You Are What You Worship–Choose Your God Wisely

This morning Karyn Traphagen of Boulders to Bits fame drew my attention to a fascinating article in the Washington Post.

The article reviews a book entitled How God Changes Your Brain. In part, it seems, the upshot is that we must be careful in choosing what God we worship–we will be changed:

“But Newberg’s research offers warnings for the religious as well. Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain — particularly the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate — where empathy and reason reside. Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is “filled with aggression and fear.” It is a sobering concept: The God we choose to love changes us into his image, whether he exists or not.”

As another friend pointed out, the research is not simply about religion per se, but serves as encouragement and warning to any number of activities that both reflect and determine our beliefs:

For Newberg, this is not a simple critique of religious fundamentalism — a phenomenon varied in its beliefs and motivations. It is a criticism of any institution that allies ideology or faith with anger and selfishness. “The enemy is not religion,” writes Newberg, “the enemy is anger, hostility, intolerance, separatism, extreme idealism, and prejudicial fear — be it secular, religious, or political.”

The work also seems commendable for its refusal to allow the findings of neuroscience to weigh in on whether or not there’s a God. Describing religious experiences does not tell us where they come from or to what they may truly be directed.

Take and read. (And, make sure that the God you worship isn’t a jerk.)

6 thoughts on “You Are What You Worship–Choose Your God Wisely”

  1. This explains so much about some religious institution with which I’ve been associated. Seems there is a feedback loop – doesn’t matter where you jump on:

    Believe God is hateful & vengeful
    Become hateful & vengeful yourself
    Build associations & institutions that are hateful & vengeful
    Said institutions develop apologetic proving God is hateful & vengeful
    Back to step 1 above

  2. This explains a lot of what I’ve encountered with people who claim to be worshiping the “true God” and “defending truth.” I would add a nuance & claim that injustice must be met with judgment, so it’s not like we should claim that God never sets things right and judges people. To only claim God’s love & not his justice is a denial of his goodness. N.T. Wright notes the following:

    “Judgment – the sovereign declaration that this is good & to be upheld and vindicated, and that is evil and to be condemned – is the only alternative to chaos…..judgment is necessary – unless we were to conclude, absurdly, that nothing much is wrong or, blasphemously, that God doesn’t mind very much. In the justly famous phrase of Miroslav Volf, there must be ‘exclusion’ before there can be ‘embrace’: evil must be identified, named, and dealt with before there can be reconciliation” (Wright, Surprised by Hope, 178-79).

    Nevertheless, mercy triumphs over judgment, and our God is patient, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love. But as John Goldingay says, “he’s prepared to be tough when necessary.” Perhaps it is what we emphasize the most. When God’s love is spoken of I always hear objections like, “Yeah, well God is wrathful too.” I’m like, “Yes, he is, but only when it is the last resort, because God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, but his justice demands that he deals with injustice appropriately.” The picture I get of God from some people is that he’s arbitrary and does whatever he wants because “he’s God.” He may be “god,” but he’s not the father of Jesus and the God portrayed throughout the meta-narrative.

    In any case, good stuff Daniel.

    1. Well said, Luke. I’m reminded of John Stott’s answer to a hostile question about his view of Hell / annihilationism. His first words in response were, “First, whenever we talk about Hell we should have tears in our eyes.” That was deeply expressive, to me, of how to put love first, even if we have to talk about judgment.

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