion on demand, yet we keep seeing this issue divided along lines that, according to the political left, have conservative Christians on one side of the issue and everybody else on the other.

Where are the other faith groups on these issues? Why aren't they applying the ethical and moral precepts of their respective religions to their political decisions? Moreover, why aren't secular humanists of good conscience applying their precepts of "do no harm" to these issues? Where is the ideology of the atheist represented?

The public SHOULD be uncomfortable about religion, because the public has, by and large, done a woefully inadequate job of applying a consistent and benevolent world view to political issues that matter. Religion, as the codified social ethic of record, points out this failure. I won't apologize for conservative Christians who make waves in the public forum. Rather, I'll congratulate them for being genuine enough in their faith to show up to the debate.

Greg Swartz

God Spot:

I found the article interesting. In fact, I am currently doing some reading on why humans believe in gods and religions. It is my belief that humans created gods and religion to fulfill certain human needs. I have some initial thoughts posted on my web site at

I am currently reading a book entitled "Religion Explained" by Pascal Boyer who is at Washington University in St. Louis.

I have already read "The God Gene" by Dean Hamer. He believes that humans have a disposition toward transcendence and identifies monoamines as important in the existence of that transcendence. He indentifies one gene that is important in the body's use of monoamines; but, of course, there are many genes involved and he recognizes that.

I, also, have a book entitled "Darwin's Cathedral" by David Sloan Wilson, though I have read none of it.

If anyone has any further recommendations, I would really be interested in them.

Of course, for anyone to prove that a spot in the brain actually communicates with God would require that the existence of God be proved - something no one has proved to me so far. But, anyway, I am interested in the evidence!



Have you seen or read Daniel Dennett's new book, Greg? It got mixed reviews and I have not read.

There are also some fascinating studies that have been performed on the brain and ritual. Ever read up on that aspect of brain and religion?


Could not get your link to work.



Copy the link and paste it into your browser window. Then delete the period (which Greg used to end the sentence) after shtml. The hotlink picked up the period, which is a definer for a URL.



You asked: "Where are the other faith groups on these issues? Why aren't they applying the ethical and moral precepts of their respective religions to their political decisions? Moreover, why aren't secular humanists of good conscience applying their precepts of "do no harm" to these issues? Where is the ideology of the atheist represented?"

I think the reason you are not seeing the application of other faith groups moral values is that while they may not condone abortion, they respect the right of the individual in the matter and ask that Government not inhibit the rights or citizenship of All the people. Personally, I don't care much for abortion - but that is not a decision I can morally imposed on another.

It's also the same points I've been trying to raise about GLBT rights. The fact that many denominations do not condone gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgenders does not confer upon them the imperative to deny these citizens the same citizenship that others enjoy. My individual church is supportive of the GLBT population, but many in my national church are not. Still, none believe in utilizing the Power of Government to deny basic human rights guaranteed to heterosexuals.

Thus, don't take the notion that there are faith groups who value an individual's personal right of choice and decision and equate that with the notion that these faith groups don't have moral values.


Thanks, DA. I did not notice the period.


Here is the short list of churches that support Choice and their positions.

Most view this as a personal health issue, since there are still major pregnancy and health risks that can degrade a woman's life or kill her and these churches value and respect women and their ability to make those choices.(1 in 2500 women still die in childbirth yearly in the U.S.; as many as 1 in 3 in other countries).

The majority of Americans support choice.


I wonder, before God, exactly what are our "rights?"

SC in KC

I've heard that the health risks are even greater for the baby, especially when they are being sucked out of their mother's womb. I wonder, do these same denominations support a rapists right to freely express himself? He has rights, after all.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it makes the point that we have to apply some sort of limits, and that those limits should derive from a moral foundation. A secular society insulated from a social conscience is bound to wind up as an Animal Farm. If we are to be a nation under the rule of law then we must have moral laws, and we must have morality independent of those laws to ensure compliance with the law.

Our religious institutions are supposed to provide that moral foundation, and are supposed to be the vehicle for a unified social conscience based on sound ethics. When those institutions fail to perform, or when they remail silent, atrocities happen.


Germany 1930's.


Actually, Michael, abortion was illegal in Nazi Germany.

The Nazi's, like the Christian Conservatives, preferred that their victims be born and able to suffer to death.

The Christian Conservative Death agenda in action; i.e. achievements over the last six years:

A higher infant mortality rate;
Less healthcare for all and resulting higher mortality for treatable illnesseses;
Higher crime rates and death from crime;
Rising death rates from AIDS as promises for funding are broken and programs destroyed;
Ignoring the needs of the poor in New Orleans attempting to escape from the flood;
An unnecessary war that has killed over 50,000;
Failure to protect civilians in Iraq, after having destroyed their police and protection systems;
Uncensored use of cluster bombing(a genocidal measure) and mines to kill civilians;
A failure to effectively respond to the moral challenge of genocide in Darfur;
Support of the Death Penalty;
Failure to support stem cells earmarked for life-saving research;
A lower quality of life for children.

I think that to top that list off you should definitely mandate the killing of women and little girls. After all, they are only women, many of whom were just accommodating a rapist's right to fully express himself.

SC in KC

Wow, conservative Christians were responsible for all that, huh? We managed to do all that by ourselves? Really?

I suppose you can support your allegations, can't you? I mean, you have evidence that conservative Christians were responsible for all these tragedies? You have evidence of this "Christian Conservative Death agenda"?

Patricia, you seem like an intelligent and generally decent woman, right up to the point where you apparently lost your ever-loving mind. You have convinced us that you hate President Bush. Fine. I understand that you'll probably not be voting Republican any time soon. Also fine. But your tone and language have surpassed dissent and entered into the realm of rabid bigotry against Christianity and/or conservatism. Is this the love you were going to pray for me about?

Just Thinking

Formula for hatred:
1. Pick any large group of people in this country.
2. Give them a name.
3. Look at all the things that any of them have done wrong, or that you imagine they might have done wrong, or that you imagine could be wrong.
4. Attribute all the sins of those people to the group.
5. Attribute all of the collective sins of the group back to each individual.
6. Teach others to think that way, to hate each and every individual in that group for each and every sin of everyone in the group.
7. Do not worry about slandering those who have done nothing wrong, or who have disagreed with the wrong practices that may hate. Do not worry about bearing false witness against someone.
8. Name call.
9. Accuse each person in the group of wanting to kill women and little girls.
10. Don't accuse them of wanting to kill babies, because there is nothing wrong with that.


Spare me the indignation after allusions to Animal Farm and Nazi Germany.

The Christian Conservative voting block elected this Congressional Majority and this administration. They have its ear and have spend their time using political currency for anti-gay marriage initiatives, etc.

I hear no Christian Conservative dissent for the list of death initiatives and only news that James Dobson and others want to help assure more of the same.

Your hands are not clean.

Trust me. I am praying for you. But I don't plan on lying to you or listening to your blustery moral indignation, as if you were morally superior.

You are not, SC.


Thank you so very much, JT, for acknowledging that you see the formula for hatred that you and SC "the gang" are fond of. That is VERY enlightened of you. Now perhaps a direct apology to Muslims would also be in order.


What a weird remark Patricia. "Christian Conservative Death agenda"? Sounds like something Wolf Blitzer would coin. Since I'm new here, what is your Faith? Buddha,Christian,Allah,atheist,ect? Just wondering.


Abortion was illegal in Nazi Germany...for German/Aryan women only. For non-German/Aryan women, it was "promoted" by the Nazis, especially among Eastern Slavic women - though before the Nazi’s control of Germany abortion was legal for a short time for German women as well (late 20's early 30's).

When the Nuremburg Trails were held, encouraging and compelling abortions was one of the two dozen charges brought against these former Nazi leaders.

Greg Swartz


Thanks for the Daniel Dennett book info. I will check it out. So many books (and other resources); so little time!

Sorry for the period in the link. I am normally pretty savvy to that problem as I have run into it before. I often just add a space before any punctuation in these text editors when I post a link. Most of these text editors are pretty primative, but I missed this one!

Just Thinking

The formula for getting along with the rest of the world is this: make disciples by actions and good deeds only. The world can't fault you for that. But don't teach, instruct or correct because that is controversial and insulting.

That is not what Jesus said or did.

John 15 - Jesus said,
18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
20 Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.
23 He who hates me hates my Father as well.
24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.
25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)