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Flex Your Moral Muscle: God Can Change Your Brain

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor

In his newest book, “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters,” Anglican bishop and biblical scholar N. T. Wright advises his readers not to cheat on their tax returns. Because that deceitful act may very well carve a neural pathway inside the brain that makes it easier to cheat on other things or people.

Scary thought.

But the reverse is also true: that the decision to grin and bear a conversation with a boring neighbor on the train–to try ever so painfully to remain patient–also leaves a pathway in the brain that facilitates patience the next time you are confronted with an obnoxious, the-armrest-is-mine train mate.

2 Comments to
Flex Your Moral Muscle: God Can Change Your Brain

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  1. Thank you for this blog post.
    A famous Rabbi once said that “Changing even one character trait is more difficult than learning a [very complicated, ancient] text.” It is good to be reminded that science backs up the difficulty of this–and the rewards!
    Working on our character traits is a great challenge (and we all have moments where we slide backwards), but it is well worth perservering.
    We would add to Newberg’s list: Committing to volunteering to help others regularly (in an organization or on one’s own). The committment–helping others even when we don’t necessarily feel like it–is key.

  2. This goes to show, Spirituality of any form, enlightenment and trancendence can bring transformation can transform. Positive psychology rocks!

  3. To constantly look for god in science is intellectual evisceration and devalues the work done. Why does there have to be this constant “I’m better then you because I believe” crap that oozes from what could be a significant break through in science.

    You are not better or more moral because of your faith or religion.

  4. I don’t see any god in this article. And I agree wit h Kenneth, it does devalues the work done. Why do we need to include god in all the marvels of the nature? A good feeling can be a good feeling even without god. I didn’t read the books mentioned in the article, but I read tons of other books and articles and they explained things fine without using the word “god”, “faith”, “prayer” etc…
    And faith is NOT embedded in our neurons and in our genes, and it is NOT one of the most important principles to honor in our lives. Simply not true. Keep this out of psychology, leave it in the church where it belongs.
    Thank you

  5. Religion is very similar to psychology, they both are working towards the same end: helping us cope with life. But to compare it to science, we have a very interesting problem. Religion is an emotional entity, as the followers are required to submit through faith. Science, on the other hand, is proved by cold hard facts. Instead of stoking the religion vs. science fight, we should be looking at how each has helped humanity progress.

    Without faith and religion, numerous people would be despondent and eternally depressed. And without science, our society would have never progressed.

    And as sumatra has mentioned faith is not embedded in our neurons. Rather an eternal quest to understand death and the beyond is the reason religion exists. Religion provides us with a way in which to cope with our ultimate demise, so that we do not spend our days living in fear.

    I have not been to temple in years (I am Jewish) and yet I believe my life is guided by fate and some higher being. Does this make me any less religious? I believe that its faith in something higher than us that changes our brain, not God him/herself. When I was trying to quit my pain killer addiction, it was my own strength and the help of those around me, not religion that saved me.

    Interesting article. Religion is always a fascination, that is why I am getting my masters in theology.


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