Religion in a Modern World
Peter Gomes is an American Baptist minister who has served in The Memorial Church at Harvard University since 1970. Gomes is also the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and is the Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church. Gomes is commonly regarded as one of the most distinguished preachers in America. He was named Clergy of the Year in 1998 by Religion in American Life and offered prayers in the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
Educated at Bates College and the Harvard Divinity School, Revered Gomes alsoholds thirty-six honorary degrees. He is the author of numerous books on the Bible, including the national best-sellers TheGood Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart and Sermons:Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living.
Question: Does Christianity answer all of your questions?
Peter Hopkins: Well Christianity, strangely enough, does answer all my questions. I mean, it’s the lens through which I view reality. It’s how I make judgments. It’s how I respond to others. It’s how I define reality to all intents and purposes. The Christian myth makes sense to me. It provides a world that’s as orderly and stable to me as the … as the Greek myths did for the Greeks and the Romans did for the Romans. I … I don’t live in a dark world. I mean, I don’t … I don’t live in the sense that everything is going to go up in flames, and we’re all destined and doomed, and terrible things are happened … happening. But I do believe we live in what the scriptures refer to as a fallen world. Christian theology speaks of it as a world that has not achieved its ideals. And we are struggling, and moving towards them, and trying to manage as best we can. And certain ideas and ideals have been set before us. The person of Jesus Christ, for me, is such an idea and an ideal. I believe He really existed, but that doesn’t diminish the ideological power or the … the sense of imagination that is employed. And I aspire to live my life in the light of what I understand that truth to be – a truth which I have received through the wisdom of thousands of other smarter and cleverer people who existed before me. I admit to being a child of the Western Christian experience, and I embrace it. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not embarrassed by it. And I don’t deny my dependency upon it. It’s the vocabulary with which I work.
When I travel, as I often do, through Western Europe and I look at those great cathedrals and those monuments, they all speak to me. They all makes sense to me. It’s describing a world in which I did not live, but which still lives for me. And that’s very important. Part of my work, I suppose, is trying to call back, as best I can, the life of that world and the people that are far removed from it. I’m much comforted by the … the remark G.K. … once said that “Christianity is not a religion that has been tried and failed. It is a religion that has been wanted and never really tried.” And my job is to try it, and to get other people to try it on for size and hope for the best.
Recorded on: 6/12/07
Science hasn't found an explanation of spirituality.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
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