Monday, September 16, 2013

What Would a Christian Brain Look Like?

It truly is amazing what we can do with the right technology. Modern science can now show us how the human brain responds to various images, such as a picture of a homeless man. And according to Susan Fiske most of us respond as if we are seeing something other than another human being. I wonder if that is true for most Christians.

A professor at Princeton University, Susan Fiske has studied attitudes towards the poor for twelve years as a part of her research on stereotypes. She is one of the designers of a study where people were placed in a neuroimaging machine and shown pictures of poor and homeless persons. In response to these pictures the areas of the brain which showed activity were those that respond to things, not to humans. According to Fiske this is a sign of revulsion.

I learned of Dr. Fiske’s study from an article on attitudes towards the poor written by Alfred Lubrano of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Lubrano included the study’s results along with anecdotal evidence from people in Philly. Everyone mentioned in the report agreed that there is a tendency to dehumanize the poor making it easier to dismiss those around us who suffer lack. While I would like to think that I show the love of Christ toward everyone I meet, I find myself wondering what my responses would look like if I were in Dr. Fiske’s neuroimaging machine.

I am sure not everyone who took part in the study responded negatively. Some probably showed signs of compassion and some may have even shown some level of indifference. In fact as I looked at some of the other research done in Dr. Fiske’s lab I found a deeply nuanced response to the poor depending on such variables as how hard working poor people were perceived as reported in a study by Ann Marie Russell who mentored under Dr. Fiske. Still, I wonder if we were to repeat Dr. Fiske’s study looking only at those who profess faith in Christ would we see any difference in percentages than were seen in Dr. Fiske’s original study.

What I hope would be seen if I were to participate in this study is a renewed mind, something that should be the goal for every Christian. But can each of us honestly say this would be the case? We are told that we are not of this world. Our response should be different. We need to allow God’s word to work in our hearts, turning us into salt: into people who love everyone with the love of God. Have you allowed God to renew your mind, changing how your brain looks?