Saturday, October 31, 2009


Since reading a few tentative reports a while back, I've been intrigued by the possibility that our faith response and our degree of liberal or conservative persuasion may be at least in part directed by our genes. (The links in the sentence above are representative articles; there are more scholarly publications available, but these summarize the ideas.) As I interpret it, the research on political tendencies does not suggest the existence of a "republican gene" and a "democratic gene," but rather points to genetically-influenced differences in how we think about problems, approach difficulties, etc., leading to life-long patterns that tend toward conservatism or liberalism.

The faith research is grounded in part on twins studies that demonstrate -- among other things -- that identical twins maintain similar approaches to faith into and throughout adulthood, while fraternal twins are less likely to do so. Both sides of the "is there a God" debate use this research to support their cause: It's all just biology, so there goes God; or, this genetic pointer reveals the divine because there is a divine to be revealed -- it is a way to draw us into relationship with God.

Those arguments aside, I find that the genetic theory offers some creative hope in dealing with human differences. It could have the effect of changing the tenor of our political conversations from, "How can you be so stupid?" to "Vive la difference!" Some politicians are fond of saying that we need a strong opposition in order to keep the debate vigorous and honest. If the genetic construct is demonstrated to be true, that idea will prove to be an organic inevitability.

This is not an exercise in celebrating science as savior. It would not eliminate cynicism or even meanness from politics. (He can't help himself -- he's a conservative -- nyah nyah nya nyaah nyahh...!") And one could imagine "Brave New World" sci-fi scenarios in which one side gets the upper hand and labels the other persuasion as a "genetic deficiency," imprisoning their opponents in political reservations, or forcing "corrective" genetic surgery on them. (Hey... I might be on to something here!) It seems that human history, including the history of the application of science, leaves as an open question the postulation of whether a confirmed genetics of politics would produce more positive than negative consequences. Reader?

Regarding faith, the notion that some may be genetically incapable of it would lend credence to that strong scriptural theme that God wills and works for the salvation of all as an act of pure grace. (And that those who are genetically "blessed" are here to serve the rest?)

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. ~ A desperate man, to Jesus, in Mark 9:24

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm happy that the Areopagus is once again open for business. I've missed your insights.

This is fascinating stuff you put before us. I am sure that there are lots of mysteries still locked up tight in our genetic code, mysteries which may be uncovered now that the code has been broken. And I suppose that if we can accept that we each are born with, for example, a like or dislike for certain foods (or can we actually accept that?), then it's not much of a stretch to accept that we have a native predilection for Republicans or Democrats. (Not as food, mind you.) Of course, in both cases, as the CNN article points out, environment plays a huge role. We learn what we are exposed to. Otherwise, how could we explain the geographical religio-political leanings of the Bible Belt? (No in-breeding jokes, please.)

I can look at three generations of my own family and see a very evident thread of religious dispassion. Political dispassion is evident as well, though less so. I've always chalked it up to nurture rather than nature. But maybe the Hanson clan actually descends from Thomas and shares his genetic propensity for doubt.

Fascinating food for thought. Thanks for inviting us readers to your table.