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'Can a Smart Person Believe in God'

What’s Your SQ?

By Michael Guillen, Ph.D. How smart are you?

Years ago, that question meant only one thing: What’s your IQ? Not anymore.

Since the early 1980s, certain psychologists—most notably Howard Gardner at Harvard University—have been kicking around the notion that there’s more to IQ than meets the intellectual eye. It’s called the theory of multiple intelligences.

According to this theory, IQ still matters. It measures our logical/mathematical/linguistic abilities and is a fairly reliable predictor of how well we’ll do in school and the job market. But it’s not necessarily the only intelligence that counts.

For example, according to these psychologists, there’s also:
• VQ (visual/spatial intelligence)
• MQ (musical intelligence)
• BQ (body intelligence)
• EQ (emotional intelligence)

And so forth. Each intelligence, in its own unique way, helps us to lead successful lives.

Spiritual Intelligence

Which brings me to my idea. Shouldn’t there be an SQ, an intelligence associated with spirituality? I think so. That’s why I’ve developed an SQ test—an IQ test for your soul, as it were.

At the end of this chapter I’ll invite you to take it. But first, take a guess: How does your SQ rate? Do you have an eye for the spiritual? When you look at the world, do you see only space and time, mass and energy, logic and reason? Or do you also see connectivity and design, purpose and meaning, faith and mystery?

Take the human brain, for instance. Do you see a happy accident of molecules and chemicals? Or do you see what Candace Pert does (she’s the famous high-IQ/high-SQ neurochemist who codiscovered opiate receptors): “I don’t feel awe for the brain. I feel awe for God. I see in the brain all the beauty of the universe and its order—constant signs of God’s presence.”

By contrast, the famous and high-IQ/low-SQ psychologist Sigmund Freud wasn’t able to see God anywhere in the universe. To him, God was nothing but a mental illness, a pathological trick of the mind. Said he: “When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.”

Unfortunately for the good doctor’s place in history, hundreds of studies now show he was completely mistaken.Today, science has a whole new respect for religion.

Why the about-face? Explains Jeff Levin, social epidemiologist and author of God, Faith, and Health: “As those of us who have labored in this field for many years have long suspected, the relationship between religion and health, on average and at the population level, is overwhelmingly positive. Now we can say, finally, that we know this to be true.”

According to science: godliness—what I’m calling SQ—is good for us, demonstrably good, both mentally and physically. Compared to the average population, high-SQ people appear to:
• heal faster from illness and surgery;
• recover more easily from alcohol and substance abuse;
• cope better with stress, trauma, and emotional loss;
• be less likely to suffer from depression; and
• be more likely to feel happy and optimistic.
And on and on and on. These days, hardly a week goes by without some new study crossing my desk that appears to document the very real payoffs to living the high life—the high-SQ life, that is.

Indeed, in many ways, our Spiritual Quotient is shaping up to be more important than even our Intelligence Quotient. Our devoutness to God appears to be a fairly reliable predictor of how well we’ll do not just in school or the job market, but in life as a whole, which ultimately is what matters most.

In their monumental and highly acclaimed Handbook of Religion and Health, published by Oxford University Press, Harold G. Koenig, MD; Michael E. McCullough, PhD; and the late David B. Larson,MD, carefully reviewed no fewer than two thousand published experiments that tested the relationship between religion and everything from blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and stroke to depression, suicide, psychotic disorders, and marital problems.The research is still in its formative stages—not all the results are clear-cut—but, says Koenig, certain overall patterns are already emerging.

They range from the small: “People who attend church service, pray individually, and read the Bible are 40% less likely to have diastolic hypertension than those who seldom participate in these religious activities.”

To the large: “Religious people live longer and physicallyhealthier lives than their nonreligious counterparts.” The largest study to date tracked the lives and deaths of 21,204 adults for a full decade. The average results? A person who attended church at least once a week lived seven years longer than someone who didn’t attend at all.Among African-Americans, the disparity was even more stunning: fourteen years!

Explains Koenig: a high-SQ faithfulness to God appears to benefit people of all means, educational levels, and ages.

From the young: “Religious youth show significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, premature sexual involvement, and criminal delinquency . . . They are also less likely to express suicidal thoughts or make actual attempts on their lives.”

To the old: “Elderly people with deep, personal religious faith have a stronger sense of well-being and life satisfaction than their less religious peers.”

Scientists are also discovering evidence of how harmful a relatively low SQ can be to your health. One recent study looked at individuals whose idea of being successful means having the biggest house on the block or newest luxury car. The consequences of this secular view of life are devastating, explains Ohio State University psychologist Robert Arkin: “The cycle of materialistic pursuits is disappointing and exhausting in the long run and can make people perpetually unhappy.”

Millennia ago, in Ecclesiastes 5:10, Solomon made pretty much the same observation: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”

None of the foregoing research, I hasten to add, should be taken as proof that God exists. As George Bernard Shaw once observed, albeit cynically: “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

The mounting medical evidence in favor of spirituality proves nothing more and nothing less than the positive consequences of God’s de facto existence—of His being a real, meaningful part of our lives. Furthermore, it illustrates two very important things.

First, science was dead wrong to treat religion as if it were an unhealthy mental illness. Clearly, it isn’t. Second, even if you still believe religion is nothing more than a healthy mental illness (an argument I rebut in chapter 3), then science will need to rip apart its current theories about human health. Here is evidence, not just for some ordinary placebo effect—most of the studies control for that—but astonishing health benefits that transcend the understanding of mainstream science.

Talk about irony! Science—which by design, you’ll recall, excludes anything supernatural from its delimited view of the universe—appears to be on the verge of proving that religion’s otherworldly God is as material to our health, if not more so, than its own worldly expertise.

The writing is now very much on the wall, says the social epidemiologist Jeff Levin. Last century, medicine went from being utterly atheistic and mechanistic, “grounded in the view that human beings are physical bodies and nothing more,” to the more liberal view that we’re a combination of mind and body.

Now, in what I believe is yet another dramatic step toward the Ultimate Collaboration, medicine appears to be dropping the other shoe, embracing what some are calling a theosomatic view. It’s the view belonging to a person—or in this case, an institution—who has suddenly acquired stereoscopic faith, a view that recognizes and acknowledges our full, threedimensional magnificence: body, mind, and spirit.

Critics whom this revolution has thrown for a loop wonder whether the results alleging the importance of SQ will hold up. I wonder, too; we’ll just have to wait and see. In my opinion, however, the most cynical of these critics are beginning to sound like those die-hards, years ago, who kept insisting the evidence linking cigarette smoking with cancer was still too inconclusive to do anything about it.

Today, an increasing number of scientists are saying: there’s already more than enough evidence in the bank—it’s time to act.

For the first time in its history, for example, the prestigious and powerful Association of American Medical Colleges is now training physicians to take into account the spiritual beliefs of patients under their care. According to the January, 2004 issue of Science & Theology News, more than 70 of the nation’s 125 medical schools—including Johns Hopkins,Yale, and Stanford—are now offering the next generation of doctors courses in religion and spirituality.

Similar historic transformations are happening in the area of mental health. As I’ve explained, psychologists and psychiatrists have traditionally viewed religion as little more than a superstition, an irritating nuisance, or outright pathology. As recently as 1988, based on figures taken from Koenig, et. al.’s Handbook of Religion and Health, only about 15 percent of all U.S. psychiatric residency training programs frequently or always included religion in their curricula. Fifteen percent!— that’s scandalous.

Fortunately, the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education thought so too. In 1994—at long last—its Special Requirements for Psychiatry Residency Training mandated that: (1) young psychiatrists receive religious instruction, and (2) a patient’s spiritual beliefs always be noted and taken seriously.

Likewise, for the first time ever, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)—psychiatry’s massive, professional bible—now includes a category that acknowledges the importance of religion in our lives. Explains social epidemiologist Jeff Levin in his book God, Faith, and Health: “This development has historical importance for medicine.”

In a 1995 article published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, the developers of the new category acknowledged with regret “psychiatry’s long-standing tendency either to ignore or pathologize the religious and spiritual dimensions of human existence.” (I can see Freud turning in his grave!) They expressed the hope that the DSM-IV’s historic gesture would ultimately “help to promote a new relationship between psychiatry and the fields of religion and spirituality.”

Bringing It Home

What about you? Where do you stand in all of this? Are you what others would call a spiritual person? Is your SQ well enough developed that you stand to benefit from its myriad potential mental and physical benefits?

To find out, I now invite you to take the test. Please remember: as I explained in the opening chapter, this is not a rigorous scientific examination. Rather, it’s an exercise intended to make you stop for a few minutes and take stock of whether and how spirituality actually expresses itself in your day-to-day life.

The test consists of twenty multiple-choice questions, which I created based on: (1) my own lifelong association with high-SQ persons from vastly different traditional and nontraditional belief systems, and (2) my extensive reading of the published literature, particularly scores of articles by scientists presently struggling to design reliable ways of measuring a person’s spirituality, which it turns out isn’t easy.

Unlike the IQ tests we all took as kids, there’s no time limit here. That’s the beauty of spirituality: it’s not temporal! Nevertheless, try going with the answer that first comes to mind—don’t overthink the questions. Also, if more than one answer appeals to you, and I predict it’ll happen quite often, go with the answer you feel most passionately about.

Also, this is not a difficult quiz—it’s not meant to stump you. With those questions that are pretty easy to figure out, please try especially hard to respond honestly. For goodness’ sake, don’t try making your SQ come out to be better than it is really. That would defeat the whole purpose of taking the test.

SQ Test

Okay, so now find yourself a nice quiet place and get started. Remember, be honest: answer with your heart, as well as your head.


From Can a Smart Person Believe in God?, © 2004 by Michael Guillen. Published by Nelson Books. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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