Religion, the very word can bring so many emotions to the mind. Some of us think of great cathedrals, beautiful mosques, and awe-inspiring temples. Others think of terror, lies, and anti-science. With this in mind, is religion a topic really worth exploring? To that, I say a resounding yes. There are psychological explanations for religion that have been interpreted by many as evidence for a god. However, the same evidence is used by others to prove that the only god that exists is the god in our imagination. So I want to write about three psychological discoveries that can help explain why we have religion in the world, and what should we make of it.
The God gene?
Perhaps one of the greatest discoveries in the field of psychology of religion is the God gene. There have been tests on this particular gene, called VMAT2. What scientists have found is that this gene gives humans a better chance of survival in their natural environment. It also suggest that humans naturally tend to think and act religiously. This amazing discovery has now opened up a whole new realm of study called neuro-theology. This is the study of religious experiences and how they impact the brain. This discovery has led many theologians to say that we now have even more proof for the existence of God.
Many skeptics point to the fact that this gene developed through the process of evolution. God is a superfluous explanation that is not needed for the theory. The VMAT2 has only recently been discovered as well. For now, it seems to be too soon to say that it actually is a gene made for religious experiences.
There are also theologians who are skeptical of the theory. They think it is a way to try and explain away God through the human genes. To them, our relationship with the Divine should not be reduced to mere genetics.
Carl Jung and analytical psychology
I am a psychology nerd, so I realize that people do not recognize the name Carl Jung. Carl Jung is a big name in the field of psychology. He was the man who gave us the terms introvert and extrovert. The foundation for his study of psychology was how religious figures and beings have integrated into the human psyche. Over the generations of evolution, he believed that these forms manifested as archetypes in the mind. These archetypes became part of our personalities. They also developed into what is known as the collective unconscious, which is the unconscious of the human race. To many people today that sounds like a silly idea because what he taught cannot be backed up entirely by science. He used history, art, mathematics, and logic to bind his theories together. His theory proposed that God is too complex for us to understand through our religious ideas. This helps us understand why we have different religious beliefs. The interesting part of this theory is that the Orthodox Christians believe just that. So many from the Orthodox faith use Jungian Psychology to help show how God is a complex being and how archetypes prove this.
There is also a game series that goes over some of his theories called Persona. I recommend playing Persona 4 and Persona 5 to get a vague idea over what his theories consist of. An interesting side note on Dr. Jung is that in an interview he was asked if he believed in God. He said that is a hard thing to say because he knows. What he was saying is that he knew God existed, and therefore, didn’t have to believe it. Also, he studied the occult, in particular alchemy, and even wrote a book over alchemy.
His theories have been hit with harsh criticism, though. This is not a theory that proves the existence of God, per se. Though Jung felt like his theories explained the complexity of God, he did not really show that God exists. There are also theologians who are critical of the theories because they do not believe that God is so complex we cannot understand him.
Religion changes your brain for the better?
According to a study on Catholic Nuns and Buddhist monks, the brain is impacted when there is a mystical union of some sort. For the nuns it was during prayer with God, and for the monks it was during the meditation to become one with their inner selves. There were several regions in the brain that were impacted by this union. The brain tends to be less active, and some studies even suggest that this kind of behavior helps deter aging of the brain. To many theologians this suggests that our brains may be made for a deep union with the our spiritual nature.
The issue here is the fact that these studies can be replicated in those who do not hold to any faith. The results, though not exactly the same, are not statistically different enough to be significant. Skeptics point this out to show that it is more about calming the mind as well as controlling the breath.
Conclusion-Are we made for God?
With these three psychological discoveries, theologians believe that there are good reasons to hold to the existence of God. However, the same evidence that the theologians use, the skeptics use to prove the opposite. The theories can either be turned around and said to mean something else, or they can be tested with our current scientific knowledge.
In the end it comes down to perception. You know what, though? The funny thing about psychology is that it all comes down to the perception of the individual. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So what do you think? Are there any other great psychological discoveries regarding religious experience? Its an interesting question, and maybe one day, we will fully be able to understand the concept of religion.