Brains and Belief

I've had a year of incredible spiritual growth. This year more than ever I've had a renewed faith that there is some singularity guiding our lives, there is a God who loves, and there is great hope in this God. 

And I dare say that one the the primary reasons I've had this "spiritual awakening" comes from learning about our brains. 

That's right, brains. 

I've learned some incredibly interesting things about our brains. For instance, think of our brain as New York City. Our brain grows up, not out. So it starts at the base of our spinal chord and grows up like skyscrapers. At the bottom, the base, we have our primitive brain that allows us to do things like breathe and circulate blood. 

As we move up the "skyscraper" a bit further we have our limbic system. Our limbic system is where we have fear, anger, anxiety, and all the rest of our powerful emotions. Do you ever wonder why your first inclination is to get angry or upset about something? That’s natural. It’s because our nerves must travel through the limbic system of your brain where those feelings exist. It’s good for evolution. It’s your limbic system that tells you to run when you’re being chased by a lion or in our case, an angry delivery guy. 

 As your brain grows higher like NY skyscrapers we get to the thalamus. The Thalamus is the place in our brain where we find our sense of self. This is where our identity lies. Our thalamus is the core of who we are at the most basic level. 

Then finally at the top of the skyscraper we get to our cortexes, which control our language, our ability to solve problems, our ability to comprehend poetry or music or love. 

 I’m going to tell you why this is so interesting to me. I used to think that my belief in God and the way I think about God came from the top of my brain in the cortexes. But that’s not true. My ability to comprehend or believe in a God starts lower in our thalamus. It starts at our core at our most basic place of self and consciousness.  And here’s the thing, our thalamus is made up of two parts. It’s binary. Our most basic sense of self, our thalamus will always default into categorizing life into two parts such as,

Black or white
Right or wrong
True or False
Fact or fiction
Short or tall

Our make up as human beings means that we will always separate and categorize thoughts and feelings. It’s not until we literally make ourselves use our other parts of the brain that we can even consider the gray areas of life. 

They’ve done brain scans of the thalamus and just as suspected they’ve found that most people have a symmetrical thalamus. This is no surprise. Like I said, our thalamus is binary.

But there is one phenomena that produces as asymmetrical thalamus in humans.

Those who pray and meditate on a loving God have a changed thalamus. When you focus in on a loving god your brain literally changes and that thalamus that wants to divide and put everything into categories begins acting differently. It stops being so binary. It stops defaulting towards certainty.

 When you focus on a loving God so much your thalamus changes sizes. It strengthens the rest of the brain. You’re less likely to be angry and fearful. You’re more likely to talk about love, acceptance, and understanding. Your brain changes and you have greater measurable senses of calm. Your brain begins to wire itself to be more capable of forgiveness. This is all very true. There are studies done that show this. This can be proven.

What is so amazing is that when we focus in on a loving God you physically become more like the resurrected Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the loving God. 

I understand that this doesn't constitute proof that there is a God. But here's what this information does, it allows me to journey with the resurrected Christ. It allows me to be used to bring a little bit of the peace that God intended for this world. 

That is a miracle. That is life changing. That strengthens my faith.

We're preparing a series of events that we're calling Faith, Culture, and Questions (FCQ). We recognize that there are questions about faith and science that go way beyond our brains. We know that there are more questions than answers. That's why we're beyond excited to introduce the first speaker in our Faith, Culture, and Questions Series, "Science" Mike McHargue.

It was through a Science Mike podcast that I learned about our brains. It's changed my outlook on faith and I am positive that it can change yours too. Check out the Science Mike Podcast and make sure to buy tickets to our first FCQ event. I can promise you that it will change your brain. It may even change the way you look at the resurrected Christ.