Satan and the Reptilian Brain

Copyright © 2012 by Robert Thomas Doran

The architecture of our brains can be compared to the proverbial onion.  At its core lies the reptilian complex or the R-Complex.  The R-Complex being the first improvement over basic biological functions sits at the top of our brain stems and clutches it in a shell.  Beyond procreation, a reptile does not need to do much more than to eat and to avoid being eaten[1].  Functions such as aggression and predation; fear and escape; that are essential to a reptilian existence originate here.  In psychology these functions are known as the fight-flight mechanism.  Greed, cheating, deception, rage, and violence are all aspects of our nature that rise out of the reptilian complex.

The outer portions of our brains having evolved later sits around the R-Complex and here is where our brains’ higher functions originate.  The gentler aspects of our nature such as love, compassion, nurturing and altruism rise from these outer precincts of the brain.  These are the mammalian functions.  Mammals are the animals with mammary glands and hence the name for mammals as a group or as a phylum has been taken from that singular distinction.  Mammals nurture their young: feed them; keep them warm; and protect them from predators.  More fundamental than acquiring the skills for nurturing, there must first be the disposition, the tendency, and the capacity to engage in that kind of activity.  So beyond the physical aspect of females having breasts we mammals are unique in our capacity for nurturing and altruism.

Religion came first to the human experience, before science.  If it did not, it at least held sway when scientific thought had yet to establish itself and come to the fruition of clarity that it now offers.  Religion uses a different language than science as well as a different method.  With religion there is discipline of thought: religion makes its assertions and then seeks to affirm and enforce those assertions.  With science there is only a discipline to truth.  Science makes no assertions per se.  It only formulates theories and then continuously tests them: refining them when they need refining; discarding them when they are wrong.  Science and religion have clashed over the existence of God, creation, evolution and myriad other areas of thought.

On the topic of Satan and the Reptilian Brain, science and religion may perhaps come closest to having common ground.  Are they not one in the same?  With different names and words applied to them, they are different models to be sure.  But don’t they both describe the same aspect of our nature.  With Satan religion might offer a handy way of speaking about that aspect of our nature which we are ever vigilant of and ever seek to transcend.  With Satan religion offers a mystical third-party that is forever beguiling us with temptations.  With the Reptilian Brain, science offers a deeper and more accurate model of our nature.  With the Reptilian Brain, we must be ever vigilant not because there is a powerful evil force descending upon us or infiltrating into us from outside ourselves.  With the model of the reptilian brain there is the acknowledgement that that which we may call Satan has always been there, inside of us.  Satan is a part of our nature.  When we act on impulses from the reptilian brain, we are acting with selfishness; we are acting in a mode of predation and aggression, or in a mode of escape and survival.

That is where religion has it right, with its model of Satan.  This is where religion has it wrong: religion makes assertions and then seeks to affirm and enforce those assertions.  So when there is a school of thought that runs counter to the assertions of religion, religion will counter that any challenge to its authority is coming from Satan.  In this mode religion is acting with despotism.  And with that despotism it is seeking to maintain its preeminence.  When religion makes heretics of dissenters and stones them or shuns them or burns them at the stake religion has stepped away from God and is serving that force that it calls Satan.  When religion seeks to punish dissonance regardless how sly or subtle that punishment may be: religion is in that role, serving Satan – not God.


 

[1] The drive and the mechanism for procreation have a similarity to hunger and eating.

 

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