God Reduces Distress for Believers

God BrainA study published in Psychological Science shows actual brain wave evidence that thoughts of God have a calming effect on the brain.  However, this only holds true for those who believe.  And given that some 85% of the planet holds some sort of religious belief, that’s most everyone.

More interesting is that for atheists, the study showed the exact opposite.  Given a stressful situation, thoughts of God actually increased the subject’s anxiety.  The unanswered question is whether this is a cause or effect.

Is it because you don’t believe in God that thoughts of God are stressful, or is it that you don’t believe in God because thoughts of God induce stress.  I’m unaware there is a definitive scientific answer to this question, but personally I believe it’s the latter.

In my life, I came to accept the non-existence of God entirely because the world made a lot more sense to me that way.  The existence of God in this world was extraordinarily confounding.  It wasn’t remotely comforting.  It made me want to confront the deity and yell, “What the hell were you thinking?”  A world without God, governed only by the laws of nature, was much more comforting.  It was simply less stressful.  And so I went there.

Nonetheless, I recognize I am in a minority.  It has always seemed to me, and now this study confirms, that most people find great comfort and solace in God.  Their world’s made more sense to them.  I’ve also always believed that the specific God was less important than there simply being a higher power.  People who are devout Christians in America would doubtless be devout Muslims if only they had been born in Dubai.  The comfort of their religious beliefs on their minds would be the same.

All of this reinforces my firm belief that the so-called new atheists who would opt to convert believers to atheism are on a fool’s mission.  For most people, atheism would be an untenably stressful situation.  Would they adjust?  Maybe to a degree, but I think the brain is somewhat hardwired to believe or not.  Forcing either side to accept the other is a pointless imposition of stress with no net gain.

At some level, people seem to instinctively seek out what they need to make their world make sense.  For most, that’s a belief in God, but for some it’s not.  Proselytizing from either side is not just annoying, but is likely destructive.  Live and let live.  You have to do what works for you.

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