Science and religion

Mind over Matter

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In a previous post I examined the problem of will power and unconscious processes. I took the position that free will is real and that we can choose where we place our conscious attention though we cannot necessarily control what our underlying mental and brain processes do with the material that reaches them. As I understood it the academic consensus was pretty sceptical of the whole idea of free will seeing the “illusion” of choice as reducible to automatic brain functions with nothing left over.

This flies in the face of subjective experience, a sense of moral responsibility and most religious traditions including the Bahá’í Faith.

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Study Links Religion and Racism

{josquote}"Religious groups distinguish between believers and non-believers and moral people and immoral ones—so perhaps it´s no surprise that the strongly religious people in our research, who were mostly white Christians, discriminated against others who were different from them - blacks and minorities."{/josquote}

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus warned religious listeners against what today would be called “ingroup prejudice”: the tendency to think less of outsiders, especially those of another race.

The Samaritan, a member of a group despised by Israelites of that time, proves himself more charitable to an injured traveler than two members of the Jewish clergy.

Devout listeners startled by the Samaritan’s charity would have had to confront a difficult message: Piety and prejudice keep close company.

It appears not much has changed.

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A Fine and Private Place

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I’ve had a graveside week of it this week.

That’s not quite as morbid and unpleasant as it sounds. The visits I made to gravesides in my home town were full of interest and contained at least one fascinating surprise. The visit to the resting place of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith along with other members of the Hereford Baha’i community was a spiritually rewarding one.

{josquote}[Robert Wright] sees the progress of civilisation, which has now reached a global level, almost inevitably driving the development of a global faith in only one God with one name.{/josquote}

We went up to Stockport to see my cousin’s husband. My cousin died recently and we wanted to keep in touch with him during this difficult period. Obviously we also visited her grave, which awaits the headstone once it has settled. When we told him of our plan he mentioned that my grandparents’ grave was close by in the same cemetery. I was astonished because I had never realised this, even though I had had many conversations about their parents with my aunt and my mother before they died. It was amazing to me that they had never mentioned where my grandparents were buried, nor could I remember their taking me with them to visit the grave.

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Bahai, the reasonable religion . . .

Gerald Fernandez-Mayfield

Baha’is believe in the harmony of science and religion, we believe that the rational faculties are ordained by God, we have social principles which are almost universally in line with the progressive vogue, and we pride ourselves on being accepting of others, even attempting to discard the concept of “otherness” all together. All of this is wonderful, but sometimes allows us to slip into a sense of patronizing superiority.

Living in Idaho I am surrounded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Idaho Baha’is seem overall to be nothing but warm towards our Mormon neighbors, and we all seem to recognize the great deal we have in common. Coming to the east coast of the United States, I haven’t heard the end of Baha’is asking about that western ‘cult’ and their ridiculous beliefs, and even on the west coast Baha’is seem to feel justified ridiculing Scientologists. And ‘creationist’ and ‘fundamentalist’ seem to be epithets of choice in intellectual discussions among Baha’is. None of this is done with malice, normally just a lighthearted teasing and an assumption that all “religious silliness” is destined to be erased by Baha’u'llah’s healing remedy of intellectual consistency and reason in religion.

{josquote}...we believe in an ancient being who has existed before the dawn of time, chosen to remain hidden from all observation, yet demands recognition and universal worship.{/josquote}

Inspired by a sermon I once heard a Seventh Day Adventist pastor give, I would like to enlighten Baha’is on just how ridiculous our own religion is, that maybe we can learn to appreciate the intense faith members of other religions have in upholding their beliefs:

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Is 'Godliness' Contagious Too?

The New York Times Magazine has a great piece about research on "social contagion". Here is a brief selection:

Nomoco - Birds of a feather
"...Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people". (Read the whole thing here)

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If physical or mental health can be spread from person to person through association, how about spiritual health? I'm reminded of Baha'u'llah's emphasis on keeping company with 'godly' folks:

O MY SON! The company of the ungodly increaseth sorrow, whilst fellowship with the righteous cleanseth the rust from off the heart. He that seeketh to commune with God, let him betake himself to the companionship of His loved ones; and he that desireth to hearken unto the word of God, let him give ear to the words of His chosen ones. (Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

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