Your mother may not only make you nervous, she may also make you religious.
I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a while now. With the “Heaven is for Real” movie newly released, it seems a perfect time for this discussion.
The nascent field of behavioral epigenetics suggests that your mother’s experiences—even her diet—may have an effect on your temperament and predispositions. Previously, genetic changes were thought to occur only when the fetus was developing. But discoveries over the past decade by geneticist Moshe Szyf and neurobiologist Michael Meaney show that the experience of our parents and grandparents, and those ancestors before them, may be imprinted on the genetic material that’s passed along to offspring.
For example, if your grandfather was traumatized by war as a child or by an abusive, alcoholic parent, the fear he felt may have “scarred” his DNA. Not only could he have been an anxious adult, but he could have passed on a predisposition towards anxiety. While his DNA remained unchanged, a chemical known as a “methyl group” could have attached to his genes, turning on or off certain behavioral and psychological traits.
Szyf and Meaney’s research answers the question, “Why do two people behave differently?” What causes one to be an optimist and the other a pessimist, for example?
But it also seems that there are additional implications of these studies. What makes one person predisposed to skepticism and another blindly devout? Is the tendency to fear authority imprinted on our genes? Could grandma’s childhood stress from a punishing, puritanical God or parent be imprinted on our genes? What about memories? Is it possible that déjà vu is an ancestor’s memory?
I don’t have the answers, but this new research certainly suggests that these genetic add-ons might hold the answer to why one sibling believes and another does not. It also might help us understand why a four-year-old boy has knowledge that his mom miscarried another child before he was born.
Then again, perhaps he just overheard his parents talking.
At the very least, I suspect this research holds a key as to why some folks have tendencies to blindly believe while others seem to have skeptical natures. I will end here, short of suggesting that the devout may also be “cured.”
What are your thoughts on the genetic possibilities of belief?