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Russ Baker: Born Again—And Brain Damage

June 10, 2011

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How George W. Bush may have been making a political calculation when he declared himself “Born Again.”

By **Russ Baker**

By arrangement with WhoWhatWhy.Com.

A new study from Duke University researchers concludes that the Born Again experience may be connected in some way with shrinkage of a part of the brain, possibly caused by stress.

     Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed for participants reporting a

     life-changing religious experience.

“Hippocampal atrophy” involves the deterioration of the brain segment involved with retention and retrieval of information. In other words, short term and long term memory (plus the ability to navigate.)

     Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was also observed from baseline to final

     assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious

     affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again. These

     associations were not explained by psychosocial or demographic factors, or

     baseline cerebral volume. Hippocampal volume has been linked to clinical outcomes,

     such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. The findings of this study

     indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late life may be uniquely influenced by

     certain types of religious factors.

Since the process of being reborn spiritually involves a kind of cleaning of the slate, of starting over, it somehow seems appropriate that it also involves a cleansing of memory.

[W]hen Bush claimed not to remember details…about decisions he made regarding Iraq and other controversies, he might just have been telling the truth.

This was of particular interest to me because in my book, Family of Secrets, I presented new documentation that George W. Bush may have been making a political calculation when he declared himself “Born Again.” This from Chapter 19, “The Conversion”:

     [W]ith his entry into Bible study, Bush was reinventing himself. It was a politically

     savvy idea, but, in truth, it was not his own. It appears that it was neither George

     W.’s Midland friends nor the Reverend Billy Graham who helped him see the light.

     It was Doug Wead, marketing man. Before Bush sought to establish his credentials

     with the religious right—during his father’s vice presidency—Wead had written the

     Bushes a memo stressing the potential political benefits of preaching to that particular

     choir…Wead wrote up everything he could think of about the evangelical movement—

     who they were, how they thought and why they thought that way, and how to cater to

     them…[Wead said] I hadn’t met W. yet, but he knew me because he was getting all

     these memos, and he was basically saying, ‘Dad, this is right. This is what people in

     Midland think. My born- again friends say this. He’s right.‘ “When I finally met W., [he

     said] ‘I’ve read all of your stuff—it’s great stuff.’ He said, ‘We’re going to get this thing

     going.’”… Wead had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched

     their conversion story. It couldn’t be seen as something too radical or too tacky…

Putting aside the cynicism that may have been involved, it is certainly true that George W. Bush also faced a lot of pressure having to do with his business failures and his famed marathon partying activities. So it’s interesting to note Duke researchers’ speculation on what may be causing this pattern, as summed up by Scientific American:

     The authors offer the hypothesis that the greater hippocampal atrophy in selected

     religious groups might be related to stress. They argue that some individuals in the

     religious minority, or those who struggle with their beliefs, experience higher levels of

     stress. This causes a release of stress hormones that are known to depress the volume of

     the hippocampus over time. This might also explain the fact that both non-religious as

     well as some religious individuals have smaller hippocampal volumes.

If this is correct, the Born Again experience may involve more than overcoming unpleasant memories—it may erase memories of all kinds. So when Bush claimed not to remember details of his military service, or about decisions he made regarding Iraq and other controversies, he might just have been telling the truth.

Copyright 2011 Russ Baker

________________________________________________________________________

By arrangement with WhoWhatWhy.Com.

Russ Baker is an award-winning investigative reporter and the founder and editor-in-chief of WhoWhatWhy.

  Anneli Rufus: Meet Bart Ehrman: A One-Man God Fraud Squad: A world-renowned Bible scholar says the Bible is full of fibs, forgeries and downright lies. More
 
  Katie Halper: Bush Will Be Remembered for His Rule of Law, Sense of Justice, and Clemency (for Turkeys): Bush is often portrayed as (and is, actually,) the governor who executed more people than any other governor in modern history. Because, like the Lord, the Bush giveth and he taketh away. More
     
  Tom Engelhardt: America Detached from War: Bush’s Pilotless Dream, Smoking Drones, and Other Strange Tales from the Crypt: With the increasing use of the robotic drone—the Lady Gaga of weapons—America may be instigating the next era of lawless and valorless warfare. More
 
  Carl Raschke: Catholics as “Values Voters”: If there is any one lesson to be learned from this election, social theorists are going to have to revise slightly what one means by the “religious right” in this country. More

To read blog entries from Russ Baker and others at GUERNICA, click HERE .

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