Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars Brain soothing as opium for the masses, 18 April 2010
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This review is from: Gods Brain (Hardcover)
As there is no description and no other review I will do this review more detailed.

In the introduction and first chapter the authors having some shot's at the new atheists who want to get rid of religious superstition, without understanding the biological and neuroscience basis of religion they are fighting. Unfortunately this book is not providing the answers I was hoping to get, when an anthropologist and neuroscientist are joining their experience to write on the interesting topic.

The book continues in chapter 2 the different facets of religion, a very unstructured brainstorming, throwing around all kind of thoughts at random (a mix of different religious dogmas, devotion, terrorism).

Chapter 3 is providing 3 examples of religious experiences/practices : a childhood indoctrinated male, losing his faith as young man resulting in conflict with the law, until he is back on track `reborn Christian' and find fulfillment in his religious community live. Example 2 is the diary of a young woman in 1870 who seeks help and consolation in her prayers from God during a journey to the Wild West. The next case is of a Jewish family in Germany in the 1930s-40s converting to Catholicism to survive, migrate to New York after WW2 and joining back to their Jewish faith whereas the indoctrinated child stays a Catholic. Quintessence from the authors : religion is no delusion.

Chapter 4 is about `faith in sex', well we know that religion is keen to control the reproduction for Christians to be `fruitful and multiply' to get more followers of Jesus and therefore provide strict rules about sexual practices. What has this to do with "God's brain", how conflicting desires clash with religious rules in the brain etc... is not explained.

Chapter 5 is about the biological law which is often ignored and in conflict with religion. Most animals have their hierarchy, their signs of devotion to leaders etc. we do not need religion for this. Then the authors go on (page 97) to highlight that communism and secularism failed to provide working informal rules for the society, and as the secular rules have no basis in religion they are resulting in conflicts. The authors equate secularism as individualism where everybody should life by his own rules which only work for eremites living in the "remote mountain shack" but not populated areas; therefore secularism is leading to conflicts in society. Wow a typical `believe in belief', e.g. a society without religious rules is doomed to fail according to the authors. Here a quote (page 97-98): ["Moreover, secularism is not cheap. The conflicts and cognitive and emotional disagreements it invites are physiologically costly. This is the central theme in our formulation that deserves repeating. Conflict is physiologically expensive and personally and socially aversive."] I have to disagree completely with the authors here. Living in secular societies in Western Europe, especially Scandinavia is much more peaceful and relaxed than living in a strong religious theocracy like Iran, Saudi Arabia and similar societies with strict religious rules.

Chapter 6 is lengthy explaining the parallels between chimps and humans (common ancestor, similar DNA, similar behavior) to make the point that hierarchy structure, domination and morality are not the recent invention of religion.

Chapter 7 is all about the central topic of the authors: the need for brain soothing. Humans encounter all kind of challenges, uncertainties and stress, resulting in high levels of stress hormones in the brain. And the desire for explanation and consolation might be misused for deceit, which is the more accepted/ignored the higher the deceiver is in the hierarchy. [page 142: " Religious beliefs provide answers, complete stories and provide order "].

Chapter 8 is drilling further into the brain soothing based on a study of monkeys it was found out that high ranking is resulting in high serotonin levels. Serotonin is responsible to feel good and relaxed after a stressful day of low status persons, ergo good to attend some religious gathering where the status of all attendees is equal and the friendly social atmosphere is increasing serotonin, dopamine and norephedrine.

Chapter 9 is about rituals, a simple ever repeating procedure which is easy to learn and memorize, so attendants feel comfortable in the social environment of persons performing the same rituals. Also the memorization is supported from the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex which itself are closely linked to the amygdala the emotional center, so emotions are closely linked (cross reinforcing) to the memory.

Chapter 10 is about brain soothing (again !) : there are people prone to stress and others are more relaxed, and there are challenging and stressful environments. Religion is one of the main possibilities to soothe over the stress. The authors post this as speculation, but there are several studies around that high religiosity correlate very strongly with highly uncertain, unequal and totally defunct societies.

The final chapter 11 highlights some atrocities committed from the faithful (suicide attacks) but the authors do not provide any answer other than the trust in higher religious authorities as cause. And as the conclusion of the book : the brain has created religion itself to soothe the brain for uncertainties and stress, and therefore all kind of religions have prospered and survived for millennia. Not like other explanation attemps of scientist because of better group coherence resulting in the advantage for genetic group selection.

Well a whole book to support Karl Marx and his "religion is the opium for the masses", just that the "opium" is not used as suppression of the working class from the ruling class, but is self produced from the brain (serotonin, dopamine...) to cope better with challenges of life for all classes. I was expecting much more from this book than just one facet.
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