Is Religion Bad for Your Brain?

Science and religion have always had a very tumultuous relationship. If they were married, I’d be recommending lots of counseling and calling divorce attorneys for them. Science is always attempting (and often succeeding) in disproving some of the more flamboyant claims of religion and Religion is persistent in decrying the ‘faithless’ efforts of science to explain the world around us in reproducible terms.

While reading some random news posts, I ran across an article in Philly Health that suggested that some of the more extreme evangelical religions may reduce the size and capabilities of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.  You can read the entire article here: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/132456883.html?c=r. The tests were done on older adults and were more geared to be part of an elder care study, from what I read.

I don’t think they were trying to insult anyone’s religious beliefs, but it got me to wondering: If a religion that prefers you to seek all answers to all questions in its sacred texts can lead to atrophy of a key area of the brain, would a religion that encourages analytical thinking and exploration actually prevent some forms of degeneration?

I admit that I am reaching , here. The study was not geared to the biblical literalists in any way; I just took a faint concept and ran with it. On the face of it, it does make sense. If you are restricted in your source of information and have little contact with external stimuli, the brain would have no reason to maintain or renew neurological connections associated with memory. An extreme example would be completely cloistered religious or isolated groups that severely restrict contact from ‘outside’ their immediate environment. All responses would be entirely by rote rather than requiring new solutions or analysis to be created in response to new situations or information. Sadly, I do not know of a study that has been done on member of any cloistered groups in this area, so it is pure speculation on my part.

Unfortunately I also don’t know of any religion that insists on and encourages continual learning and questioning, either.

The conflict between Science and Religion is based on their fundamental principles. Religion on the whole is based on Faith with a capitol ‘F’’: believe in what has been revealed to you without question. Science is based on the idea of questioning everything from the very start and takes nothing on faith. Both have their place and should not attempt to usurp the other’s place or function, since that usually leads to very bad things happening. If you doubt that, I suggest you look at the rigors of communist anti-religious purges or the current series of religious wars going on.

As a last note, I’d like to recommend a look at the ‘Aphorisms for Heretics’ in our archives here on this site, especially aphorisms 5 thru 8 and number 25. I am a proponent of continued education, but I also encourage belief in that which brings you comfort. Just don’t overdo it and remember to keep your brain healthy.

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

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