June 13, 2021

Musings on Neurotheology

Cathy Luchetti

For years now,Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 3.59.52 PM “eco” has been a big deal in popular science. We have ecotourism, ecosystems, ecofriendly, ecosphere and so much more. Yet today, “neuro” demands its share of attention. There’s already children’s game, “Neuro Jeopardy” and a dog food that’s replaced “nutro” with “neuro.” Modern magnetic imaging has the extraordinary ability to track reactions within the fourteen major parts of the brain — more, if you count the subsections. The brain’s “lighting up” through neuroimaging and our ability to read the results may have significant commercial applications — possibly neuro pilates, or neuro wine tasting?

Neuroscientists urge caution with the use of this technology. Emotions don’t map neatly into specific brain regions, they say. It’s neuroscience, not necromancy!

But the dorsal striatum, a nestled, whitish mass that’s one of the core components of the basal ganglia, is an odd little subset of the brain that makes decisions and is involved in learning habits and things done by rote, such as riding a bike. It also is a region involved in enjoyment and satisfaction.

Recently it’s been shown that it “lights up” with the satisfaction of meting out punishment, even at personal cost. The stronger the brain activity in this area, the more willing the individual is to punish. In defense of the dorsal, its “revenge” is generally taken on those who have broken social norms and “deserve” it, thus it is seen as altruistic punishment. But when passion and anger spur it on, the punishment is less and less censored. In other words, revenge can happen, followed by deep feelings of pleasure, or satisfaction.

We as humans are hardwired for altruism and revenge at the same time. Good and evil.

I imagine that the man Jesus, from the shoot of Jesse, was born into this world with a dorsal striatum. In his makeup was the ability — hardwired in, created by Father God — to get pleasure from punishment and revenge.

He felt the same anger that we all do but he did not give in to opportunities for revenge. These he did not yield to because, as Isaiah 11 predicted, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.” Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good…” The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to override instincts for punishment and revenge, to tame and quiet the dorsal striatum.

So by faith and experience I know this power is also available to us. We are promised in John 14:12, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works then these will he do…” The Spirit’s power to overcome was available to Jesus, as it is to us. Dorsal striatum or not. ©

One thought on “Musings on Neurotheology

  1. What fascinating information. For me, it raises the idea that “the enemy” isn’t the root to the things that we need to override. God hard-wired us in some ways we don’t think about. Yes, Satan is our enemy, and we should be on guard. However, I like to lean toward giving God credit for all things and praising Him for all things. I work toward seeing less how “I am being attacked” and more how God is challenging me to run faster, jump higher. He believes in us and is calling us to act more like Jesus.

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