Searching For The 'Fingerprints Of God' NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty investigates the intersection of science and faith in her new book, Fingerprints of God. She researched everything from the brain functions of Buddhist monks, to the effectiveness of prayer to heal the sick.
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Searching For The 'Fingerprints Of God'

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Searching For The 'Fingerprints Of God'

Searching For The 'Fingerprints Of God'

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As a journalist, NPR's religion correspondent, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, lives by some key principles: question everything and back up your information with hard evidence. She's also a committed Christian who accepts some otherwise improvable ideas on faith. For a book where she operates on both sides of that equation, she set out to investigate the meaning of faith and its relationship to science. She learned that more than half of all Americans say they have had a life-altering experience with God. She counts herself among that number. She also learned that some scientists are working to investigate the phenomena of faith.

We'll hear from Barbara Bradley Hagerty in just a moment. We also want to hear from those of you who've experienced a transitional moment. How did it change your beliefs? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Later in the program, "Ask Amy's" Amy Dickinson on the worst holiday gifts. If you have a story about that, the email address again is talk@npr.org.

But first, Barbara Bradley Hagerty joins us here in Studio 3A. Her book is titled "Fingerprints of God," and it's always nice to have you on the program.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Thanks, Neal, it's great to be here.

CONAN: And not all these transitional moments happen on the road to Damascus. You describe one transition when you had the flu.

HAGERTY: Yes, yes, that was my transition out of Christian Science. As you know, Christian Science is a religion that essentially doesn't believe - it believes in the power of prayer, and we didn't go to doctors, you don't go to doctors. And I had a really happy encounter when I was at graduate school more than a dozen years ago. It was - I had the flu, and suddenly, I was kind of piled under all of these - all my coat - every coat, every blanket, everything. I was shivering terribly, and suddenly I realized that a friend of mine had left Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. And so you know, I was a lifelong Christian Scientist, but I thought hey, you know what? I'm going to give it a try. And so I literally crawled over to the medicine cabinet, took one Tylenol, not two, that's all it took, crawled back to bed. And within about five minutes, I thought hey, you know, I'm feeling pretty good here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HAGERTY: I'm not feverish anymore. And what I have to say is that ended up leading me away from Christian Science because of that. I really enjoy medicine. But it didn't alter my view that perhaps prayers can heal or that there may be something that we sometimes tap into that can have a beneficial effect.

CONAN: And indeed another encounter, another transitional moment for you, happened in the middle of an interview, really.

HAGERTY: Yeah. Yes, that was dramatic. I really had to consider whether to put that in the book or not�

CONAN: I bet you did.

HAGERTY: �I have to tell you. I was doing a story for the L.A. Times Sunday magazine, may it rest in peace, and I was doing a story about why some churches grow, and others don't, and was interviewing a woman at Saddleback Church. Back then, it wasn't so well-known, only 10,000 people or so. This was 1995. But as I was interviewing this woman, she mentioned to me about why she went to this church and why she became a committed Christian. While we were talking, she mentioned that her melanoma had returned but that she didn't see the return of the cancer as an attempt by God to kill her but to give her a transcendent purpose.

And Neal, something very odd happened, a little spooky to tell you the truth. As she was talking about this, it was as if the air grew moist and warm, as if someone were breathing on us. And I didn't - I wasn't the only one who felt it. She stopped talking mid-sentence, and we sat there for about 30 seconds, and then it just receded. And I said well, Cathy(ph), it has been so nice to talk to you. And I shut down the interview really quickly.

But driving away from that interview, going back to L.A., I thought about it. I was pretty spooked, and I thought, you know, was that a temporal lobe - a minor temporal lobe seizure, was that, you know�

CONAN: A mini-stroke.

HAGERTY: Right, a mini-stroke. Was it a change in weather, you know, a weather front coming in? Or is it possible that maybe sometimes we - there might be a god that occasion comes and breathes on you, or that somehow you might tap into a spiritual reality? And that was really - you know, that was back in 1995, and it took me another 11 years to get the courage to kind of go off and try and research the book, but it was a pivotal moment for me.

CONAN: And indeed, once you start down that path, you have to ask some difficult questions because, well, is it brain chemistry?

HAGERTY: Right.

CONAN: Is it something else that happens physiological? Is it then drug-induced?

HAGERTY: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It might have been some spoiled meat you had for - like Scrooge.

HAGERTY: Absolutely.

CONAN: Then you go on to: If there is a god, well, is it the kind of god who answers your prayers? Is it the kind of god who's sort of a, you know, all-knowing deity but doesn't actually intervene in anybody's life?

HAGERTY: Absolutely.

CONAN: And then you talk to scientists. This is, to me, the most interesting part of the book, who are trying to find, as the book's title suggests, the fingerprints of God. They're looking with these new brain techniques at what actually happens.

HAGERTY: Right, and those questions that you raised are huge questions that, you know, there's no definitive answer for, even in my own mind. But what's interesting about...

CONAN: You gave it away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We were hoping to keep people listening to this program for a while.

HAGERTY: Okay, okay. Well, what's interesting about this time of research right now, Neal, is that for a long time, for, you know, all of the 20th century, essentially, science kept its hands off of spiritual experience. They said, look, you know, science doesn't have the tools. If there is a god, science doesn't have the tools to measure him or her or it. But what's happened in the last 20 years or so is, because of brain-imaging technology and other things like more and more people have talked about their spiritual experiences, and you have the near-death experiences, all of that, scientists, some scientists, are beginning to say you know what? It's worth taking a look at.

We can at least - we can't prove whether there's a god or not. We can't even investigate that, but what we can do is look at spiritual experience. What happens in the brains of a monk who meditates for tens of thousands of hours over his life's time? What are the brains of spiritual virtuosos like? What's the relationship between drugs and mystical experience or temporal-lobe epilepsy and mystical experience? And they're researching this stuff.

CONAN: And finding - and also genetics is playing a role with that.

HAGERTY: Absolutely. That - genetics is probably the most nascent, the least-developed area because, you know, there is - I mean, Dean Hamer at NIH tried to - wrote a book called "The God Gene." Well, there is no God gene. The gene that he kind of identified was - accounted for perhaps less than one percent of one's inclination toward the divine, toward self-transcendence.

CONAN: And we're finding out genes are a little more complicated than we thought...

HAGERTY: Yeah, a lot more complicated. But what we do know is that spirituality seems to run in families, and we know that from studies of identical twins. And so there does appear to be a genetic component. People have said, you know, between 37 and 50 percent of one's inclination toward spirituality, toward God, the transcendent, is probably genetically based.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We want to - Barbara Bradley Hagerty has shared some of her transitional moments in which her belief was changed by events. What's happened to you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Gloria(ph), with us from San Antonio.

GLORIA (Caller): Hi. Hi, Neal. Hi, Barbara.

HAGERTY: Hi, Gloria.

GLORIA: Yes, I had an experience - the friend of mine who went to the hospital, rushed her to the hospital. It turned out she had an aneurism, and it blew up in her head.

CONAN: Oh.

GLORIA: So the doctor says she's not conscious, and she'll be dead in about 30 minutes. Well, this other friend of mine rushes to the hospital, picks me up, takes me to this hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes. I go in the altar, I get on my knees, and I pray, praying, you know, towards the altar. And there's this Saint Eugene to the left of the altar, and he's facing me, and when I pick my head back up, now he's facing the altar.

CONAN: Hmm.

GLORIA: Yeah, that was very wild. So I put my head down, I says well, if it's your will to take her, then take her. You know, if that's what you want. Well, I went outside, and there was this guy, and he was kind of weird. He looked like he was walking but very smoothly. I said hey, is there anywhere I can leave a donation for this church. He looked at me, smiled, blew a kiss to the sign and walked away. That's all he did. I rushed back to the hospital. I'm in the room with the rest of the family, and four doctors walk in, and they said we do not know what happened, but this thing sealed itself back up. She's okay.

CONAN: Wow.

GLORIA: And this is the truth. Ever since then, I've changed my life, and I was a terrible sinner back then. God even answers the sinners. You know, I've got to tell you, I went back to the church later and got to touch that saint to see if he was shifted maybe by movement. This thing is solid to the deal there. You know, it was - this was a miracle, it truly was, and it changed my life forever.

CONAN: Gloria, that's a fascinating story.

HAGERTY: Fascinating story, and you know, I heard a lot of stories like this over the course of my research. This issue of do prayers heal, that is such a controversial issue, and let me just break it into two parts. Let me just talk about what the science says because...

CONAN: And Gloria, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

GLORIA: Thanks.

HAGERTY: You know, the thing - what's interesting about the science is, you know, you break it up into two ways. One is: Do my prayers affect my body? And do my thoughts affect my own body? And science has really come around to the view that - it's called psychoneuroimmunology. They even have a fancy word for it.

CONAN: They're not going to call it prayer.

HAGERTY: They're not going to call it prayer. But that one's thoughts do affect one's body, and we've known this for a while, and science has agreed to this pretty much across the board. The bigger question is: Can Gloria thoughts, prayers, affect her friend's body? And that is the area of real controversy, and if - the studies are mixed on that, very mixed on that when you look at the big prayer studies. In fact, the most recent one suggests that prayer could actually be detrimental for those who are being prayed for.

What I want to say, though, is one little postscript to this. These prayer studies, I think, have one flaw to them, the ones that show that there is no effect of prayer, my prayers on your body, for example, Neal. And the major flaw, I think, is they tend to be things like a stranger prays for a stranger from a script, and I don't think that's how generally prayer is done. It's generally someone has a dog in the fight, you know, they care about the aneurism or whatever. And so there is a new set of studies that are coming online, some of them being funded by NIH and others, which are looking at relational prayer.

So if a friend prays for a friend, is there a correspondence in the body? And the - we don't know yet. We don't know yet, but it's a really, really controversial and fascinating area.

CONAN: And in that first part where you're talking, where you say, do my own thoughts affect my own body? Yes, sometimes. And we've all known sunny, wonderful people who were, you know, great in every respect who were nevertheless unable to stop the progress of some terrible disease.

HAGERTY: Absolutely. I mean, you know, it's not only your prayers that affect your body, it's, you know, how many hamburgers have you eaten in your lifetime and what your cholesterol level is and what your genetics are and what your environmental exposure is. I mean, there's - you know, it's so many things that contribute to one's health. Prayer or thoughts can be one of them, but they may not be the dispositive factor.

CONAN: I just didn't want to think oh, if somebody died young, it was because they were not holy enough or spiritual enough.

HAGERTY: Absolutely.

CONAN: Anyway, we're talking with Barbara Bradley Hagerty about her book "Fingerprints of God: The Search for Science of Spirituality." If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We want to hear from those of you who've experienced a transitional moment. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Barbara Bradley Hagerty wanted answers to questions that, well, a lot of us have. Is spiritual experience real? Is there a soul? Can you find it? Is there a god? Can you prove it? Is this all there is? She turned to science, hoping to find some answers. What she learned is the subject of her book, "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality." We've posted an excerpt of the book online. You can read more about two of the transitional moments that defined her beliefs at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we want to hear from those of you who've experienced a transitional moment. How did it change your beliefs? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Jana(ph), Jana with us from St. Louis.

JANA (Caller): Hi, thank you for taking my call. This is a subject I think about a lot.

CONAN: I think a lot of us do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JANA: I called because when I was - I was raised in a Catholic family, and when I was 13, I read Phil Donahue's autobiography, which isn't normal 13-year-old reading material, but he laid out some of his concerns about the Catholic faith and specifically the Catholic Church, and it made a lot of sense to me as a kid in the '70s about, you know, women in the church and some of the things that didn't make sense to me as a young woman.

Around the same time, I started reading Emerson and Thoreau and the concept of the oversoul and this connected organism, whatever form it may be. And I remember laying out on my parents' back deck and looking up at the sky around the same time, and the sky was so blue, it felt like a swimming pool. It was so deep, and my whole body went warm and flush, and I thought if I'm not part of the sky, what is this feeling? This is so - it was so strong and so powerful that I think I've felt identified as a transcendentalist ever since. Because it felt like we - I was so connected to what was around me that it literally had sensation, and it made a lot of sense, and it really kind of - well, I didn't get in the car to go to, you know, my Catholic class the next Wednesday.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JANA: And my parent - my mom was fine with it. She said, well, if this is - this was that meaningful. So she believed it. So that was my experience.

CONAN: That's really interesting.

HAGERTY: You know, Jana, what you've really nicely described is kind of the distinction between religiosity or religiousness and mysticism. And what you had was a mystical experience that is unrelated to dogma or religion or religious tenets, anything like that. I came across that over and over again, and here's one of the really fascinating things I found in my research, especially when talking to people who had spontaneous mystical experiences, like the one that Jana's describing here. It didn't matter what religious background or no background, no religious background, they came from. They could be, you know, Buddhist or Hindu or Catholic or Protestant or spiritual but not religious. When they encountered - had the spontaneous mystical experience, they encountered what I describe as the same other.

It was often a sense of the presence of someone else, a loving being, a light, a connectedness with all things, which is what the mystics describe and the Buddhists describe, a sense that all will be well. And here's the other interesting thing. When they emerge from that experience, which could last from a few seconds to an hour, when they emerged from that experience, they came back transformed in one particular way. Their ambitions, their desires, their goals, what they - their priorities changed.

So they might go from being, you know, an investment banker to being a yoga teacher, I mean, to these two extremes, but that's the kind of thing that you would see. It's this - it wasn't a denominational god that we were talking about. It was a mystical encounter that seemed to change people.

CONAN: So - and Jana, thanks very much for the call. Similar kinds of experience interpreted in different ways.

HAGERTY: Absolutely. So they could come back, and you know, a Catholic, I mean, a young Catholic man I talked to said yeah, the experience itself wasn't about Jesus, but this is how I cultivate, you know, going back there is through my Catholic faith, through prayer. Or Buddhists will do it through meditation or whatever, and they won't talk about a God, obviously. And so they interpret it. They find a way to develop those muscles, spiritual muscles further after the experience, and they choose a religion to do that often, maybe not always but often. But it doesn't - the religion doesn't define the experience.

CONAN: Let's go next to Joe(ph), Joe with us from Boise.

JOE (Caller): Yes. My experience wasn't really like a godlike experience. Mine - what threw me off was more of a question that came to me, that basically boils down to kind of a chicken or the egg question of whether or not man was the invention of God or God was the invention of man. And I was curious if your guest ever came across any scientist that posed that question because something that I thought would be a cause of a human being having a larger brain is trying to comprehend such a complex question as time and God.

HAGERTY: Yeah, that's a really great question. In fact, there's kind of a lot of literature coming out right now. Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God" is a really good book to look at and other books.

You know, the scientists - to tell you the truth, they fell into two categories, and one were what I would call, you know, materialist reductionists, generally. And they believed that essentially, God was the creation of man's need for God or a way to explain the world or the way to - you know, to console yourself about your coming death or that kind of thing.

CONAN: Or combinations of all of those things.

HAGERTY: Right, right, all those things. And that could be true. I mean, we don't know. Then there was another set of scientists who thought that maybe the brain is not so much making up God but is in some ways a receiver to connect with the divine. In other words, you know, if God - if there were a divine reality or a god to communicate with us, how would that reality communicate with us? Through our temporal lobes, through our serotonin system, through our brains. And perhaps our brain is like a radio receiver, you know, that receives the communications from above.

CONAN: That doesn't explain why some of us get the signals and others don't.

HAGERTY: Well, you know, I think we all have the neural - let's go with the radio analogy, okay? You know, because it could be that we're a CD player, and everything's internal and, you know, once you destroy the brain, God's gone, right? But let's go with the radio analogy. I think all of us have the neural, quote, "the neural equipment" to be able to perceive this spiritual reality. Some people have the mute button on, like Richard Dawkins(ph) for example. You know, they don't want to hear it. Or they just are less inclined in that direction genetically or whatever. I think other people hear a cacophony of sounds, you know, and these people might have temporal lobe epilepsy or have, you know, serious problems. Most of us, I think, when we do feel these transcendent moments, it's occasional. You know, we turn up the signal loud enough. Somehow the signal is loud enough that we sometimes pick up on a spiritual realm. But I think we all have the capacity.

CONAN: And you talk about developing those spiritual muscles through techniques like prayer or meditation or...

HAGERTY: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, the interesting thing is even spiritual Luddites like, you know - I consider myself one, to tell you the truth - even spiritual Luddites like me have, you know - you know, there's hope.

Richard Davidson(ph) at the University of Wisconsin has looked at neuroplasticity. It's a notion that our brains can be sculpted in the way that our bodies can be sculpted when we go to the gym, through spiritual practices like, in his case, meditation.

And what he has found is that he has one study that recently came out that in two months of 45 minutes a day of meditation, a group of people who had never meditated before actually changed their brain function, their brainwave activity. Not only that, they had a health benefit. They boosted their immune system against - with a certain type of flu.

And so what we know - what we know is that our brains are plastic. They can be trained through prayer and meditation to - I mean, we don't know if there's a spiritual realm but to at least experience transcendence of some sort, and so that's open to virtually anyone.

CONAN: Yet it is also open to out-and-out frauds.

HAGERTY: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I mean, that's - you know, the religion is littered with that, and you know - well, I shouldn't - you know, there are some people who do the prosperity gospel and name it and claim it and all of that. And you know, there's a lot of fraud out there.

CONAN: And there are those who are saying the aliens are coming on the comet, and we all have to take this terrible poison and die and go see them.

HAGERTY: And you know, when I was looking at how to do this book, one of the big questions is how do I kind of sift out that stuff. And what I decided to do is just - I went where the scientists were, and I said where are there legitimate scientists at legitimate universities actually looking at spiritual experience, things like temporal lobe epilepsy or meditation or whatever, and I confronted...

CONAN: Or drugs.

HAGERTY: Or drugs. Oh yeah, Johns Hopkins University is doing fascinating research on psychadelics and their ability to prompt - spark a spiritual experience, a mystical experience.

So what I tried to do...

CONAN: Talk about the chicken and the egg.

HAGERTY: Yeah, really, exactly.

CONAN: Which causes what? Yeah.

HAGERTY: And so what I tried to do is really kind of restrain my research to very legitimate people. And that way, I kind of didn't touch the UFOs, so to speak.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get another caller in. Let's go next to Mark(ph), Mark with us from Silver Lake in Ohio.

MARK (Caller): Well, it's funny you should evoke the radio analogy. I've always believed in God, and I never used religion to invalidate science or science to invalidate religion. They existed within me very comfortably but very separate. But about three years ago, I saw a photo in the paper. It was a map of the background radiation of the universe from about 380,000 years after the big bang, which is, you know, in cosmic terms, that's almost instantaneous. You know, it's almost the birth of the universe. I looked at that photograph and I got a shudder. I was in such awe, and I had such a sense of the infinite, looking back billions and billions of years. That photograph gave me a greater sense of God or the infinite or whatever you want to call it than any prayer I'd ever engaged in. I was completely overwhelmed by the vastness of existence and then realizing that if God does exist, it's beyond anything that we can even imagine.

And so science probably gave me my greatest transcendent moment, much more so than any formal religion I've engaged in. It was an overwhelming experience to look at that photo.

CONAN: And going back to those questions about the evolution of God, there were some who would say, wait, a picture like that 400 years ago would have been taken as a challenge to the very tenants of faith.

HAGERTY: That's right. That's right. And I have to say that you're in very good company here because...

MARK: Well, I'm glad to hear that.

HAGERTY: ...because - right. Albert Einstein didn't believe in a personal God. But he did think of a superior mind that essentially stitched together the universe. And the fact that you and I were sitting here having this conversation, that there's intelligent life, is almost so improbable. That many, you know, physicists like Einstein, you know, talk about a superior mind.

Freeman Dyson talks about it's as if the universe knew we were coming, as if everything was charted toward this - toward life. And so I think a lot of people have been very much overwhelmed by the universe and the improbability of it.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mark.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Email from Felicity(ph) in Richmond, California. I'm so glad to be hearing this. I heard Ms. Hagerty at the Graduate Theological Union a month ago, and I'm enjoying her book immensely.

I had a life-changing religious experience while walking in the mountains and seeing shooting stars after a time of great trauma. The shooting stars slowly fluttered down to Earth and made everything sparkle, including me. It felt like I was being hugged by God and all the pain and anger disappeared.

Though I consider myself to be theologically bipolar, and that the head will always be in conflict with the heart, that incident with the stars was the beginning of a long journey, which took me to seminary and ministry. I've always believed that individual experience of God trumps other people's dogma about God. And I'm so encouraged to learn that so many others have had experiences like that.

You can read about them or many of them in the Barbara Bradley Hagerty's book "Fingerprints of God." We're talking with her.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next Daniel(ph). Daniel with us from Hollywood in Florida. You're from Florida, Hollywood.

DANIEL (Caller): Yes. Hi. How's it going?

CONAN: Go ahead.

DANIEL: Good. Hey, so, first of all, I want to say thank you so much for the book. It's a fantastic book. I actually just read it for our paper - for our philosophy class.

HAGERTY: Oh, thank you.

DANIEL: And it was an incredible book, and I got a lot out of reading it. So thank you for the book.

HAGERTY: Thank you.

DANIEL: I had a really powerful religious conversion experience about a year ago - a little more than a year ago. I was - I grew up Jewish but I was an atheist for a long time, for about two years, a very intense atheism; you know, Richard Dawkins kind of atheism, arguing with everyone about there is no God. You know, that God is illogical and improbable. And I had a good friend who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church. And I started going - I went with her to - out of, sort of, curiosity, to church once and I sort of wasn't thinking about, you know, combating or criticizing the church. And when I did that, I, you know, I was - and she invited me to meet with missionaries to the church. And I started doing that.

And I got - one evening, just out of the blue, I got this incredibly powerful prompting that I had to go the LDS temple that's in Boston. I go to school up in Boston. And I got a feeling - I'd never been there before. And I got this prompting, just go there and pray outside of it. And so I end up going to the temple, and I got - just standing outside of it, just this incredible feeling of being communicated with - by a deity, and it was overwhelming. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.

And I'd been - I was from Israel, actually, and I've been in the holy sites all over Israel, all over - I spent a summer in China, so I went to shrines and temples, everything, you know, of all different denominations and I'd never felt such an incredible feeling of being communicated with by God. And it was absolutely incredible. And I felt transformed. For days afterwards, my mannerisms were different, my speech patterns changed. I felt more confident, more energized. And, you know, I got this incredibly strong testimony of the truth, of the church, and of God, that God loves me and cares about me and that, you know, I am - I was baptized into the church into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after that. And I am just - such an incredible transformative experience for me.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much for sharing that, Daniel.

DANIEL: Yeah, of course.

HAGERTY: And, you know, stories - I've heard others in - not in this particular religion, but others like this, which is, you know - I've talked to a number -not a huge number but a number of atheists who had spontaneous, you know, these spontaneous surprising experiences. They tended to be people in a couple of categories. One were people who are actually - they were seeking. They were wrestling with the questions, like, it sounds like Daniel really wrestling with the questions. But also, it often tended to happen when people hit a broken period in their life. When, you know, the way I think of it is they've reached the end of the rope and they let go and found that they actually didn't come crashing 14 stories to the bottom, but somehow they were caught.

And so what you tended to - what I tended to find is people who were really thinking about this stuff hard, even fighting it. I mean, there's Paul on the road to Damascus, right?

CONAN: Sure.

HAGERTY: Or people who just didn't have anymore to give. They just had come to the end by themselves. They tended to be the people who had these kinds of experiences.

CONAN: And one of the things that I found interesting about - we just have very little time left, but I wanted to ask you, it's as if the journey has an end. When it doesn't, the road to Damascus goes for a long time.

HAGERTY: Right. Right. I mean, I really do think that one's faith evolves to the last day of one's life, one's understanding of it. I know that that's been true, in my own experience, you know? And frankly, part of the journey for me is been doing - looking at the signs and having to say, you know, is it possible that all of this is a delusion.

CONAN: And did anything change your mind?

HAGERTY: You know, that's really - and it's a hard question. I mean, I guess I do believe I feel more strong - strongly in my beliefs in the sense that I feel like there's a reason I can believe.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

HAGERTY: I can hold my head up high at a cocktail party and say, okay, you know, I kind of disagree with Richard Dawkins, and actually how to reason, to - I have ammunition for that. So, in one way, my strength has really been bolstered, because I feel as if the evidence - there's circumstantial evidence. If you read it at the right - if you read it a certain way, there's circumstantial evidence that there may be a God. On the other hand, what's really clear to me is...

CONAN: There is a time post, however.

HAGERTY: There is.

CONAN: All right, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, his book is "Fingerprints of God" and she's NPR's religion correspondent. Ask Amy joins us in a moment. This is NPR News.

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