Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Far from being an evolutionary luxury, the need for God may be a crucial trait stamped deeper and deeper into our genome with every passing generation. Humans who developed a spiritual sense thrived and bequeathed that trait to their offspring. Those who didn't risked dying out in chaos and killing. The evolutionary equation is a simple but powerful one.

Nowhere has that idea received a more intriguing going-over than in the recently published book. "The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired Into Our Genes, written bymolecular bioligist Dean Hamer. Chief of gene structure at the US National Cancer Institute. Hamer not only claims that "human spirituality is an adaptive trait", but he also says "he has located one of the genes responsible, a gene that just happens to also code for production of the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods. Our most profound feelings of spirituality, may be due to little more than an occasional shot of intoxicating brain chemicals governed by our DNA."

Whatever the merits of Hamer's work , he is clearly the heir of a milleniums long search for the wellsprings of spirituality. Hamer also stresses that while he may have located a genetic root for spirituality, that is not the same as a genetic root for religion. "Spirituality is a feeling or state... a state of mind; religion is the way that state gets codified into law. Our genes don't get directly involved in writing legislation. Spirituality is intensely personal; religion is institutional".

At least one faith, according to one of its best known scholars, formalizes the idea of gene-based spirituality and even puts a pretty spin on it. Buddhists, says Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University, "have long entertained the idea that we inherit a spirituality gene from the person we were in a previous life. Smaller than an ordinary gene, it combines with two larger physical genes we inherit from our parents, and together they shape our physical and spiritual profile.

Says Thurman: "The spiritual gene helps establish a general trust in the universe, a sense of openness and generosity." Buddhists, he adds would find Hamer's possible discovery "amusing and fun." The Buddhists theory has never been put to the scientific test, but other investigations into the biological roots of belief in God were being conducted long before Hamer's efforts-often with intriguing results.

Even to some within the religious community, this does not come as news. "In India in Buddha's time, there were philospohers who said there was no soul; the mind was just chemistry," says Thurman. "The Buddha disagreed with their extreme materialsm but also rejected the "absolute soul" theologians.

Nonetheless, sticking points do remain that prevent genetic theory form going down smoothly. One that's particularly troublesome is the question of why Hamer's God gene-or any of the others that may eventually be discovered--is distributed so unevenly among us. Why are some of us spiritual virtuosos, while others can't play a note? "Fortune includes the possibility of divine grace as well as environmental influences."


To find out, take this test, which is adapted from a personality inventory devised by Washington University psychiatrist Robert Cloninger, author of Feeling Good: The Science of Well Being

1. I often feel so connected the people around me that it is like
there is no separation between us. TRUE FALSE

2. I often do things to help protect animals and plants from extinction. TRUE FALSE

3. I am fascinated by the many things in life that cannot be
scientifically explained. TRUE FALSE

4. Often I have unexpected flashes of insight or understanding
while relaxing. TRUE FALSE

5. I sometimes feel so connected to nature that everything seems
to be part of one living organism. TRUE FALSE

6. I seem to have a "sixth sense" that sometimes allows me to know
what is going to happen. TRUE FALSE

7. Sometimes I have felt like I was part of something with no
limits or boundaries in time and space. TRUE FALSE

8. I am often called "absent-minded because I get so wrapped up
in what I am doing that I lose track of everything else. TRUE FALSE

9. I often feel a strong sense of unity with all the things
around me. TRUE FALSE

10. Even after thinking about something a long time, I have
learned to trust my feelings more than my logical reasons. TRUE FALSE

11. I often feel a strong spiritual or emotional connection
with all the people around me. TRUE FALSE

12. Often when I am concentrating on something, I lose
awareness of the passage of time. TRUE FALSE

13. I have made real personal sacrifices in order to make the
world a better place, like trying to prevent war, poverty and
injustice. TRUE FALSE

14. I have had experiences that made my role in life so clear
to me that I felt very happy and excited. TRUE FALSE

15. I believe that I have experienced extrasensory perception. TRUE FALSE

16. I have had moments of great joy in which I sudddenly had
a clear, deep feeling of oneness with all that exists. TRUE FALSE

17. Often when I look at an ordinary thing, something wonderful
happens. I get the feeling that I am seeing it fresh for the
first time. TRUE FALSE

18. I love the blooming of flowers in the spring as much as
seeing an old friend again. TRUE FALSE

19. It often seems to other people like I am in another world
because I am so completely unaware of things going on around me. TRUE FALSE

20. I believe that miracles happen. TRUE FALSE

SCORING: Give yourself one point for each TRUE answer and 0 points for each FALSE answer. 14 and above= highly spirited, a real mystic; 12-13= spiritually aware, easily lost in the moment; 8-11= spiritually average could develop more spiritual life if desired; 6-7= a practical empiricist lacking self-transcendence; 1-5= highly skeptical, resistant to developing spiritual awareness.

How did you do? I and the whole blog world would love some feedback and comments.
* By the score was 14.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Much of this material can be found in Time Magazine's issue of October 25, 2004 in an article titled "IS GOD IN OUR GENES? (A provocative study asks whether religion is a product of evolution. Inside a quest for the roots of faith), written by Jeffrey Kluger.

Until next time remember, Buddha says: "He who is free from the bondage of men and from the bondage of the gods: who is free of all things in creation -- him I call a Brahmin".



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