Religion Can Change Brains — and Bank Accounts

Faith helps, but you can improve yourself without it.  That’s one message of Andrew Newberg MD, a pioneer in what he calls “neurotheology,” and author of “How God Changes Your Brain,” a book that has been a favorite at our house for several months. Just announced by the Center for the Study of Religion (CSR) – Newberg will lecture on Wednesday, March 7 at 4:30 pm in Princeton University’s Guyot Hall (just below Frist), Room 10.
The CSR lecture series fascinates me. Yesterday I went to the annual Doll Lecture on Religion and Money, given by Lisa Keister, professor of sociology and the Director of the Markets and Management Program at Duke University.  An enthusiastic and lively speaker, she discussed some of her book, “Faith and Money: How Religious Belief Contributes to Wealth and Poverty.”  And though generalizations on academic subject are odious, here I go.
Speaking of the median (not the average person), and speaking of Wealth, not Income,  Keister finds that, as a group, White Catholics are accumulating Wealth at the most rapid pace because they are changing their lifestyles in crucial ways – family size, age at first birth, two parents working, etc  White Catholics have just topped Mainline Protestants in total Wealth.
Meanwhile Conservative Protestants have half the Wealth of their Mainline brethren. Here is an excerpt from page 99 of her book, courtesy of a blog.
For example, Conservative Protestants tend to have relatively low educations, large families, and traditional family structures (women stay home, men work). Conservative Protestants also tend to believe (and report in my survey data) that money belongs to God, and people are managers of the money. It follows that asking for God’s guidance in making financial decision makes sense. It also follows that accumulating large amounts of personal savings may not be the best use of the money.

Consistent with these patterns, Conservative Protestants are more likely than other groups to accumulate few assets during their lives. For those who do accumulate wealth, Conservative Protestants tend to follow a somewhat traditional wealth accumulation trajectory involving early ownership of cash accounts followed by eventual homeownership. They are unlikely to follow a path that involves early ownership of high-risk financial assets. 

What jolted yesterday’s audience: On Keister’s bar graph of wealth, organized according to the median wealth of each religion, Jews are more than twice as wealthy as both Protestants and Catholics. One of the many possible lifestyle and family reasons: Shares of stock are an acceptable bar mitzvah gift, and one of the most efficient ways to accumulate Wealth is to hold fast-growing assets for a long time.

Interestingly, both obedient Jews and Conservative Protestants are expected to be generous to needy causes. The Jewish tzedakah  requirement is 10 percent of income, comparable to the Christian tithe of 10 percent. Keister did not cite giving averages for the general population, but some studies show that the average American family that makes donations will donate from  two to three percent of its income. 

As for Newberg’s book, it is billed as “Both a revelatory work of modern science and a practical guide for readers to enhance their physical and emotional health, How God Changes Your Brain is a first-of-a-kind book about faith that is as credible as it is inspiring.”

. Full disclosure –  I haven’t read it yet myself — but here is what the promo promises: 

Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
• Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love.
• Fundamentalism, in and of itself, can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.

• Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality. 
My spouse is a big fan of this book and says it has helped him with his spiritual life. We have ordered copies for friends. It’s on his desk. Perhaps I need to get my own copy — in time to get it autographed next week. 

2 thoughts on “Religion Can Change Brains — and Bank Accounts

  1. A whimsical, poignant, fictional account of what happens when a fervent Christian obeys ALL of the Biblical precepts — it's in one of my favorite Thornton Wilder novelettes, "Heaven's My Destination." A good read, and enlightening. Traveling textbook salesman, in the midwest during the Depression, tries to do everything right and ends up causing havoc in the secular world.

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