My brother is an atheist, so we have a standing debate always going. Its fun, it challenging and he really makes me think. Our current debate is on prayer. I say yes, he says no. He says it makes absolutely no sense to “pray” to an imaginary god. I say there are benefits in prayer regardless. After all, apparently we are born to pray and its a distinct possibility that God is hardwired into our brain.
Geneticist Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute has hypothesized that human beings have inherited genes which pretty much guarantee spirituality.
Hamer analyzed DNA data from over 1000 subjects and identified one particular marker called VMAT2. What this means is the place in the brain that regulates serotonin, dopamine and norepinphrine play an important role in our spiritual thoughts.
I ask, why would nature “think” to hardwire God into our brain? Rather wouldn’t Yahweh put Himself into our brains in order to lead us to Him? I mean think about it, why wouldn’t He? And now there is scientific evidence that he did. After all, “… faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 We can’t see the gene, but Scientists can.
There are several places in scripture which indicate that we are born with the light of God, could this be referring to the place in our brain which leads us to Yahweh (John 1)? I like to think so. I know that when I am frightened or worried about something prayer seems to help. After a time of praying, my heart will stop beating so fast, and I begin to feel more at peace. Obviously, the activity in my pre-frontal cortex is jumping through hoops in my defense.
Studies have been conducted which have shown that the area of our brain which regulates meditation and prayer light up like a hundred light switches all being turned on at once. At the same time the other part of our brain, called the parietal lobe shuts down completely, so that when we are in deep meditation and prayer all other influences take a hike. This is good news, because this means that when we want to become one with our maker, our brain is supportive of our efforts.
How does faith affect our body? Dr. Harold Koenig, a Psychiatrist who specializes in geriatrics started asking these questions back in the 1980’s. By the 1990’s Dr. Koenig found a link between higher rates of faith and lower rates of depression. He also found that the study subjects who prayed regularly and had an outlet for their faith, such as fellow-shipping with like believers, also had lower rates of blood pressure.
As well, people who have regular outlets for their spirituality have:
*Lower interleukin -6 levels (an indication of a good functioning immune system)
*Less stress overall
*Belief in a supernatural being appears to affect overall health
It is theologically incorrect to “pray” just to affect health because it appears to be most helpful for those who have a genuine, heartfelt belief. There are other methods which will help the unbeliever, such as stress reduction techniques and meditation. So, unbelievers sit down, relax and say “omm…omm…,”
get into a state of “mindfulness,” and feel the self-esteem and pain relief come rolling in.
So, what is the difference between prayer and meditation? Prayer is for speaking (your mind) to the Almighty, and meditation is for listening. Of course, there are as many different ways to speak, and to listen as there are people on the planet. My friend Rick says “Heaven is not pie in the sky, but pie nearby.” Calm, peaceful and blissful moments are just yours for the taking, if you learn a few simple “keys,” says Rick.
Some people call meditation the “tamed” mind, meaning that putting daily efforts into meditative practices such as mind calming techniques have long term benefits. For instance, what might have once been a frustrating day in the chaotic line at the grocery store becomes a time of being able to calmly look around with compassion at the struggling people around you. It takes some practice, but it can be done.
Praying and meditation have this same long-term beneficial action in common. Prayer and meditation have the ability to take us outside of ourselves and place our minds on the plight of others. But, more importantly it connects us to what we all really want, and that is hope. Prayer is a legitimate outlet where we are able to articulate our hope aspirations.
Besides being called the tamed mind, a mind that is trained by prayer and meditation is also a focused mind. When stress and problems are be-setting us, we are able to handle it better and focus on solutions. We are less likely to lose our temper, and less likely to suffer the long-term consequences of stress.
Some of the “keys” mentioned by Rick are:
*Faith (confident belief, not wishful thinking)
*True Forgiveness (absolute release of the poisons and bitterness which beset a grudge-filled mind) When we forgive, we can then believe that we are able to be forgiven.
*Being able to fully live in the present moment, because the present (time) is a gift.
*Stillness…the very essence of prayer and meditation. We can’t achieve the benefits without preceding our prayerfulness with calm and peaceful stillness.
*Gratitude. A focused mind knows that every moment, every relationship and every good thing is a blessing to receive with gladness.
*Humility-The realization that even though you aren’t the hub of existence, you are still special.
The Keys to the Kingdom, By Rick Dickson
My non-believing brother might say that prayer is nothing but neurons firing, and that any supernatural being is a brain filled illusion. He would say that if there is a gene responsible for God it is because a population of spiritual-minded individuals are favored by natural selection. I disagree. Compassionate people let weaker people live. Natural selection is only interested in allowing the stronger to live.
My brother and I might be debating for some time to come because I am intent on convincing him of at least one thing, and that is, no matter the source, prayer and meditation are good for us. Because I love him I am going to convince him to put on some tights and sit with his legs crossed and say “ohmm…ohmm…” because if I can get him to meditate he will garner some of the same benefits of prayer.
Dean Hamer,“The God Gene, How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes“