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What is the Christian perspective on deceptive brain messages?

Modern science now shows us proof that we can rewire our brains, so that it works in more beneficial ways. The concepts in a new book by Doctor Jeffery M. Schwartz (an Evangelical Christian), You Are Not Your Brain, demonstrates some of the latest experiments and findings of the scientific community, having to do with the brain and the mind.

Please see videos from the author to understand the book:

details and reviews:

Example from the book:

Nothing is more confusing or painful than when your brain takes over your thoughts, attacks your self-worth, questions your abilities, overpowers you with cravings, or attempts to dictate your actions. Have you ever felt that something is compelling you to “go” places...

The author, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. is an Evangelical Christian.

Now with some people they say this is God telling them something or sending them an affliction etc.

Where do we draw the line between medical condition inspired actions vs. God inspired actions?

For example, maybe someone with ODC in the year 200AD thought it was God making him go back and make sure he put the lid back on the well. Today if someone keeps checking if they turned off the sink, it is considered a medical issue.

Does Christianity address the difference between our mind (higher self as it is called in the book, he even says some patients also call it the Jesus in them) and the brain?

For example, here is something in general that support the concept:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ... - Philippians 4:4-9

I believe the Bible is the most modern and futuristic book we have and that it has a dimension that addresses this. I have concepts from my own summarizing of the Bible but if was asked to back it up, could not at this point. So any thoughts, passages, studies or ideas are welcomed.

Thanks.

Review:
"Operating on the highly rational perspective that we are not our brains, but rather, substantial free agents who exercise control over our brains, Schwartz and Gladding develop a simple, yet profoundly insightful approach for developing a flourishing life. The result will bring healing and hope to all who read it." --J. P. Moreland, author of The God Question (Christian apologist).

EDIT :
Just found out the author of the book, Jeffery M. Schwartz is an Evangelical Christian:
Please see the first video here. I believe that makes this question a bit more relevant.

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You call this book an example of "modern science". Is it? And if it is science, why does it read so much like pseudoscience? –  TRiG Apr 24 '12 at 23:06
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@RiverC I wouldn't dismiss this so quickly. There is a distinction between the body (physical), the soul (who you are, your memories), and the spirit (your inner self, what goes to heaven). One of them going bad (or good) affects the other two. –  user1054 Apr 25 '12 at 20:51
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RiverC - That's exactly it - you say "demons" they say the incorrect brain operation, however both lead o real actions and results, if not someones entire life and why they believe what they do. I agree with Dan, isn't that one of the main themes, that we are NOT this body (including the physical brain that created electric signals) but of the holly spirit, that is eternal.... –  Greg McNulty Apr 25 '12 at 22:10
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I suggest you to read The Filokalia and see, what the Christians already said about it. You will find there a lot of teachings about guarding ones mind and dealing with certain thoughts and impulses. Then you can compare it with this book. –  zefciu Apr 26 '12 at 14:23
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"What is the Christian perspective on deceptive brain messages?" is a conversation starter, not a question. There is not one single Christian perspective. –  user1054 Aug 16 '12 at 1:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted
+500

Material vs. Immaterial

It should be clear from Scripture that there is a part of you which is immaterial, and will "live on" once your body is dead. This is commonly referred to as your "spirit". Part of your "material self" is your body.

Are there other parts to you, such as your soul, mind, and/or heart? Some say yes, some say no, but regardless, the point I want to make is:

  • There is a part of you which is not material, referred to as your spirit

  • There is a part of you which is material (or "physical"), including your body

Clearly your brain is part of your body, and is material; If we chop it up a bit, you'll have trouble thinking straight. But even if the brain dies, along with the body, the spirit will live on.

Interactions between the Physical and the Spiritual

It should be obvious that the spiritual can influence the physical; God spoke the universe into existence, angels are recorded in Scripture as slaying men, your free-will influences the choices you make in your body, etc. And then, of course, there are the numerous examples of demons influencing people in the Gospels:

"But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him" -Luke 4:35

The question is, can the physical influence the spiritual? It would seem that the answer is "yes", at least in some cases;

"So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him." -1 Samuel 16:23

If nothing else, surely we must concede that the spiritual is aware of the physical, and responds to it - at least sometimes. This should be clear from prayer, sorcery, casting out demons, blood sacrifices, occult practices, etc.

But this "impact" must not be assumed to apply to every situation. If I lose a leg or an arm, I am not suddenly "less", spiritually; that should be proof enough that not everything that happens to a person physically directly impacts them spiritually.

Christian responsibility

Christians are called to rule over their bodies:

"I discipline my body and make it my slave" -1 Corinthians 9:7

...and not to be ruled by their bodies/flesh:

"For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." -Galatians 5:17

But ultimately our war is not against the physical, but against those things which influence the physical against the will of God:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." -Ephesians 6:12

In other words, Christians have a physical "aspect", which will tend toward sin if not "ruled" and forced to submit to the will and ways of God. This is not due to natural forces, but spiritual forces, which influence the natural as a sort of default. We are called to control our physical "self" via our spiritual "self" in partnership with God's Spirit.

Conclusion

The spiritual realm is real - this is evident from passages about demons influencing people in Jesus' day. Yes, modern psychologists would call these things medical conditions, but remember, they presuppose naturalism, and don't accept the truth of Scripture. Perhaps what they are seeing is that there is a physical change with such conditions, but in light of the knowledge that the spiritual certainly does impact the physical, that should not be surprising. But one should not assume that a physical change is the cause of the condition, or that a physical treatment is the best solution.

Analysis of Dr. Schwartz View

With regards to the need to "rule over the brain", Dr. Schwartz seems to be saying the same thing in a more scientific way; that we must use our mind (which he distinguishes from the brain) to control what our brain does. His emphasis seems to be on the idea that your brain is not in control of your mind, as secular, naturalistic psychologists suppose, but rather, that your brain should be controlled by your mind. If I understand him, this seems to be correct, since his usage of "mind" seems to be akin to the Christianese term "spirit".

However, his methods (Steps 2-4) rely on attributing the brain's activity to medical conditions, rather than spiritual influences, which seems naive from a Biblical perspective, as I have just explained. In his view:

"these things are caused by mis-firings in their brain" -(his words)

As I have explained, I believe this is an unwarranted assumption. However, for all practical purposes, his methods may very well be effective on some level despite the theological error in that statement. But it would be wise not to discount the spiritual cause of this natural "cause", if that makes sense. As he admits, a complete cure of the condition is rare:

"what you can do is get it to the point where you can really manage it, and manage it in ways that it really doesn't have very significant impact on your life anymore"

In contrast, when Jesus "healed" or "cast out a demon", the person was cured of the resultant condition.

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thank you very much for your input. I am curious to know if the Bible would say the "mind" (not the brain) is of the spirit? –  Greg McNulty Aug 14 '12 at 0:20
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@GregMcNulty Yes and no - it depends what the original author meant by their use of the word(s) "mind". For example, 1 Cor. 14:15 seems to contrast the mind with the spirit, as if "mind" = "brain". Likewise, Eph. 2:3 seems to equate "the desires of the mind" with "the lusts of the flesh", as if "mind" were part of the flesh. But then Rom. 8:6 implies that the mind is distinct from the flesh, and 1 Cor. 2:16 seems to indicate that the Lord has a mind, which we can share in. Words are defined by their usage, and have modern connotations, which is why I stuck with "material" and "immaterial". –  Jas 3.1 Aug 15 '12 at 19:38
    
ok, I see why you mean, I think the author is saying to take the mind of the Lord that we can share in, in a more science way. –  Greg McNulty Aug 15 '12 at 20:27
    
I appreciate you taking the time to review his material and help me out with my questions. I doubt anyone is crafting a better answer in an hour, so the 500 will be yours! thanks again. –  Greg McNulty Aug 20 '12 at 17:04
    
also thanks for pointing out: "I discipline my body and make it my slave" -1 Corinthians 9:7 I think this is the high level concept of his work, a good starting place from a biblical perspective. –  Greg McNulty Aug 20 '12 at 17:07

Let me begin with the disclaimer that I have not read this book, I have never heard of this book, and so all I know about it is what you say here. So most of what I say here is about the general idea and not the specifics of this book.

I think two key points should be born in mind:

  1. I would be very cautious about saying that "science has proven" something based on claims of one writer in one, let us admit, obscure book. There have been many books written over the centuries claiming to have "proof" of this or that, from cold fusion to people being kidnapped by aliens, and further investigation proves them to be inconclusive or flat wrong. (I'd be especially careful about concluding that the Bible must be wrong or must be "re-interpreted" based on such claims. The scientific and historical accuracy of the Bible has withstood endless attacks over thousands of years. If a claimed new scientific discovery contradicts the Bible, the safe bet is that the Bible will turn out to be right. But maybe that's a tangent: I gather that you are not saying that this book "proves" the Bible wrong, but simply that you want to fit this into your understanding of spiritual truth.)

  2. That said, at least the general idea as you describe it is nothing new. The Bible makes numerous mentions of at least one case where a physical stimulus can affect the mind: Proverbs 20:1 "Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise." There are warnings thoughout the Bible that excessive alcohol consumption interferes with good judgement. While I can't think of a Bible verse mentioning this, surely the Bible writers were aware that physical injury can hurt the mind. That is, they must have known cases where someone sufferred a head wound and was mentally impaired either temporarily or permeanently.

So nowhere does the Bible teach that the soul or mind is completely separate from and unaffected by the body, and indeed specifically talks about the counter-example of drunkenness on numerous occasions.

As the Bible of course teaches that the soul outlives the body, and that sould embodies the same mind you had when alive, the mind must be something more than the electrochemical processes of the brain.

So what exactly is the relationship between the brain, i.e. the physical organ, and the mind, i.e. the personality? I can give a complete and accurate answer to that question: I don't know.

Clearly the brain affects the mind, but the mind is not the same thing as the brain. There is an interrelationship.

It certainly brings up difficult moral and spiritual questions. If a person accidentally ingests a chemical that messes with his mind and causes him to become violent, does God hold him accountable for the acts committed while under the influence of this chemical? Could a drug or electrical stimulus or whatever interfere with the functioning of a person's mind in a way that causes him to reject God, while without this stimulus he would have turned to God and been saved?

It sounds very tricky, but a little thought will show that it's not different in principle from other human or natural events that could interfere with a person's salvation. Like, what if a person was on his way to visit a friend and tell him about God, and on the way he is killed in an automobile accident? What about people who, because of historical circumstances beyond their control, live in a place where the Gospel has never been heard? Etc etc. There are many natural events that can affect your spiritual life. Things that interfere with the functioning of the brain are more insidious -- "creepier" perhaps -- but not different in kind.

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Jay, +1 for even attempting to answer this! You have some really good points and references. –  Greg McNulty Apr 25 '12 at 16:25
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Re 1: creationist, then? That... isn't really the Bible "turning out right", so much as "ignoring the criticism and physical evidence". I do agree that one opinion in a book is not "proof", though. Books are indeed not the usual medium for valid scientific discussion - that is done better in peer-reviewed, qualified, sourced, repeated-test academic publications. –  Marc Gravell Apr 26 '12 at 6:30
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@Marc Actually I was thinking of the many challenges to the Bible that have been solidly refuted, from "no such nation as the Hittites" to "texts are unreliable and repeatedly changed". Yes, I'm a defender of creation theory, but that's clearly not a battle that's won yet. –  Jay Apr 27 '12 at 2:38
    
@Jay: please see new references. –  Greg McNulty Aug 13 '12 at 18:25

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