Tag Archives: religion

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

When Did Socialism Become a Dirty Word?

Most, if not all, of us had American History at some point in our education. We were taught that America was made great on the backs of those who worked hard, served their country and communities. Of course there are other things along the way, such as hard times, social changes, and wars, but the details of our history is not what concerns me so much as the big picture.

Going back to the birth of our country, there were a few things that England, our then ruler, was imposing on the colonists that really stuck in their craw. Religious suppression and unfair taxes seem to come to mind to me. When the time came for the leaders of the American Revolution to start making their own rules, a little document called the Bill of Rights was created. Part of the number one Right is the freedom to of religious exercise. Part of almost every religion that I can think of is to help your neighbor.

Jesus stated that one must help the poor and a rich person has about as much of a chance of entering heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of the needle. Buddha stated that attachment (to things) causes suffering, One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat or to give a portion of one’s riches to care for those who are in need (read the poor). Judaism has Tzedakah or charity as one of their founding principals (in spite of the jokes). I could go on.

Here is where my confusion comes in. Most Republicans want to get rid of public programs like Social Security, Medicare, Disability, current health care legislation, and other resources that have been established by past government officials to help the needy, the poor, and those less fortunate. Most Republicans also claim to be fundamentalist Christians who follow the Word of God and Jesus among a small following from other religious sects.

So here is where my confusion sets in. If Republicans are so Christian why are the programs developed to help those in need under attack while tax breaks for the rich and greedy corporations passed into law so easily? Even the Tea Party, that ultra right wing Republican group is doing the same claiming that the Constitution and God are the basis of their movement support breaking the common man to forward their own agenda to get richer and fatter. I just don’t see the work of God, Allah, Jehovah, or any other god in that agenda.

To be fair, this trend is not just followed by the Republicans or the Tea Party, but is across the board. I just see the vocal Republicans who use their religious memberships to further their career as much worse than those who do not wave the flag of “belief” to gain popularity with the general public.

Honestly, if any political leader truly believed what their religious beliefs stated, they would be for the social programs. They would want to help America out of our current crisis and not bail out the fat cats, but instead develop programs that will actually put us back to work and care for those who simply can’t work. There would have been no bail outs for the fat cats when they got themselves in trouble.

So, really when did socialism become a dirty word? It is not a dirty word, it is a good thing that shows that the government and the nation’s communities have a heart and want for society to be healthy.

And before you comment, yes, I know that there are those that abuse the system and take when they shouldn’t. But the vast majority using the system are doing so because they have been left no other choice.

Let’s be proud of being socialist and mark it up to being religious or to being a good person. Your reasons for helping others does not matter; what truly matters is that we as people and as a government show mercy and caring to those who are in need.

Who are these Guys?

Who are these moral authorities?

 

I was watching the responses to the passage of New York’s Same-sex marriage bill, and I started to wonder a few things. Normally this gets me in trouble, and if you know me, you know why that is, but this time I think the issue is a little bigger than a prank somewhere.

Why do religious leaders think they have authority over the sexuality of their followers? Who gave them that authority? Where did it come from? Why do people obey it? Last but not least, why is it when these leaders make those very stringent rules, the same leaders are the ones that violate them most egregiously?

We’ve all seen the church scandals on the web and in the papers. First this evangelist and then that one is accused of either sleeping with the wife of some church official or secretary, or they’ve been seeing some male prostitute for homosexual favors or doing drugs, or yada, yada, yada. The Church scandals are so ubiquitous that nobody is even making jokes about it on late night TV anymore. It’s pretty bad when even a comedian is bored with your crimes and misbehaviors.

These are the guys who have the nerve to protest when two consenting adults, of sound mind and body, want legal recognition of their relationship like free and upstanding citizens. When two people no longer want to hide their affection and choose to share their lives in a mature and responsible fashion, shouldn’t we applaud? We should be happy that they respect marriage so much that they are willing to fight for it, come hell or high water.

The so-called protectors of family values are pretty much self-appointed as far as I can tell. I can’t find any real basis for their assumption of this authority, other than them pointing to things written by their own authors, which is a circular argument and does nothing to prove anything. Yet they claim the right to enforce their views on everything from sexual behavior to reproductive medicine.

Unless you are a practitioner of Tantra, sexuality and religion are two separate things, no matter how many times you scream “Oh God!!” a night. With the much publicized failures of these moral authorities to follow their own rules, they have more or less abrogated any claims they may have had to protecting the morality of we, the sad and very disgusted populace. If they can’t behave according to their own rules, why should we?

I don’t know how or when exactly religious authorities decided to extend their stringent rules and regulations into our bedrooms, but it needs to stop. It has been going on for centuries and nowadays with the internet we see their failures all too clearly. We need to really take a step back and actually look at what is going on. We need to ask the question: why are you telling us what is right when you do everything wrong?

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

Faithful vs. Religious

I have a great respect for faithful people. They live by what they believe, will stand up for it when faced with difficulties, and are generally very nice people. I do have an issue with religious people. You know which ones I mean, the ones with a check list that fervently counter everything you say or do with a quote from the bible or with a statement that starts My (preacher, reverend, pastor, minister, or other religious leader) says ( and fill in the blank). Absolutely no independent thought whatsoever.

I honestly believe that most religions are out to help us produce “good” in the world; to love our neighbors, to respect the people in our lives, and to really try to spread those feelings on to other people. The people who are trying to do this are faithful, and they have taken the spirit of their belief system to heart and have immense faith that it will lead them to do the right thing, always.

On the other hand are those people who are religious. Those people have a list of rules in hand, and these rules may be hundreds or thousand of years old or just said from the lips of a “modern prophet.” They do not thing about what their religions means, stands for, or effects other people. These are the people who scare me; they take their check list of rules and make sure they do the actions described there in, but rarely do they think about what those actions mean nor do they take the spirit of the religion to heart. This action reminds me of the person who thinks that they can “buy their way into heaven (or other spiritual reward)”

Which one is going to create permanent change? I can say that I tend to shy away from people who tell me to follow this rule or that rule and their response to why is “because God said to” or “that is what Jesus commanded.” As a adult, I find it insulting and disturbing that “because” is an answer. Instead, I am much more likely to listen to the person who leads their life according to the spirit of their belief system and tries to pass that along to another person. That person who leads with actions and not rules is the one that will create permanent and lasting change in their own lives as well as others.

Am I in a cult?

Am I in a cult?


“The difference between a cult and a religion is social acceptance’:  Aphorisms for heretics, #44. Blog entry from the Practical Heretic, heartfeltministries.net

There are a lot of alternative religious groups out there in the world. Most are peaceful, wanting only to help their members to live better in an increasingly complex and confusing world. Some may be variants of Christianity, others may follow Eastern religious teachings, some are Pagan and some may follow UFO sightings. Some want you to stockpile weapons, protest at military funerals, surrender all your property or buy many publications they have thoughtfully provided, including shipping and handling.

If you have found some new friends, congratulations! I hope they are good company for you. If they want you to knock on doors a certain number of hours each week and deliver badly-written pamphlets, you may want to go bowling instead.

How do you tell if the group is a cult or a religion?

There are a few good signs that will warn you, if you are looking for them. They may claim a special mission for the world, or that they are being harassed and persecuted. (As a note, any group that is having serious legal issues should be avoided. There is often a good reason the police are knocking.)

If the leader claims to be the physical incarnation of ANY deity or spiritual figure, put down the tract and back away slowly. This is a bad, bad sign of instability at the very top of the organization.

If they encourage research and debate, as well as learning everything you can, this is a good sign they are sincere and mean well. Any group that tries to restrict your access to information or a dissenting opinion should be avoided.

There are other signs as well. Religioustolerance.org is a Toronto-based group that has a very unbiased website listing many new groups. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/cultintro.htm)  They have pages on most major religions as well as many of the more current New Age or Alternative groups, and as far as I am able to determine, they make a huge effort to be neutral, factual, and accurate. If you are looking for information, this is a great site to use.

Cultwatch.com is another very useful website. They have a list of characteristics and warning signs that delineate a harmful cult. (http://www.cultwatch.com)  Well-written and strongly advocating that the reader does their own research outside of the organization they are thinking of joining. Also includes many useful news links for stories around the globe.

http://www.howcultswork.com is a website that gives a point-by-point overview of the techniques used by exclusive groups and the reasoning behind them. Their warnings may be a little overblown, but they do give some very good warning signs.

As a general rule, if your new friends isolate you from your old friends and family, advocate violence and theocracy, or want you to break ANY laws, my advice is that you should run the other way. You may or may not want to call the police as well.

I started this article with a quote from the Aphorisms for Heretics from a previous Practical Heretic entry. Let me finish it with another: “Never trust anyone who tells you to check your brains at the door.”

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

This is a Strange Question, but…

What do you like about your religion?

It’s a strange question, I know. I can hear it now: “Like? Its religion, what’s to like about it?”

I asked several people this question over the last couple of days and got some interesting answers ranging from “I like the sense of community” to “I like the music” or “it’s good to talk to everyone once a week”. Other answers were more like “our pastor is really nice”; “it’s more for the kids, y’know? It gives them a good grounding in the right things”. The most honest answer I received was “its church. There’s nothing to like; you go because you’re supposed to go, that’s all.”

It’s kind of a trick question. I’m not really asking about your church, but about your religion. For most people there is no difference.

A church is not just the building it’s housed in, but the community that uses it. It’s the people that gather together for a specific reason every week or two for a meeting. At this meeting there is a set of actions and behaviors that take place. This is called worship. Music may or may not be performed, either by a choir and accompanist or by the entire group. Other activities may be attached, such as study of holy books, socializing, sports activities, educational activities and the like. Most of the functions of a church are socially connected, when you think about it.

A religion is defined as a commitment to or practice of a set of beliefs or practices devoted to the service of a deity or principles. This can be as loose or as regimented as the individual needs, whether it’s “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or the rigidity of Kosher law or Sharia, it would appear that there is something out there for everyone.

So my question could be redefined as this: What do you like enough about your religion that it brings you back, week after week? What is it about your beliefs that you actually like? What’s the appeal?

Is it knowing that someone has set boundaries for you; that there are carefully drawn out limits on behavior and thoughts?

Is it a sense of service to something outside you?

Some people say it is the idea of salvation; but from what are you being saved? And please don’t say ‘sin’, because that’s merely a catch-all term for anything not allowed by one’s own religious practices. There are definitely crimes going on in the world, but sin is far too broad a term to have real meaning.

Is it the drama that attracts you? Most of the legends and mythologies behind modern religions and especially the ancient ones are very dramatic, wonderful tales of adventures and sacrifices made to make the world a better place. Good vs. Evil has to be the most basic storyline of them all.

Is it really the music? Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ are passionate, moving pieces of lyric composition that tug at the heart in many different ways. Walk into any decent Baptist church and that choir will have you moving faster than any disco you’ve been to. They are amazing.

I’m curious, so please, think about it and drop us a line. What holds you, moves you, draws you in and keeps you coming back? Is it love, passion, fear, gratitude? What do you like about your religion?

 

Whatever it may be, I hope it helps you find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita.

Aphorisms for Heretics

Aphorisms for Heretics

 

In keeping with the spirit of the ‘Practical heretic’, the following are a few thoughts about religion in general. Some are obvious, some are less so, but all have at least the quality of (hopefully) being thought-provoking. It’s good to think, the exercise is good for the mind. I hope you enjoy them, and I would appreciate reading your own thoughts and comments on any that catch your eye.

1. God is infinite, Humans are finite; no human is equipped to understand the infinite.
2.   No Scripture ever was delivered from Heaven already printed.

3.   Prophets should keep their mouths shut.

4.   All Religions are equally right and equally wrong.

5.   Never trust anyone who tells you to check your brains at the door.

6.   Willful stupidity is common, but that doesn’t make it right.

7.   Never stop thinking.

8.   Never stop learning.

9.   Killing someone over a religious dispute will not change their mind.

10.  ‘If’ and ‘why’ are the two most dangerous words in any language; use them often.

11.  Authority should be questioned often, and the answers checked.

12.  Women have souls.

13.  Men have souls.

14.  Humans have sex. It’s natural. Deal with it intelligently.

15.  Stupid mistakes are regular occurrences; fix them as quickly as possible.

16.  Respect must be earned.

17.  Loyalty must be given intelligently, and withdrawn when necessary.

18.  Ask questions and listen to answers.

19.  Love is the highest good.

20.  When proof is available, ‘faith’ is not needed.

21.  Life is a process, not a result.

22.  Hatred and grudges are a waste of energy. You have better things to do, I hope.

23.  Murder is common, but that doesn’t make it right.

24.  The definition of what constitutes ‘sin’ changes from place to place and in different times.

25. Dogma is for people who have stopped thinking

26. The Infinite includes everything, even the things you don’t like.

27. A true God has no need to be defended by humans.

28. Be practical; the bills must be paid.

29. Be honest, it’s easier.

30. People gravitate to the gods they can handle.

31. ‘God’ has no religion.

32. Tolerance is challenging.

33. Help where you can.

34. Accept help when you need it.

35. You are responsible for the care and feeding of your own soul, no one else’s.

36. Pointing out other people’s faults does not change your own.

37. Happiness is a conscious choice.

38. Accept responsibility.

39. Forgive yourself first.

40. You cannot quantify a deity.

41. There is no mercy in nature, but nothing is wasted, either.

42. Polytheists do not start religious wars.

43. Monotheism is impossible–every person has their own definition of God.

44. The difference between a ‘cult’ and a ‘religion’ is social acceptance.

As thoughts occur to me I may be adding to the list, or you may have suggestions for others. Please let us know what you think? Have a great weekend, folks, and may you find your peace.