Last autumn 😱 I started reading “The God gene” by Dean H. Hamer. Dispite it’s unfortunate title, the book is not about God, or even spiritual in a way you would expect, it’s scientific. It presents the findings of a behavioral geneticist who has observed a gene called VMAT2 actually, which would have made a totally uninteresting title to be sure. This gene is responsible among other things for the mechanism that allowes monoamines in the brain to reach the targeted neurons and allow us to …feel.
The reason I started reading this book last autumn was because it was quoted in a spiritual book, “Gene keys” by Richard Rudd, and I was a bit ticked because I thought it was only mentioned for the unfortunate title and Rudd made whatever he willed of Hamer’s discovery. It wasn’t the first time I heard about “The God gene”. Before I found it quoted in a genetic or behavioral book, I can’t remember which exactly, but the title made me not want to read it.
It sure felt like this book being quoted by both sides and used to prove opposite ideas, which kinda annoyed me. After reading it, I can understand that even if you read it you can still use it to prove any extreme idea. However, the book is very balanced in the way it expresses things. Way too balanced. So much so that both sides either ignore the part that doesn’t appeal to them or hate the book for that part.
Hamer states from the begining that his discovery is not a proof that God exists, just that there is a gene in our DNA that facilitates our willingness to believe. What we believe, that is up to us.
Apart from his research with genes, he mentions a lot of other scientific studies, as well as his own interactions with spiritual people, like a Budhist monk.
The conclusion of all this is that spirituality is beneficial. Furthermore, we evolved to be spiritual, and historically, it is what kept us alive by uniting us in communities.
Also, spirituality is not religion. Spirituality is genetic, religion is mimetic.
Hamer picks on (in a very considerate manner) Dawkins in this book for being too much against spirituality. However, I think Dawkins is very much against religion for all the harm it did/does. And I understand. I am trying to take the same balanced view as Hamer, but it is hard when it comes to religion. Women have been oppressed by it way too much and still are because religions dictate laws. If religion would be something private, I couldn’t care less and I am sure neither would Dawkins.
What I liked though was when Hamer pointed out that Dawkins has made science his religion. I do feel that people that hold on to any idea and reject anything different are religious in some way. It may also be necessary for (even small) groups to have certain laws of their own in order to function. If people are too different one from the other then they cannot work together, especially if they have opposite views. That’s why I do not belong to any group, and I do not believe in groups that say they are all inclusive. Bulshit.
Up until the conclusions in the last 4 pages of the book, everything is writen quite matter of factly. It is what it is. The chaper where the process in the brain is explained can be a bit more complicated, but the rest of the book is quite easy to digest.
Hamer presents a complete image on spirituality: personal experience of different people, ideas by authors who have writen on the subject, genetic view, mimetic view, medical view (placebo/ nocebo effect), studies on twins regarding spirituality, studies on prayer effectiveness*, religious view, historical view.
I liked the part on meditation a lot. A scientist said that monks “think like dogs”. Apparently, scientist have separated consciousness in two: core and higher consciousness, each having its own part of the brain. When meditating, monks almost shut down their higher consciousness part of the brain. This higher consciousness is the ego, where your self awareness is at, which spiritual people wouldn’t consider higher, but rather the other one would fit better. The core consciousness is the awareness of your surroundings, and apparently animals have it too. Hence the “think like a dog” analogy. When monks meditate, they focus everything on the core consciousness. That’s why they have the out of body experience. I would suggest they become babies again, with the benefit of having the tools to express afterwards their experience.
There are two variations of the VMAT2 gene. You can have one or the other, and this makes you more or less inclined to meditate**. I’m not sure which variation is which, and I can’t even say I do not have the meditate gene one since my mom meditates, though I cannot bring myself to keep the habit. Anyhow, I am spiritual for sure and I also love science, and just like Hamer I think that they are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.
Turn out that if you are missing this gene you would die because you wouldn’t have the will to do anything, not even eating. This is because the monoamines that should be secreted in the brain wouldn’t reach the neurons who wouldn’t send signals to each other and the nerves in the body and …ta-da. Of course, the glands that secrete the monoamines can malfunction or stop functioning all together, which leads to all sort of diseases.
However, we all have some variant of this gene, but this gene alone doesn’t account for higher spiritual experience. What you do in life does. So it’s kinda like prayer.
*the studies on prayer effectiveness are inconclusive unless you want to believe it works. Basically prayer works only if you do something towards your goal. Just praying will not make things happen. However, praying makes one feel better which could help with the motivation and such. Also, others praying for you has some sort of positive impact, if you do something to get what you want. It also has a downside, if you do not get what you want you will start to believe you do not deserve that, get depressed and than self sabotage. So, basically keep positive and carry on. You’ll be fine.
**however you can achieve self-trancendance