Neurotheology

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Neurotheology on Sin

It is clear in the biblical view of the world that people were originally designed to be the life-giving and the source of good things to others. (Ephesians 2:10) God’s assessment of the creation of people was that it was very good and life-giving—fruitful. (Genesis 1:27-31)

The biblical language for the word we render “sin” in both Hebrew and Greek means to miss the intended target. In Hebrew one word is חטא (chata') to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, not reach and in Greek amartia (hamartia) to sin, miss the target. Thus when St. Paul combines the two words for this central problem he says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) In modern language we might say that people malfunction and become less than the beings “crowned with glory and honor” they should have been. (Psalms 8:5, Hebrews 2:7.)

It is interesting to notice that the central nervous system including our brain is born with enormous potential but the actual development of the brain depends on how it is trained and who it copies. Many potential mental abilities are deleted from a growing brain when they are not used. It is clear in areas like the attachment circuits and the control center that it is possible to develop a brain that misses the mark and is much less than it could be. It is possible to train examples of toxic behavior into the “Captain” in the prefrontal area that will cause people to react under stress in ways that they personally deplore. It is obviously possible, and actually common, to grow substandard brains in children. These defects are readily passed along from generation to generation.

If part, and perhaps the main part, of what it means to sin is: to become less than we could be, to fail to know who we are and, to fail to act according to our full potential then, it is clear that we have these malfunctions in us. We can see malfunctions in the people all around us. From a moral side we would say that sin is the kind of malfunction that makes us toxic (produce damage and death) at the very moment we needed to give life. When we examine violent behavior and sociopathic deviance there is little doubt that these failures to produce life are accompanied by defective brain function, (see Daniel Amen, Healing the Hardware of the Soul,) and defects in the control center and particularly the attachment system. (See Allan Schore, Affect Regulation and the Disorders of the Self.)

Normally such statements about the brain defects and morality lead to discussions about “will and choice” because, ever since the Middle Ages, sin has been viewed as a debt or a crime. Sin is a something to be paid for or punished. So the argument goes, how can you punish someone of they have a bad brain? Maybe they can’t help what they are doing. Of course the results are the same regardless of how much choice the person has – they are destructive and deadly. Now, suppose you did not want them to be destructive.

It might be helpful to think about how many ways sin is the absence of something, a missing of the mark, a malfunction or a failure to produce life when it is needed. From this view, the major reason to deal with sin would be to experience restoration. Naturally, this restoration is only going to be a reality to those who recognize that they malfunction. If you think it is fine to be deadly you will not seek or find a way to become more alive than you are. Malfunctions are responses that lead toward death. “For the support furnished by sin gives death; but God gives life that keeps going when Jesus leads everything you do.” (Romans 6:23)  The “support” referred to in that statement would be the equivalent of the K-rations a soldier eats while on maneuvers. You could render the statement, “If you try to subsist on malfunctions it will kill you.” If you model from defective brains you will grow a defective brain. Wouldn’t you rather eat healthy? Wouldn’t you like to find a good brain to model from?

In the next section on the sarx we will discuss why there is not, and will never be, agreement about what is actually a human malfunction. Another part of the discussion can be found in the Munchies lectures on the topic of Fools. Fools are those who think they are living when they are really killing themselves and others.