They discovered that in contemplating the Madonna, the religious were able to activate an area of the brain associated with conditioning the experience of pain.
What else is religion for, if not the amelioration of pain? I would also like to point out that an inflated balloon up the arse can induce similar effects.
Religion is the (ig)noble lie that diverts the masses' attention from the cold, faceless specter of chance. It is Marx's "heart of a heartless world" and provides meaning to meaningless suffering and hope to the hopeless.
What better way to make sense of random, tragic occurrences than to give them a place in the Grand Plan? In the midst of them, rather than doing anything of use, repeated messages of complaint can be made to God's technical support line.
It's little wonder then, that faith induces the placebo effect. Perhaps they're two and the same. Religion being the "opium of the people" and all that.
Not that these mental gymnastics are peculiar to the religious. Only yesterday I had this conversation with a colleague presiding over a minor disaster;
"Well, I guess everything happens for a reason"
"I didn't realise you were religious?" I asked.
"Not at all, it's just that what goes around comes around. Karma and all that..."
"So, in God's absence you think that the universe picks up its tally card and keeps count of our insignificant fuck ups and indiscretions? A cosmic balance sheet? Utter bollocks..."In truth, I didn't actually say that. A single Spock eyebrow took care of it quite nicely.
Mind, it pays not to think too hard about our arbitrary universe, atheist or not. Well, it does for me anyway. I choose to concentrate on that which I find beautiful to ameliorate my existential pain.
That, and reminding myself that I'm perched on top of a food chain with a full belly, in a wealthy country, spinning on a habitable planet, poking away at a Sony Vaio keyboard for fuck sake.
And what are the odds on that?