Book Review: Why God Won’t Go Away, Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, by Dr. Andrew Newberg et. al.

Dr. Andrew Newberg and his colleagues believe that they have found the neural pathways that enable spiritual seekers to connect to the Absolute Unitary Being, in other words, God. The neural pathways involve various structures in the human brain, the amygdala, the hippocampus, the hypothalamus and other structures that direct the autonomic nervous system. Through single photon emission computed tomography they have been able to document changes in blood flow within the brain when a meditating subject reaches the point where perception of the self is lost and he or she connects with the infinite.
Dr. Newberg states that: After years of research, our understanding of various key brain structures and the way information is channeled along neural pathways led us to hypothesize that the brain possesses a neurological mechanism for self-transcendence. When taken to its extreme, this mechanism, we believe, would erase the mind’s sense of self and undo any conscious awareness of an external world.” In this state the mind connects with the Absolute Unitary Being, or God.
Mystical experiences have been part of all of man’s major religions, both eastern and western, and they all have a certain commonality:
“The goal of all mystical striving is to shed the limits of self and return to that original condition of wholeness, the primal state of unity with God, or the cosmos, or the Absolute.”
The authors assert that “every event that happens to us or any action that we take can be associated with activity in one or more specific regions of the brain. This includes, necessarily, all religious and spiritual experiences. The evidence further compels us to believe that if God does indeed exist, the only place he can manifest his existence would be in the tangled neural pathways and physiological structures of the brain.”
So what is the nature of this Absolute Unitary Being that the mystics of various religions perceive when they have shed their conscious selves? The authors assert that it is not a personal God. “The egotistical self cannot exist, because it has no non-self against which to define itself. In the same fashion God cannot be set apart from this ultimate oneness as an identifiable personalized being-to do so would be to conceive of a God who is less than absolutely real.”
The authors say, further, that this God is unknowable. “The unknowableness of God is a defining principle for the mystically inclined religions of the East. Buddhism and Taoism, for example, leave little room for any personified deity. Even Hindus, who worship specific personalized deities, understand that these specific, identifiable gods are representations of the one supreme Godhead, Brahmin, who exists beyond form and description and for whom ‘all illustrations are inadequate and truth is beyond words.’”
“Western faiths have consistently and collectively insisted, in agreement with the teachings of the East, that the ultimate essence of God is far beyond the reach of human comprehension.”
As to proof that God exists, the authors say “Again we cannot objectively prove the actual existence of Absolute Unitary Being, but our understanding of the brain and the way it judges for us what is real argues compellingly that the existence of an absolute higher reality or power is at least as rationally possible as is the existence of a purely material world.”
Suppose there actually is an Absloute Unitary Being. For this reader this begs the question “So what?” If it is not a personal God that answers prayers and comforts you as a parent and can only be glimpsed by a miniscule minority of human beings, than what impact can it really have on one’s life? What is the point of worshiping such an entity? Most religious people I am acquainted with want a personal God, our father, our king, who guides us and to whom we can turn to in times of troubles. Of what earthly benefit is this impersonal, unknowable deity when you are in a foxhole?
Aside from the small scattering of mystics among us who go to great lengths to connect with this Absolute Unitary Being, and find bliss thereby, I suspect most of us would find this conception of God rather useless.

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