Controversial “Religious Virus” Scientists Win Nobel By James McEnteer / The Rag Blog / October 24, 2012 STOCKHOLM — The Nobel Prize Committee announced it is awarding the 2012 prize for bio-chemistry to Dr. Lazlo Schitkov of Hungary and Dr. Irene Pisher of the United States for their work in identifying and isolating the so-called “religious pathogen” within the human nervous system. The Nobel Committee noted what it called “the great spiritual importance of this discovery, which revolutionizes our sense of humanity’s place in the universe and has the potential to end religious conflict as we know it.” The Committee’s announcement praised the bravery of the researchers, who have endured numerous death threats for the nature of their work. Schitkov and Pisher were both in New York when they learned of the award. “We are gratified,” said Pisher, a professor of molecular biology at Cornell Medical School in New York City. “We appreciate the Swedish academy recognizing the significance of our work.” “Perhaps now our findings will be seen in more scientific, less emotional terms,” added Schitkov, professor of neurology at the University of Budapest. The scientists set out to discover why some devout individuals – whether Christian, Muslim or Buddhist – try to live according the highest precepts of their faith, while others who profess a similar degree of fervor speak and act in ways that appear to contradict and undermine those same principles. “We examined the neural pathways of self-described ‘highly religious’ people, comparing them with those of atheists or religious adherents of less passionate conviction,” said Pisher. “The results were dramatic and unequivocal. “We found unusual electrical activity and development within a particular area of the brains of the faithful. But we encountered two structural variants there, causing the dramatically different behaviors of what we have come to call the ‘true believers’ and the ‘false believers.’ “Both groups consider themselves true believers, of course, but only one of them, of a much smaller sample size, has the genetic marker of the true believer. The false believers, while equally stimulated neurologically, are actually self-deluded, though they are at least as zealous as true believers and often more so.” Pisher and Schitkov characterize true believers as those who adhere to the moral admonitions of their faith and try to emulate the exemplary lives of their spiritual leaders: Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed or Buddha, as the case may be. False believers tend to cloak their reprehensible behaviors in religious trappings. The scientists caution that their physiological discoveries should not be confused with the innate spiritual impulses we all possess, that help to define us as human beings. Nor do their findings confirm or deny the existence of the so-called “God gene,” first postulated by geneticist Dean Hamer in 2005. Hamer hypothesized that spirituality is quantifiable and inherited through a gene he called VMAT2, as part of natural selection. How to predict which religious practitioners may become true or false believers, Schitkov and Pisher are as yet unable to say. Some people may be born with one predilection or the other, as some of us are more prone to diabetes or alcoholism. Both scientists hope that further research will allow them to identify, predict and perhaps even modify the markers for false believers. Each of the scientists came to this research in very different ways. For Dr. Schitkov the decisive factor was a trip he took to Thailand in the early 1980s. He was amazed, then amused and finally appalled by the tens of thousands of Buddha images of all shapes and sizes, from the miniscule to the gargantuan. “Of course I found it ironic that devotees of the Buddha, celebrated for his personal spiritual connection to divine wisdom, would eschew that direct connection in their own lives, opting instead to worship golden idols. The Buddha himself would surely be saddened by this turn of events. “Subsequent studies reveal that for every Buddhist who seeks that direct spiritual connection through meditation and prayer – the true believers – there are approximately ten thousand who think burning incense and pasting gold leaf to Buddha images constitutes serious religious practice. These are the false believers, deluding themselves or going through the motions for social reasons.” For Irene Pisher, it was the ugly behavior of self-identified Christians which first drew her to question the authenticity of religious belief. “Bigotry of whatever kind contradicts and subverts the teachings of Jesus Christ, who taught love and compassion and forgiveness,” said Pisher. “Yet here in America we have Christian pastors and leaders spewing violent hate speech against homosexuals and racial minorities and women, not to mention followers of other religions or even different Christian sects. I thought, how can this be? “For me the true Christian is one who tries to help the less fortunate. You know, as Jesus said, ‘as ye do unto the least of these, so you do unto me.’ That seems pretty clear. Help the poor. Tend the sick, whether of body or heart. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa. Not ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ “In a way it’s been a comfort for me to learn there’s a physiological basis for this epidemic of false believers. Otherwise you’d have to conclude that there are simply too many wrong-headed, self-righteous assholes running around who ought to know better. They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It often seems that religion is the first.” Drs. Pisher and Schitkov continue to live and work in secrecy as the FBI and local police monitor and evaluate the many death threats against them.

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