Wired for love: The neurobiology of relational emotionality

the triune brain

What if I told you that every human has what is called a ‘triune brain?’ – Namely that our cerebral treasures consist of three key sectors (reptilian, limbic, and neocortex), in which one area in particular holds the existential roots of love.

The Limbic System of the brain is a fascinating organism of emotional reciprocity. Indeed emotions, which are evolutionarily exclusive to the limbic brain, are the mammalian messengers of love and compassion for another; evidently for human beings, “feeling deeply is synonymous with being alive” (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2000, p. 37). Regardless of Modernity’s neuro-alliance with neocortical reason (I think therefore I am), we are unmistakably wired for love through the mammalian limbic system (we love therefore we are), essentially the crux of our humanity lies not in our abstract thinking but in our emotive relating towards one another.

I propose that we honour our humanity when we limbically reciprocate honouring emotions, and we disregard our existential character by relegating others to less than emotive beings. From this point it would be fine to commemorate our mammalian neighbours, indeed my pet rats reciprocate comfort when the other is sick or depressed, yet I’d like to expand on the relationality of our humanity.

If our neurobiology sings of love, would it be plausible to conclude that all human reciprocal relationships are validly…well, normal? If you haven’t guessed where I’m going, I’ll clearly spell it out: both hetero-sexual and homo-sexual relationships are socio-biological expressions of limbic wiring. In terms of (what I call) Emergent Christo-anthropology, it is clear that “Jesus’ treatment of the marginalized and stigmatized requires us to question the conventional approach” (McLaren, 2010, p. 241).

Arguably, Jesus came not to show us the way to ‘divinity’ but the way of being fully human – through his limbic resonance for ‘the other’, Jesus calls us towards a gospel of limbic regard for all who share our humanity. The narrative of the Triune God invites us to partake in the communion of relational emotionality.

Works Cited

Lewis, T., Amini, F., & Lannon, R. (2000). A General Theory of Love. New York: Vintage Books.

McLaren, B. (2010). A new kind of Christianity. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.

 

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The case against Richard Dawkins: Challenging anthropological bigotry

dawkins

It may shock most of my fellow Christians when I say, ‘I believe Richard Dawkins is one of the greatest intellectuals of the past 20 years. I’ve enjoyed reading Dawkins’ literature, he simplifies science in an easy to read manner and I’m fascinated by things like atoms, relative movement, and the genetics of life. Yet reading through his book The Magic of Reality, it isn’t his blatant scientific grudge against God that deters me from taking his pro-Darwin stance seriously; rather it is his biased assertion that cultural narratives belonging to the full spectrum of human diversity are nothing but primitive myths.

I get the whole thing about science vs. religion but what I don’t get is his overt bigotry towards other stories other than the ‘Gospel of Natural Selection.’ With the same tunnel vision that justified the Church’s exploitation of indigenous cultures, Dawkins too affirms a ‘one-law-for-all’ approach with his science of modern-imperialism. Name dropping Darwin like the Messiah, it is evident that the religious supremacy he denounces in Christianity is contradicted by his soap-box preaching of science as the only ‘Truth.’

For me, ‘Truth’ is subjective, nothing is unbiased nor is anything objective – history is written by the victor. Truth in one cultural milieu is foolishness in another, yet it seems like at times we all fall prey to the human syndrome of playing God; we all have moments of asserting ‘our way’ as the ‘right way’ or ‘the only way’ to make sense of the world around us. Dawkins is a literary and scientific genius but what he lacks is the will to step back from his Darwinian discipleship and acknowledge the universal relevance of ‘Worldviews.’

I’m not saying that ‘true truth’ is beyond us all, all I’m saying is that we are all blind mice grabbing different parts of an elephant, with one asserting that an elephant is a trunk, another proclaiming it as an ear and another a tail. Truth is culturally loaded, that includes the ‘non-culture’ culture of science, and we must all realize that subjectivity should never be elevated to objectivity. If I assert ‘my’ truth over another’s, I cease being part of the family of humanity; rather I essentially become a god onto myself. We need to remember that everyone has threads of truth to offer to the tapestry of human history, progress and social politics.

“The self cannot be self without other selves” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Cheers: Communion as drinks with Jesus

communion glasses

Last Sunday, holding the little communion shot glass with Ribena in it, I had a kind of epiphany, a realization of what it means to commemorate the Passion of Christ. I imagined Jesus and his disciples at the table having a feed, and then the Messiah stands as if to toast:

“Friends, charge your glasses”, Jesus vigorously pronounced, looking around at the people who had followed him for the past three years. The ever attentive John tries to quiet down the other disciples who are in the middle of a rowdy debate over who should have the last chicken thigh.

“My friends, charge your glasses. Soon I’m going to suffer and die…” the mood suddenly becomes serious. Levi nudges Philip to listen.

“Friends, everything that you have witnessed can be summed up into the most excellent way of life: love others as I have loved you, for by your love, others will know that you’re my disciples…” a tear kissed his cheek, pausing the moment in what can only be described as holy.

“Friends, as you eat this bread…remember this moment with me…friends, as you drink this wine…remember THIS moment with me…”

“To this moment!” exclaimed Peter.

“To love, peace, and brotherhood…cheers!” added Jesus, as everyone stood with their glasses charged. So the night continued with table fellowship and drinks with Jesus.

So as I took communion last Sunday, I turned to my wife and said, “if you think about it, we’re kind of having drinks with Jesus, it’s like saying cheers to what he did and what he is doing.”

So the next time you take communion (if it’s part of your weekly routine), raise your glass and say cheers to Jesus.

We must all learn to live together as brothers. Or we will all perish together as fools – MLK

love-god-love-people1.jpg

There seems to be a problem with interpreting Jesus as a religious line in the sand, in which one side gets flights and accommodation to paradise, and the other side…well, you get the drift.

Re-reading John 14:6 in the context of the whole account of John, which in turn is situated within the context of the Bible, which in turn is situated within the context of the existential metanarrative of divine love; Jesus’ so-called assertion as ‘the way to the Father’ looks a lot different than the norm of dominant church culture.

Indeed, Jesus is in the middle of a long conversation with his followers, they’re concerned that Jesus (after 3 years of telling his disciples to follow him) is now telling them that he’s going somewhere and they can’t come. Here are 4 exegetical points that end up portraying John 14 as a call to love others not a call for religious exclusion.

‘Where I am going you cannot come’ – Here Jesus is talking about his suffering and death, in which he will destroy ‘the temple’ and raise it up again in 3 days (remembering that the temple has moved from being a structure to being people-in-loving-communion-with-God-and-others through the leading character of Christ). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, EVERYONE can commune with God (not just a select few worshipping in an exclusive building);

‘My Father’s house has many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you’ – Jesus isn’t talking about gaping it to heaven and building mansions for the elect few (remembering back to John 2 when Jesus went berserk in the temple because the religious authorities had turned the building into a shrine of exclusion and exploitation of ‘the other’). Here Jesus is ‘preparing’ himself for his death and resurrection (namely the destroying of the old temple of exclusion and the re-building of the re-newed temple in which it shall be a house of prayer for all nations). Through the passion of Christ, Jesus prepared a community (not just for ‘Christians’) in which everyone is invited to join and build a society of loving ‘the other’.

‘I will come back and take you to be with me…’ – This isn’t a reference to Jesus’ second coming and that he’s going to ‘rapture’ the elect and take them to their heavenly mansions, meanwhile destroying everyone that ‘doesn’t know the way.’ Jesus is talking about his resurrection, in which after three days he will reunite with his disciples before his ascension.

‘You know the way…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ – this has nothing to do with post-mortem travel arrangements or religious supremacy, rather it is a reflection back to Moses and the Levitical law (in which the Israelites used the Torah as the way to interpret life as a Jewish person living in the post-exodus era). Jesus’ giving of the great commandment to love others is a parallel to Moses giving the Israelites the 10 commandments. Basically Jesus is saying that without love and acceptance of ‘the other’, one ends up with the opposite of God (which could be termed ‘exclusive selfishness’ – I must stress that non-adherence to ‘the way of love’ doesn’t condemn people to hell, rather I believe that God is forever chasing people with his love, patiently waiting for them to embrace the embrace).

Jesus quite pointedly IS the way, the truth and the life because he is the perfect expression and character of the greatest commandment: love others. In the character of Jesus, we find the embodiment of what it means to love God and love people. Over his 3 year ministry, whether it was by his deeds, his words or through his character – over and over again, Jesus reminds us that God (‘the way’) is inclusive love and the will to embrace ‘the other’ in all their diversity. “When you are kind and respectful to followers of other religions, you are not being unfaithful to Jesus; you are being faithful to him” (McLaren, 2010, p. 285).

With this in mind, I dare propose that ‘the kingdom of God’ isn’t exclusive to the Christian saved, rather it is a global house with many rooms, inhabited by differing people, all unified through the mission of transforming the world into a society of ‘loving the other’.

“We must all learn to live together as brothers. Or we will all perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Works Cited

McLaren, B. (2010). A new kind of Christianity. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.

 

 

No to U.S airstrikes! Yes to aid and international sanctions!

Assad

Obama is more similar to Assad than he is to Martin Luther King Jr. Evidently, just because Obama is the first black president, it doesn’t make him the messiah. As the U.S administration sits on the edge of their seats waiting to strike down Assad’s hold on Syria, it just seems like there is going to be another justified trigger-happy invasion from the west into the Arab world (that will result in more civilian casualties not less).

Like his predecessor, Obama is a war criminal who has tortured and killed just as many civilians as Syria’s defiant president. Yet besides the fact that the U.S government is just as guilty of heinous war crimes as the Assad family’s 42 year reign, something needs to be done about the crisis in Syria. I’m not advocating for a U.S led airstrike nor am I advocating for a fully-fledged military invasion, but I am promoting the dire need for imminent and comprehensive humanitarian aid and the will to embrace democratic conversation for the sake of the Syrian people.

We live in an ultra-connected globalized age of human society, yet it is apparent that when suffering arises in our neighbouring countries, their sufferings don’t bother us until they actually ‘bother’ us. I’d like to think that the international community is one big-little neighbourhood; if that is the case then we need to find a staunch yet democratic way of stopping the crisis in Syria. Humanitarian aid needs to be at the precipice of discussions as well as the need for heavy international sanctioning upon the Assad regime. Hear me out, I’m not advocating for the ‘rebel forces’ (for they have also killed and displaced many civilians) but I am promoting a change in government in which the country’s authorities prize the wellbeing of its citizens above their own pride.

There needs to be a change in the political status quo of mapping the global community into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘us’ versus ‘them’, the ‘righteous’ as opposed to the ‘terrorists’. Then and only then can the international community galvanize past the sectarian categorization that prohibits truth, justice, human rights and the reciprocal accountability of living in a big-little neighbourhood.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension, but it is the presence of justice and brotherhood.” – Martin Luther King Jr. 1961

Criminalizing the homeless: A man named Harry

homeless-feet

Last Wednesday I met a man named Harry (pseudonym), sitting on Queen Street with no money. He didn’t bash me with the Bible, harass me with a petition, or eyeball me to donate towards a cause I don’t believe in. Actually, he never said a word to draw my attention.

Offering my hand towards his own I introduced myself and sat down beside his cup of coins. “How’s your week been bro?” So starts a conversation that neither myself nor he expected to receive on a cold Auckland morning.

45 minutes with a total stranger that I will forever remember as Harry.

The new by-law that essentially criminalizes beggars is a disgrace to democracy let alone what it means to live in society. Time, money, a listening ear, an attentive heart, and the will to see the humanity of another; we have forgotten what it means to encounter someone’s needs other than our own. I’m all for giving to charity, but you can go your whole life giving to charity and never see poverty humanized, incarnated, fleshed out, and needing help in the NOW. The new by-law has fundamentally killed the spirit of the Samaritan, just to justify the ignorance of the priest and the neglect of the Levite.

“People walk past…but they don’t see me… If someone just gave me a chance…” – Words that I will never forget.