12 March 2010

God and serotonin levels

It turns out Karl Marx was wrong: religion is not the opiate of the people; it’s the Prozac of the people. So says the man who originated the concept of male bonding in this fascinating article in Canada’s foremost English-language newsweekly: Macleans interview: Lionel Tiger. Here’s a brief sample:

Q: That’s why you call churches “serotonin factories.” You hint about possibly developing the brain equivalent of bodily exercise. Serotonin pills as a religion replacement?
A: I’m not sure we’ll ever learn to manage brain secretions in any manner, and it may be that we don’t want to, but at least we now know that the feeling of oceanic identification with others in an assembly—a church assembly or whenever—is not magical, it’s neurophysiological. We can identify the juices. I think that’s fantastic, actually. And Mike [McGuire]’s work on serotonin did generate Prozac and a whole array of medications.

Q: Despite increasing secularization, especially in the West, most people have not become flat-out rationalists. Do you think that for many environmentalism is a religion?
A: That’s absolutely right, and that’s interesting because it is finally the fruit of pantheism, a very, very old religious idea. For many people, not using more than four sheets of toilet paper is an act of moral purification.

In addition to illuminating the roots of environmentalism, Tiger’s analysis further clears up an ancient and vexing mystery: why did so many saints willingly suffer a martyr’s death for the cause of Christ? It seems they just wanted to feel good.


jonathan. said...

That some scientist comments on the biotic aspects of worship should not be surprising to a Dooyeweerdian. Those Christian martyrs certainly did feel, and they did that with their bodies. I am sure feeling 'good' factored into their sacrifice - in the depth of the heart, just as in the secretions of the brain.

David Koyzis said...

Quite right, Jonathan. One is safe in assuming that, if the martyrs had renounced Christ, they would have felt horrible for the rest of their lives. Their not doing so made them feel better. What Tiger is doing, however, is to ignore what Dooyeweerd would describe as human functioning in the higher, post-sensitive, modalities. Tiger does speak of "marketing genius," which suggests attention to at least the economic mode, but his general approach is reductionist in the extreme.


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