© Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Historically and traditionally, established religion (often symbolized by cathedrals) has at once offered solace and retreat and promoted discord and controversy. For individuals deeply committed to a spiritual life, these seeming contradictions have often proved frustrating, if not problematic. Either way, they are a great pity inasmuch as the initial motivation for even establishing religion may have been to provide succor, contemplation, companionship, and accord.
As with politics, religion is often discussed with either virtuous vigor or abject sarcasm. Between those two poles falls a spectrum that stretches from blind obsession to coercive torture. One trigger for controversy can be a failure to separate the concept of religion from that of spirituality. As one observer put it somewhat tongue in cheek, Religiosity is for those who don’t want to go to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there and don’t want to go back.
In the past few decades, research on the human brain, has offered insights into brain differences and provided reasons that these differences are not only innate but important to achieving a whole society. Emerging brain-function studies now theorize that every brain on this planet is different—in structure, function, and perception. Viewing individual innate preferences as equal in value although unlike can free individuals to embrace activities and processes that work for them, to internalize the right of each person to do the same, and to experience enrichment through the observation of and/or the participation in endeavors outside their own areas of preference. Viewed within this framework, differences can take on new meaning and the discovery journey can be stimulating.
Four Cerebral Divisions
The human cerebrum is divided naturally into four divisions, each of which makes an important contribution to life. Each individual is believed to possess a biochemical preference in one division over the other three. As such, an individual's natural bent or energy-efficient way of doing things would reflect his or her division of giftedness or innate energy advantage.
Table 1 The Purpose of each Cerebral Mode
Left Frontal Lobe
Enables you to develop skills to set and achieve goals, and make objective and timely decisions, which include:
Right Frontal Lobe
Enables you to develop skills to anticipate and make changes, which include:
Left Posterior Division
Enables you to develop skills to produce and supply services (dependably) for maintaining life and work, which include:
The ability to sequence a set of actions into a routine (set of premade decisions) and follow it accurately
The tendency to more easily absorb information that is perceived as linear (e.g., rectangles, squares, lines, angles)
Right Posterior Division
Enables you to develop skills to build trust, harmony, connection, and peaceful foundations, which include:
The ability to compare everything to assess for the presence or absence of harmony
The tendency to more easily absorb information that is perceived as harmonically related (e.g., color, smiles, body language, oval or circular or rounded shapes)
Human beings have differing needs for stimulation or protection from stimulation. This leads some to be gifted at working in the melee and others to be gifted at working alone. This can be plotted on a continuum with Extraversion and Introversion at opposite ends and Ambiversion in the middle. (See table below with estimates of population groupings.)
|Extraverts 15%||Ambiverts 70%||Introverts 15%|
These differences naturally influence the way in which individuals prefer to worship. Some (e.g., Introverts) may be more comfortable worshipping alone, with only a few others, or in a quiet secluded setting. Others (e.g., Extraverts) may prefer just as naturally to be in noisy, crowded, or stimulating settingswhere the action is. The Ambiverts are most comfortable in situations that provide a moderate level of stimulation.
Human beings also have unique preferences with respect to the way in which they experience life. In Western cultures these are often referred to as the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (including touch, taste, and smell) sensory systems. Unimpaired, each individual can use all three systems, although one type of sensory stimuli will register most quickly and intensely in the brain.
- Visuals prefer to relate to the world through their sense of sight and may become bored or frustrated in situations that make it difficult for them to take in data through sight,
- Auditories prefer to relate to the world through sound and may be very sensitive to the presence of or lack of sound in their environment.
- Kinesthetics relate to the world through what they sense in terms of hands on experiences as well as body position and surrounding environmental conditions that can include temperature variations as well as touch, taste, and odors.
If one’s sensory preference is not acknowledged and provided for, the individual may miss taking in valuable data, may conclude that the experience was unhelpful or not meaningful, or may even experience discomfort.
As I child I puzzled over there being four gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John). Four different accounts written by four different authors and emphasizing different aspects of life at that time of the world’s history. Looking at the four Gospels in the Holy Bible),
Although admittedly conjecture on my part, in adulthood I’ve come to theorize that each author may have had a different brain lead and might have written in his own brain’s “language.” A reader might, therefore, based on personal brain lead, prefer one of the gospels over the others. Using one model of authorship, each gospel can be compared with key brain characteristics and correlated with groups of individuals who were represented during that period of time (see Table 2).
Table 2 - One way to view Gospel authorship and the four cerebral divisions
A physician (Frontal Left Division)
The Zealots: a somewhat fanatical sect with the avowed goal of repelling Roman domination.
The first gospel writer (Frontal Right Division)
The Essenes: a monastic brotherhood that lived in seclusion and prepared the Dead-Sea Scrolls.
A tax collector (Left Posterior Division)
The Pharisees: a group that, in an effort to do things correctly, emphasized strict observance of rites, oral traditions, and ceremonies.
The beloved apostle (Right Posterior Division)
The Sadducees: a dislike of conflict led to compromise, which eventually resulted in the loss of hope and in differences of belief.
According to historical accounts, Mark was the first gospel writer. Frontal Rights are often on the innovative edge and the fact that Mark was the first to write a gospel account correlates with that tendency. This suggests that he was visionary and, perhaps before others, could see the Church that was to develop. Mark begins with prophecy and speaks primarily of the mystical and metaphorical doings and words of Jesus. His emphasis is on the wonder of Christ’s existence and ministry. Although his is also the shortest record, he includes some interesting details related to miracles and parables that are not included in the other three gospels.
Matthew, a tax collector, wrote an historical narrative. His gospel has a flavor of the Basal Left mode, beginning as it does with a list of ancestors. Matthew presented Christ as a teacher who came to show people how to behave. From the Sermon on the Mount through information on divorce, loving one’s enemies, and judging others to the fallacy of worrying and the proper way to pray, the emphasize was on helping people learn how to do it right. Matthew is the only gospel writer who reports several sermons in detail, in their entirety.
The Apostle John wrote of connection and faith in the gospel, and emphasized the coming of the Comforter. History has referred to John as the disciple Jesus loved. John presented Christ as connected to God, as being one with God. He also referred to Christ as the Word of God¾an approach that underscores the personal, relational, and one-to-one communicational aspect perceived by the writer. This focus on unity and connection reflects strong Basal Right preferences and values.
Luke was a physician. Although physicians were often shamans in Biblical times, as an author, Luke recorded facts after a thorough investigation. He begins his account by saying, “Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you . . .” (NIV). His words are reminiscent of inductive/deductive reasoning, a function of the Left Frontal Lobe. Luke used a variety of medical terms (e.g., pregnancy, circumcision, high fever). This writer also traced Christ’s ancestry through a genealogy of fathers and sons back to Adam, ending with Adam being the “Son of God.” In terms of who’s who, this suggests that hierarchy was important to Luke and that possessing a royal bloodline or lineage was significant to proving value.
NOTE: I. K. Benziger PhD has theorized that Luke could be associated with the Right Posterior Lobes, because "physicians in Biblical Times were Shamens."
Four different gospels, written by four different authors, and emphasizing different aspects of Bible times. Individuals who clearly have a favorite gospel may enjoy the one authored by a writer whose thinking style most closely resembles that of the reader.
According to the parable of the talents as recorded in the Gospel written by Matthew, every human being possesses special giftedness. Several passages of scripture refer to special spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:1-16; 1 Peter 4:8-11).
Reviewed in the light of brain lead, society and culture does not necessarily honor all giftedness equally. For example, the gift of hospitality isn’t rewarded in the same manner as is the spirit of prophecy; the gift of serving others is not rewarded in the same manner as is the gift of raising money. (It is recognized that some religions teach that a specific spiritual gift may be “given” to an individual due to a need in a specific situation regardless of the individual’s innate giftedness.)
Table 3 - Spiritual Gifts and Brain Lead
Left Frontal Brain Lead
Right Frontal Brain Lead
Left Posterior Brain Lead
Right Posterior Brain Lead
* I. K. Benziger PhD also theorizes that each mode houses a wisdom potential that can increase with maturity, skill development, and overall integration of brain function. This differs from “King Solomon’s wisdom,” so-called.
As a concept separate from affiliation with religion, one’s individual spiritual journey is impacted by brain lead. That is, individuals may approach personal spirituality differently based on their innate giftedness (see Table 4). Their actual behavioral choices (as compared to their innate preferences) may, of course, be moderated because of past experience, education, and expectations.
Table 4 - Approach to Spirituality
Left Frontal Brain Lead
Innately may tend toward:
Right Frontal Brain Lead
Innately may tend toward:
Left Posterior Brain Lead
Innately may tend toward:
Right Posterior Brain Lead
Innately may tend toward:
If individuals choose to affiliate with a religious denomination and participate in the organization, they may gravitate toward different types of activities, again based on innate brain lead.
Table 5 - Religious Participation Preferences
Frontal Left Brain Lead
Frontal Right Brain Lead
Left Posterior Brain Lead
Basal Posterior Brain Lead
Preference for Style of Religious Service
Admittedly one’s preference for style of religious service (if one attends corporately) can be developed through expectation and exposure. In adulthood, however, if the individual is owning and following his/her brain bent, preference can be impacted by one’s own innate giftedness (e.g., whether one’s biochemical preference involves a left-brain mode or a right-brained mode). Individuals with a preference for using one of the left cerebral modes tends to gravitate toward a different style of religious service compared with those who prefer to use one of the right cerebral modes.
Table 6 - Worship Style Preferences by Cerebral Mode
Left Posterior Lobes
Right Posterior Lobes
These summarized examples of differences (Tables 4, 5, 6) also have an impact on the controversy between so called traditional and celebration worship services. Indeed, one might generalize by saying that the major differences between these two styles reflect the general division between the left-brained clergy and congregations and right-brained clergy and congregations. If not reflecting innate preferences in every instance, they certainly reflect learned differences and expectations.
Typically, traditional services in our culture emphasize what people need to DO to live sanctified lives. In these congregations there is usually an emphasis on obeying rules and regulations, attending church regularly, reading/memorizing scripture, and on the doctrine of sanctification (choosing to live daily lives without making a habit of sinning). Individuals who have a preference for a left-brain thinking style (with a brain lead in either the Frontal Left or Basal Left), often prefer to attend traditional church services. They like their services to include a preponderance of activities that match that portion of the brain.
On the other hand, people who prefer to use functions that derive from the right hemisphere of the brain (with a brain lead in either the Frontal Right or Basal Right), often prefer to attend celebration church services. In such congregations there is usually an emphasis on trust, grace, loving one another, and on justification (accepting God’s free gift of grace) over sanctification. Entire congregations have been splintered into factions because of conflict over these differences (see Table 7).
Table 7 - Traditional versus Celebration Service Styles
Pastor Bob’s Story
The Apostle Paul was evidently somewhat disturbed by the fact that many communities of early Christians were plagued by conflict. He saw it as counter productive to the primary purpose of Christianity and exhorted his various flocks to avoid it (Titus 3:9). Next to the four Gospels, the Apostle Paul is arguably the most distinguished Biblical writer and early expert on what it means to be a Christian. The writings of Paul, filled with observations, exhortations, and advice are included within the New Testament. And yet, notwithstanding, the conflicts that so distressed Paul continue to divide Churches today.
For example, Pastor Bob (not his real name but a true story) unwittingly found himself in the middle of one of these controversies. It seems that he had become accustomed to delivering his sermons as close to his congregation as possible. Bible in hand, wearing a lavaliere microphone, he sometimes even walked right down into the aisles amidst the seated members. He really enjoyed preaching eye to eye. His genuine interest in nurturing, encouraging, and affirming his flock was obvious. He wanted to help each one to develop a personal relationship with God.
Pastor Bob eventually accepted a call to pastor a large church in another state. The pulpit at his new assignment was immense. Creatively carved in solid oak, it dominated the rostrum. Being rather short of stature, he not only felt dwarfed by the pulpit but totally separated from the congregation, as well. Therefore, he soon enlisted the help of a couple of deacons who moved the imposing pulpit to one side of the platform. Alas, he was unprepared for the storm of protest that ensued the next weekend.
At the conclusion of the morning sermon, several individuals accosted Pastor Bob. Joe, a man with a preference for using the left posterior lobes,actually looked stressed as he said, “The pulpit has been in the center of the platform for years and years, ever since I was a little duffer. It's just not right to change its location!” Derek, an individual with giftedness in the left frontal lobe, asked pointedly, “Who gave you permission to move the pulpit?” Of course, the few individuals with a lead in the right frontal lobe thought Pastor Bob’s innovation was a welcome change¾but they were definitely in the minority. Those with biochemical preference in the right posterior lobes were decidedly uncomfortable with the whole situation. In an effort to preserve harmony they agreed with first one parishioner’s opinion, then with another. The perceived conflict and lack of harmony contributed to each parishioner finally going home with a splitting headache.
After numerous phone calls, the church-board chair called a meeting of the august committee. After three hours of heated discussion the don’t move the pulpit contingent prevailed. The following week Pastor Bob arrived at church to find the pulpit returned to its original position and firmly attached to the platform. For the next few weeks the atmosphere was strained, to say the least.
Fortunately, Pastor Bob was given an opportunity to learn something about brain function. In his desperation, he soaked up the information and applied it to the dilemma he was facing in his parish. He opted for a practical, whole-brain solution and this is what he said: “I’ll leave the pulpit just where it is. That will honor the preference of the left brainers. And, sometimes I’ll walk around and preach in front of the pulpit. Maybe I’ll even move right down into the aisle several times in the same sermon. That will give the right brainerssome variety and meet my need for connection¾plus it will give the left brainers an opportunity to practice adjusting to a bit of change.” Not every one in the congregation is comfortable with all aspects of Pastor's Bob's solution but the atmosphere has lightened considerably.
Prayer has been studied for eons but perhaps more scientifically in the last couple of decades. Hundreds of studies show the benefit of prayer to plants and humans; to the individuals who do the praying, and to those who are prayed for whether or not they know about the prayers. Perhaps even more than other types of activities associated with religion, spirituality, and worship, prayer is intensely personal. The different-strokes-for-different-folks framework is essential when discussing prayer (see Table 8).
Even the way in which an individual approaches prayer (a form of meditation) can be impacted by his/her innate giftedness and can differ based on brain lead, sensory preference, and extraversion/introversion. For example:
- Extroversion/Introversion. The extrovert (E) is more likely to be outer directed in prayer and may be very comfortable offering prayers in public, while the introvert (I) may be more inner directed and terrified of praying in public. The ambiverts will fall somewhere between these two extremes.
- Sensory Preference. Auditories (who prefer to receive input through sound) may enjoy hearing audible prayers and may speak or sing theirs aloud. Visuals (who prefer to receive data through sight) may meditate with the help of pictures, statues, or other visual symbols. Kinesthetics (who relate to the world through touch sensation, taste, and smell) may be very sensitive to body position during prayer as well as to environmental conditions including temperature, weather, and physical comfort.
- Brain lead. One’s innate biochemical preference for processing information in one of the cerebral modes over the other three can influence one’s preferred style of prayer, location for prayer, and content.
Table 8. Approach to Prayer (a form of meditation)
Left Frontal Lobe
Extrovert: May pray for the purpose of demonstrating to others how it is to be done
Introvert: May engage in prayerful activities (e.g., research on prayer, archeology research, read quota of selected religious writings, meditate on an element of theology or doctrine)
Right Frontal Lobe
Extrovert: May pray with religious writings as metaphor (e.g., Bible, Koran) or may take a pilgrimage/climb the Himalayas with a guru
Introvert: May engage in prayerful activities (e.g., walk by the ocean, meditate in nature, hike in the mountains, ponder ideas or philosophies). May write creative prayer
Left Posterior Lobes
Extrovert: May pray during scheduled or habitual prayer routines following specific guidelines (e.g., prayer wheels, prayer beads, formula formal, burning candles)
Introvert: May engage in prayerful activities (e.g., silence, walking alone in the garden, copying written prayers, reciting prayers, reciting memorized scripture)
Right Posterior Lobes
Extrovert: May pray in communal or sharing situations (e.g., coffee hour, reading/prayer group) that includes expression of emotions, singing, touch, and intense spiritual experiences
Introvert: May engage in closet prayer (e.g., alone, religious orders, walking, gardening), tries to discover how other individuals or cultures expressed a prayer life
Ritual and Spiritual Experiences
Recently researchers identified a small group of cells in the right temporal lobe of the cerebrum. These cells are believed to help individuals give meaning to spiritual experiences. In fact, a cordon within the Corpus Callosum has been discovered that connects the left and right temporal lobes. In a practical sense, this helps to explain why participation (as opposed to observation only) may result in a more whole-brained experience.
For example, picture a worshipper who remains in the pew and observes the ceremony versus one who gets up from the pew, walks up to the alter, and actively partakes of the bounded shapes in holy communion. In the first instance, the individual certainly might ascribe meaning to the witnessed experience and pick up insight from observing the gestures and listening to the tonals (from the basal right). The individual who actually participants, however, and handles the bounded shapes (from the basal left) will likely have a more global and/or enhanced experience because of the connection between the basal left and the basal right.
Consequently, there may be something to be said for developing sacred rituals that appeal to all four thinking styles, or adapting the rituals in such as way that each individual can be comfortable actually participating and processing the experience for greater meaning.
Humor and Worship Activities
As a cerebral function, research places humor primarily in the Frontal Right lobe, although engaging the whole brain may certainly enhance one’s humorous appreciation of specific situations. Laughter, on the other hand is a sound, and is believed to be generated in Broca’s Area as with audible speech.
In general, individuals are socialized to take religion quite seriously. This often means that humor and/or laughter in relation to religion or worship activities is discouraged. This is regretful because tasteful and appropriate humor (although, again, the different strokes for different folks definitely applies here) can increase the likelihood of information being transferred into long term memory for recall at a later date. Here are a few memories of a Frontal Right PK and the humorous situations that made it extremely difficult to contain one's laughter!
My father was a minister. That made me a card-carrying member of a select group collectively known as Preacher’s Kids or PKs for short. No one really knows what’s is like to be a PK unless he/she has been there and done that, to use today’s vernacular. There were some positive things about growing up in a clerical household and, as with everything else, some not-so-positive things. I've often said that it was the worst experience of my life and the best. I tend to laugh about some of the not-so-positive experiences¾the farther removed from them I become in adulthood. Certainly, some of them were humorous, although that perspective often seemed to get lost in the embarrassment or expectations for propriety in which many of the adults appeared to be immersed.
My only partially stifled giggles usually bubbled up in the most undesirable (to some people’s way of thinking) of situations. At funerals, during excessively long sermons, in the middle of stern lectures from the teacher, even during prayer. A very elderly gentleman, who fell asleep during one especially long supplication, began to snore loudly. Gradually he slid down, down, down in the pew until he plopped onto the carpet. Splat! The jar woke him up. “Oh for Pete’s sake!” he blurted out disgustedly. I’d meant to keep my eyes closed as I’d been instructed 75,000 times. But the prayer was so long and in a search for variety I’d just opened one eye a tiny slit. Consequently, I saw the whole incident and found it absolutely hysterical. Mother elbowed me in the ribs and hissed, “Stop it!” Of course, the harder I tried to control my mirth, the more it insisted on trying to burst forth.
And there was the time I attended a funeral with my father. Mother was home sick with a headache and someone had to represent the family. That someone was me. I did quite well until the end of the service when we all filed past the casket. As I looked at the woman lying there so still with a wilted rose in her hands, I noticed that one of her dangle earrings had gotten twisted. The end of it was actually sticking into her ear canal. I burst into laughter at the incongruity and debated whether or not to pull it out or leave it alone. The woman behind me hissed that I was to move along which solved my dilemma.
On the way home, however, my father had another of his little talks with me. They always began with, “What was it this time?” I explained about the earring. While a tiny twinkle in his eye told me he might be appreciating a portion of the story, he rather severely reminded me that the mourners would undoubtedly not have found anything funny about the incident and I needed to have concern for their feelings. (In retrospect, I believe my father had an innate lead in the Right Posterior Lobes but operated from the Left Posterior Lobes much of the time.) I loved my Dad and wanted to please him but life was just so funny! It was perhaps that sense of humor that kept me alive during some of the darker valleys I would travel later in my life
There were other incidents during which I tried to contain myself with only marginal success. There was a teacher who meant to tell me to finish my spelling. He actually admonished in no uncertain tones, “Sinish your felling” and then refused to share my sense of humor in that situation. Neither did the usher who lost his toupee while bending over to pick up a dollar bill that had slipped off the offering plate. I scrambled to retrieve it for him and my efforts were only partially successful because, in the process, I managed to knock the offering plate from his hand as I tried to give him back his hair. After that service, a very conscientious church member asked me ponderously if I didn’t find it hugely significant that there were no pictures of Christ smiling. Not just in church but anywhere. I did! Find it hugely significant, that is. I figured it was because all the paintings had been done by adults who had lost any sense of humor. That time I did manage to bite my tongue before I offered my considered explanation, however. There have been other times when I was less restrained.
I certainly was more empathetic than some might have been when, years later, a Bible-class student was caught red-handed, in the act, of trying to transplant a frog into the girl’s rest room. The pug-nosed, freckled-faced thirteen-year-old had draped himself dejectedly across one of the wooden chairs, had run his hands through unruly auburn hair and queried; “Do you think God has a sense of humor? My teacher sure doesn’t!” Struggling not to laugh (one was supposed to uphold respect and authority and whatever else), I chose to begin by addressing the difference between possessing a sense of humor and choosing to apply it to a particular situation¾his most recent prank, for instance. He had grinned somewhat ruefully and persisted, “But does He?” “Absolutely,” I said with certainty. “Research has associated the function of humor with the right frontal lobe and I believe God had something to do with the design of the human brain. It stands to reason the Deity must have a sense of humor, since it was important enough to be included in the design." Then the student wanted to know why the teacher was missing that part of the brain. And so it went . . .
In the Book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul offers some helpful advice. He wrote,make my joy complete by being like minded. Having the same love, being one in spirit and one in purpose. He did not admonish human beings to be clones of each other (even if that were possible) but rather encouraged his congregations to be one in spirit and purpose. Each individual’s unique giftedness makes a contribution to the whole. By welcoming those differences even in worship, individuals can open the door to wholeness in their own lives.
To travel the path of personal and spiritual growth, to introduce oneself and others to healthier and more desirable patterns of behavior, is a challenge. It requires the taking of a risk. Understanding one’s own individual preferences can enable one to maximize their own giftedness while, at the same time, honoring the giftedness of others. This process can encourage individuals to contribute from their own position of preference and collaborate with others who have strengths where they have weaknesses. Above all human beings can avoid wasting valuable energy in capricious and meaningless controversy, much of which simply derives from differences. On this journey, example is often the best teacher and whole brain strategies, the best long-term solution.