Bill Maher hoped to use science to paint religion as a neurological disorder, but the researchers in his film Religulous hold a more complex picture of why we have faith.
by Nathan Schneider Posted October 29, 2008 04:22 PM
Robert Burton's 17th century treatise, The Anatomy of Melancholy, treats psychological disorders as a religious problem. Depression, Burton believed, is an expression of original sin. Three centuries later, Freud reversed the diagnosis entirely by calling religion a symptom of mental dysfunction. Now, a growing number of scientists are studying why we are religious with modern research methods from a range of disciplines. For some interpreters, such as philosopher Daniel Dennett and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, science reveals religious beliefs to be malignant memes gnawing their way through believers' brains, diseases needing to be cured. Yet for many of the researchers closest to this work, the recognition that religion has biological roots only makes it harder to talk about severing it from ourselves.
This must have come as a disappointment to comedian and Real Time host Bill Maher, who traveled the world making fun of religious people for his documentary Religulous. Standing at the prophesied site of Armageddon--Meggido, Israel--Maher indicts religion as a "neurological disorder" that causes the afflicted to wish for apocalyptic death.
Maher interviewed Dean Hamer and Andrew Newberg, two scientists who study the biology of religion, to back up his anti-religious polemic; neither says much of substance in the film. Hamer, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, is the author of The God Gene, which posits that human beings are genetically predisposed for "self-transcendence," the feeling that there is something beyond ordinary experience. In other words, we're hard-wired to believe in a higher power. In his research, Hamer noticed a correlation between personality survey data and different alleles of the gene VMAT2, which codes for an emotion-regulating brain chemical. In the course of human evolution, he suspects, this gene helped foster "an innate sense of optimism" that had adaptive benefits.
Since the NIH doesn't sanction Hamer's religion research, Maher interviewed Hamer at a lab at American University. During the interview, "[Maher] really kept on pushing me to say that science proves religion is wrong," Hamer recalls. "And I kept on trying to push back and say, 'Science proves that people have an innate desire for religion.'" The interview lasted about an hour and a half, Hamer tells us, yet only a two-second clip from their conversation made the final cut. The scene is sandwiched in the middle of an awkward chat between Maher and an "ex-gay" Christian pastor who denies that homosexuality is innate. Then, the camera cuts to Maher asking Hamer if he's the guy who discovered the "gay gene." Hamer says yes. (Before The God Gene, Hamer wrote about the "gay gene" in another book, The Science of Desire.)
Still, Hamer has no regrets about his moment on the big screen. "Overall I was happy because I was one of the few people in the entire film that [Maher] did not make fun of."
Religulous was slightly more attentive to Andrew Newberg, the University of Pennsylvania neurologist known for his research on religious experience. In the film he and Maher walk and talk at New York City's Grand Central Station. Most of their conversation is muted to make way for Maher's voiceovers, but we do hear Newberg trying to tone Maher down a bit. "How we define what is crazy or not crazy about religions is ultimately up to how we define 'crazy,'" Newberg explains. When he mentions his studies on people speaking in tongues, the conversation is cut short to make way for shots of Pentecostals looking crazed.
Using single emission computed tomography (SPECT), Newberg and his colleagues have studied the differences between the normal brain states and peak experiences of meditating Buddhist monks and praying Christian nuns. Among both, they observed an increase in blood flow to regions responsible for thinking and planning. Meanwhile, activity decreased in the posterior superior parietal lobe, an area that affects how we orient ourselves in the world. In a sense, this research shows that what goes on in the brain mirrors how believers describe their own religious experiences: a heightened awareness of a different way of being in the world.
Although Newberg does not regret being in the film, he admits he's disappointed that Maher didn't take his findings more to heart. "I think it's a little difficult to write off everybody who has ever been religious as being delusional or psychotic," he says. "I don't think the data really supports that."
Bill Maher may have hoped that science--religion's age-old enemy, as the common story goes--would vindicate his ruthless agnosticism. But as more researchers explore religiosity, the variety of perspectives and interpretations on human faith is growing more complex, not more black and white. Cognitive scientist and Evangelical Christian Justin Barrett, for instance, sees no contradiction between studying religion and being religious. His widely cited research examines common patterns of supernatural beliefs across cultures in order to describe the innate mental processes that give rise to them. And neuroscientist Rhawn Joseph, who has self-published several philosophical books alongside a long list of scientific publications, goes even further to claim that "each and every human being is born with a brain and mind that serves as a transmitter to god." But in order to keep the battle lines between believers and nonbelievers clear, Bill Maher's Religulous chose to ignore, as Hamer puts it, "the basic human biology of why religion is important."
This message has been edited by Oscar50 on Nov 18, 2008 1:26 PM
That we need to put SOMETHING on the plate -the hard drive- in order to get started with any kind of operating system. We need some kind of purpose.
Now, Mahr has his own system ...... his crusade against religion. What would happen if he managed to succeed in his mission and convert EVERYONE in the whole world to his way of thinking? He would have no more use for his OS! Then he would be empty; devoid of any purpose .......... and would have to find some new purpose.
So, I believe that no matter WHAT sort of purpose or mission we have in life, is initially based on a belief and faith.
There can be religion ........ or Atheism .......... or Science ............ or the environment ......... music ............. painting ....... construction ............. just about anything that seems ultimately THE most important thing in the world that becomes our "God".
I think that the only thing that is innate in man, is the "survival instinct". This instinct constantly urges man to improve his situation, so man is constantly weighing the risks of attempting to improve his situation, Those who cannot take the stress of the conflict between desire and risk, must either reduce their desire, or reduce the risk. Religion is a convenient tool which can be used to serve either side of the problem.
My initial reaction was to disagree. But as I thought about it, I think you're right. Much of what we consider to be "innate" is learned. Our brain is very plastic, and it seems our species more than most (?) learns through environment. As we acquire language, and from that structuring our thoughts, we almost change species.
I'm comparing a human raised in human society, to a primal human, one not raised by humans or without human contact. The primal human only seeks survival. And I suppose comfort of sorts.
There are a couple of other forums here that you may or may not have some interest in:
If survival is an innate instinct, then it drives every aspect of our lives, and we are not aware of it because it is simply normal. We only notice it during catastrophic situations, so we tend to think it only kicks in during those times.
I think that, whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly weighing the risks against the benefits, of attempting to turn every situation into a improvement in the security, and/or comfort, of our current level of survival.
I think that the survival instinct can only be overruled, momentarily, by the social values we have been taught, as in the case of running into a burning building to save a stranger. After the fact, we get right back to calculating the benefit of the risk.
I guess that is why it is good for society to require moral teaching, and behaviour.
Religion can be perceived as an improvement in the security of one's current level of survival(safety in numbers). It can also be perceived as a way to improve the comfort of one's level of survival(taking advantage of the religious). It can also ease one's guilt for not achieving the level of survival that he aspires to.
I don't remember that discussion in particular, but I do have some new thoughts on Paul and his apparent lying.
Being all things to all men so that he might save some, sounds a lot like Paul was a liar with a purpose. Maybe Paul had a legitimate reason to believe that making converts was more important than being honest.
(And may I ask from the outset, that we restrict ALL of our judgments to what is actually written in the NTestament and nothing outside of that? That way we can minimize the opinion factor on both sides and better "prove" the real truth of Paul's character).
[ 1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. ]
Right from the start of that statement Paul says weak. He doesn't say he'll become a liar to liars when he's with liars in order to save liars. He says, (I believe) that he'll identify with men in all stations or states of life in order to save them.
Is there anything wrong with that? Obama, on his campaign trail, became as many things to as many people as he could to SHOW that he understood them. He too, (in his mind) is on a saving mission. He wants to see America saved. I don't see anything wrong with that. It sure is better than AVOIDING the types of people with whom one feels uncomfortable ........... don't you think?
I concede that Paul probably meant that he put himself in the position of those he wanted to save, so that he might appeal to them on their own level. Paul however, was not above making misleading statements to achieve his ends. His claim that the unknown god, of certain pagans, was actually Jehovah, is an example. A statement can be worded so that it could be technically be true, when it actually implies a lie. It all comes down to one's definition of a lie.
When God sent Samuel to Jesse's house to find a king to replace Saul, Samuel was afraid that Saul might ask him what he was doing a Jesse's. God told Samuel to sacrifice a bull while he was at Jesse's, and he could tell Saul that he went to Jesse's to sacrifice the bull. That would have been technically true, but it would have been a lie-in-spirit.
However, my point is not to condemn anyone as a liar, because everyone is a liar by some reasonable definition. My point is that Paul was not legally bound, by Israelite covenant law, not to bear false witness, and the simple act of bearing false witness was not against Roman law. If Paul saw his goal as more important than being absolutely truthful, so what?
and he was enthusiastic. He was spreading his gospel ........ much like selling Amway eh?
I mean, the original Amway sales people truly thought they had a gospel message too: they were saving people money and giving them exquisite products and .......... creating a COMMUNITY out of their Amway meetings to boot!
So, if you view Paul's "ministry" as the selling of a new superior system (instead of as a religion that was supposed to last for several thousand years) ........ I think you'll look at his "lying" in a different light.
Like he said, "all things are lawful for me but all things aren't expedient." He concentrated on those things that WERE expedient to his cause.
And the answer could well be .......... very mundane!~
Of course, it's possible that his material was heavily edited to remove all traces of his original cause ...... in which case I'd be wrong but ....... I don't think his cause was really anything outside of what he himself wrote.
He had been a super-religious 'gentile Jew' who grew up in Tarsus. He wanted to become a really notable, effective person in his beliefs and so he attacked followers of the Way ........ "persecuting" them. Then he had a dramatic experience that changed his perception completely and he BECAME one of those that he had formerly despised. Yet, he didn't just adopt what they taught; he became a convert of his own vision(s) and set out to preach and teach that. That's about all he said about his own motives. (I leave Acts out of it in order to get a clearer picture of what Paul said about himself).
Compare that to more recent examples ......
Ellen G. White was fervent for Christianity but then got "visions" and split, to start up the Seventh Day Adventist church. Mary Baker Eddy started up the Christian Science movement. I believe their motives were sincere and not motivated by desire for power, prestige or money. Whatever they LATER became wasn't what initially motivated them.
Paul suffered some kind of political hounding -as he briefly mentions in 2 Cor. 11:32- and 'hints at' having fought with beasts in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32) ......speaks often of his suffering and deprivations, so .......... it's possible that he was IN FACT heavily persecuted by the political establishment of his time. If so, it makes a lot of sense that his gospel message was aimed at CHANGING the mindset of people in general and to establish a new and better attitude which would focus on God instead of on gain.
He emphatically points out in Galatians that he had NOTHING to do with the Jerusalem church or with Judean Christians for the first 17 years after his conversion. If you look at his own writings only ...... it would seem to be true. He doesn't talk about them at all and -in fact- doesn't talk about the same Jesus Christ described in the Gospels. There appears to be a complete disconnect.
However the "trend" of looking for a messiah is definitely a huge part of his focus. So it looks to me like he was simply adopting the messiah belief and going off in his own direction with it.
Consider that Saul of Tarsus may not have been a very zealous Pharisee. That might explain the conundrum of why a Sadducee high priest would hire a Pharisee, and why a Pharisee would work for a Sadducee.
The movement that the high priest hired Saul to put down, was a "coming kingdom" movement, which was a Pharisee doctrine, not shared by the Sadducees.
How else could Pharisee Saul go about killing or imprisoning people who were zealous for the very teachings of true Pharisaism? Remember that Jesus endorsed the teachings of the Pharisees, and only criticized that generation of Pharisees for their hypocrisy.
During Saul's association with those he was killing or imprisoning, he realized that their goal of "the coming kingdom", was the same as the goal of true Judaism(before it became backslidden). Saul had a revival of his "true Jewish" beliefs, and simply returned to the "true Judaism" from which he, and Jerusalem Jews, were backslidden.
The Jerusalem apostles were simply fishermen who had been given a crash course in how to preach the gospel which God preached first to Abraham, but Saul already understood that gospel to the core. The Jerusalem apostles preached from memory, but Paul preached from understanding. Paul's version of the gospel was bound to be much deeper than the very basic gospel teachings of the other apostles.
This may be why there was a continuing conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles, making Paul ready to disown the Jerusalem apostles, but not making the Jerusalem apostles ready to disown Paul.
The gospel that Paul preached was probably more concise, and therefore less prone to false interpretation, as the gospel of the Jerusaiem apostles was.
It is clear from Paul's writings that he was making "true Jews" out of gentiles, and backslidden Jews. Their hearts were being circumcized (circumcision meaning Abrahamic covenant acceptance), and that these true Jews were Abraham's children by virtue of hearing a believing the gospel which he heard and believed first.
The first we hear the gospel is when God revealed it to Abraham: A great nation of Abraham's children, will inherit all the land between the Euphrates and the river of Egypt for an everlasting possession, and will bless all the nations with (peace on earth, good will to men).
It is quite obvious that Rome would have to suppress that gospel, because the land promised in the Abrahamic gospel, was currently part of the Roman empire. Saul had been hired by the high priest, who served at the pleasure of Rome, to put down the Abrahaamic gospel/coming kingdom movement.
The territorially defined chosen nation which fell 1000 years earlier, obviously had not achieved "everlasting possession" of the promised territory, so now a new body must be assembled, to follow the coming "son of David" to resurrection of the "kingdom of covenant Israel" so that he can be "given the kingdom of his father David", and can fulfill the Abrahamic gospel by bringing "peace on earth, good will to men".
All traces of the true gospel were wiped out at the first ecumenical council of Nicea.
What do you think?
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!!!"
But that's not quite what I was after. My question was about whether Paul was a liar or whether Acts lied about his activities. I wanted to keep the discussion confined to Acts accounts of him and Paul's claim in Galatians that he had NOTHING to do with the Judean Christians for the first 17 years after his dynamic conversion.
And if you could cite scriptures to back up your perceptions, I would most gladly welcome them. It's not that I want to make a debate about it but I'd love to see some real investigation and discussion on this matter from someone other than myself; get a fresh perspective on it, so to speak.
Now, you pointed out that Paul was probably not a very zealous Pharisee. That's rather interesting because -apparently- he said he WAS a Pharisee in Philippians 3:5 ....... and in Gal. 1:13,14 he says that he "profited in the Jew's religion above many my equals." ( I find it slightly suspicious that he would speak of his OWN religion as "the Jew's religion." Did he actually write that or did someone else write it, pretending to be him?)
A lot of people believe Paul was a sneaky, rascally charlatan but in my own studies, I haven't found anything in Paul's own writings to show that. Yes, if you believe the Acts accounts are valid, that would be the case but I tend to believe that Acts is a collection of rumors and fables (examples of which I can cite, if anyone would like to see evidence).
Just wondering, if you guys do pursue the conversation RE Paul/Lying etc... can you start a new thread?
Just following and reading along and I didn't want to see it get lost down the board
"You are blessed whenever people mock, insult, and otherwise revile, harass, and say nasty, untrue things about you because you are mine (that is Jesus'), living as subjects of God's kingdom, and as such, an affront to their whole way of life. Rejoice when that happens--and I mean be absolutely thrilled--because heaven is more than worth it. And when that happens, you'll know you're on the right track, because that's exactly how people have always treated those who speak for God here on Earth." The Oberst Translation
While it would be nice to simply separate the question of Paul's honesty from everything else for discussion purposes, the answer to any bible question will only be found in understanding the fundamental point of the bible story. The two cannot be separated.
Because Paul pointed out that he was a Pharisss, does not mean that he was a zealous Pharisee. It simply means that Paul may have been appealing to his Pharisaic background to become all things to all men.
Paul's claim that he did not learn anything from the Jerusalem apostles, is completely logical in light of the fact that Paul, as a Pharisee, would have had a much more complete understanding of the gospel, than a bunch of uneducated fishermen who had followed Jesus for a very short time. Remember that the gospel of the kingdom was not a new doctrine, but simply the fundamental doctrine from which the Pharisaic Jerusalem Jews were backslidden. The gospel of the coming kingdom is the fundamental doctrine on which true Judaism/true Pharisaism, indeed the very faith of Abraham, was based.
Paul had a very poor opinion of the Jerusalem apostles, because he saw them as more interested in teaching Paul's converts how to act Jewish, than in reinforcing their understanding of gospel principles. James appears to have been more concerned that converts understood how to act religious, than that they actually understand the fundamental principles of the gospel.
It is hard to imagine that either Paul, or the Jerusalem apostles, would have represented the other accurately...LOL
The social religious aspect of the gospel, simply exists to maintain unity within the assembly of those who have committed to the political ideology of the gospel.
What do you think?
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!!!"
Your idea of what a Jew is and Paul's idea of what a Jew is
November 22 2008, 4:36 AM
are not the same. You appear to believe that one must be a flesh and blood descendant of the Biblical character Abraham to be a Jew. In the world of Paul and the scriptures there is the mystical Jew and that is that part of us that must pass through the cross and be transformed in the resurrection of the new man. JB
Indeed there was more than one kind of Jew: A "true" Jew was anyone who was zealous for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic gospel. A "nominal" Jew was anyone who was descended from a true Jew, but was only zealous for Jewish customs and traditions.
Obviously, the difference was a matter of the heart.
What do you think?
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!!!"