- Fundamentalism, in and of itself, is benign and can be personally beneficial, but the anger and prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
- Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain - altering your values and the way you perceive reality.
Interesting, eh? But here is the kicker: while these brain scientists/neurotheologians have focused most of their studies on those who pray and/or meditate for several hours every day (like monks and nuns), their research is now turning to more prayer-challenged people (like me!). In fact, Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, claims that most anyone can sculpt their brain with some experience and training and something they call neuroplasticity (brain/cortical organization, especially for the sensory systems, is often described in terms of mapping, thus, with training and experience we can re-map our brain...quick question: in faith community circles, is this what we call spiritual formation?). "You can sculpt your brain just as you'd sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym," he says. "Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly."
In one recent-but-unpublished study many people - who were regular people and not monks and nuns - were very successful in cultivating a spiritual mind-set. According to Dr. Davidson, there were detectable changes in the subjects' brains within two weeks. Two weeks! Another similar study, where employees at a high-tech firm meditated a few minutes a day over a few weeks, produced more dramatic results. "Just two months' practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions," Davidson claims that the subjects developed more antibodies to a flu virus than did their colleagues who did not meditate.
So, I have been reflecting on all this and asking myself: what are the implications for Stage 4 Faith in terms of neurotheology, prayer and neuroplasticity? Can spiritual formation and spiritual exercises like "listening prayer" 'form' a pathway to Stage 4 Faith? Can anger and prejudice really damage your brain permanently? Is Stage 4 Faith somehow just more neuro-connectors and synapses due to some witting or unwitting sculpting going on in our brains? Is Stage 4 Faith the brain connecting with God and changing my perception of reality? Who is doing the sculpting, me or God? What are the implications for faith and science in this overlapping phenomenon of "neurotheology"?