June 1, 2011
Big Brain in the Main
This week researchers at Duke University (my doctoral alma mater!) discovered that the brains of mainline church members are larger than the brains of born-again-ers, Roman Catholics, and unbelievers. See http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-05-25-brain24_ST_N.htm
This research suits me to a tee. I now know why I left fundamentalism years ago, am moving away from evangelicalism, and can’t quite make the leap either to unbelief or the Catholic Church. I have too much gray matter. My hippocampus is hippo, nay elephantine! I don’t feel smarter or look smarter than other Christians, but apparently, being mainline, I am.
It is a little suspicious that this research was done at Duke, a United Methodist affiliated university, by scientists who may well be mainliners themselves. I wonder if they tested their own brains and correlated that to their theological/denominational location. And another thing: did Stanley Hauerwas have anything to do with this study? It sounds like his kind of bull****, to quote Stanley.
Apparently being thoroughly mainline does not eliminate intellectual, ethical, theological, or spiritual confusion, since I am often confused in all these ways. It probably promotes it, since we have more capacity for questions and multiple answers. My students hated it when I would say, “Now, there are four ways, or perhaps, five of looking at this issue.” They wanted an answer, but now I realize, alas, they were theologically more conservative than I, and their needing simple answers was a function of their smaller brain size.
The research likely means that we mainliners think too much! I wonder if the left sides of PresbyMethoLutherpalian brains are larger than the right sides? So, if we felt more, or felt more deeply, could we balance that out? I see many future doctoral theses arising from this heady research.
One more thing I’d like to know: since you could say that mainline Protestant Christianity is in the middle of a spectrum from (on the right) fundamentalism, through evangelicalism, and on toward (the left) Episcopalianism and Catholicism, are the biggest brains right smack in the middle and then their size begins to taper off as they tend in either direction?
And how do unbelievers fit into all this? Are they not smart enough to find their place in the Kingdom of the brainy, or are they, perhaps, Karl Rahner’s crypto-Christians, a category the Blue Devil scientists failed to account for.
Maybe the Templeton Foundation will award the researchers another grant to answer these and other intriguing questions. What is it that you want to know about religion and brain size?
Thomas F. Johnson
Whidbey Island, WA