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.