Sex, Drugs, Money, and God Light the Brain’s Pathways to Pleasure

Religion and vice have much more in common than most believers would like to admit. Some people get high on Christ; others bet their souls on salvation. And for many, a good orgasm is heaven on earth. These turns of phrase are not just linguistic coincidences; as it turns out, they have a neurological basis. Similar parts of the brain’s reward system, a new study reports, are triggered by sex, drugs, gambling, and God.

In the journal Social Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Utah and Harvard University who studied the brains of religious Mormons report that spiritual experiences activate neurological reward circuits in the same way that many of our favorite vices do. It’s likely for this reason, the authors write, that many people experience “religious and spiritual euphoria.” Until now, scientists haven’t been able to figure out what it is about religion

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