Bhutan has warned its citizens over cutting down thousands of young trees every year to make prayer flags, a threat to the tiny kingdom’s lush scenery and the government’s duty to bring “Gross National Happiness”.
Some book titles are too good to pass up. “How God Changes Your Brain” is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg‘s fourth book on “neurotheology,” the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like “Born to Believe” or “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn’t be “How God Meditation Changes Your Brain.” As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.
Neurotheology – the study of the link between belief and the brain – is a topic I’ve hesitated to write about for several years. There are all kinds of theories out there about how progress in neuroscience is changing our understanding of religion, spirituality and mystical experience. Some say the research proves religion is a natural product of the way the brain works, others that God made the brain that way to help us believe. I knew so little about the science behind these ideas that I felt I had to learn more about the brain first before I could comment.
One of the many rumours that swirled around Michael Jackson in the final years of his life was that he had secretly converted to Islam and taken the name Mikaeel. The “King of Pop” does not seem to have spoken about this publicly himself, and that scene in Bahrain when he went shopping badly disguised in an Arab woman’s abaya could be put down to his well-known penchant for dressing up. So unless there is some statement in his will or documentary evidence in his estate, his funeral expected this week may be the last time to test whether this rumour has any basis in fact.
San Antonio has been hard hit by the swine flu, but if local Roman Catholics go to Mass to pray for deliverance from the disease, they may not get the relief they had hoped for. Archbishop Jose Gomez has issued a letter to priests in the archdiocese recommending they make changes in the Mass because of the swine flu outbreak.
Even the statue of Saint Jude, the patron said of desperate cases and lost causes, wore a mask at a service in Mexico City on Tuesday by Roman Catholics praying for help against the swine flu outbreak. Thanks to photographers Jorge Dan and Daniel Aguilar for these images:
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.
from Tales from the Trail:
WASHINGTON - Rev. Joseph Lowery was back on stage with a president, but on Tuesday the civil-rights pioneer used his wry rhymes to welcome the U.S. leader, not skewer him as he did three years ago.