Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Brian McLaren and the primitive brain

Brian McLaren is leading the charge to end thinking with the primitive brain. What is the primitive brain? The one that thinks and believes things that Brian McLaren does not think and believe.

Parker Palmer, in a beautiful and important essay

In other words, an essay with which McLaren emphatically agrees. Palmer's excerpt reads as follows:

Parishioners flock to preachers who see the anti-Christ in people who do not believe as they do.

This seems like a good time to remind my readers that the head of McLaren's organization has accused George W. Bush of being the anti-Christ in his best selling book.

Christian voters support politicians who use God’s name to justify ignoble and often violent agendas.

Christians vote Republican, is what the author means to say here.

When the primitive brain is in charge, humility, compassion, forgiveness, and the vision of a beloved community do not stand a chance.

Implicitly declaring yourself to be above the use of a lesser brain function does not constitute humility.

In response, McLaren muses...

This primitive brain, he explains, snaps us into the fight-or-flight reflex. That reflexive reaction to danger has great survival value when you’re trying to escape from a saber-toothed tiger or when you are trying to bring down a mastodon to feed your clan.

Brian McLaren should stay away from the fields science and psychology. Not his gig.

But the primitive brain isn’t so helpful when you’re in the middle of a tense conflict with your spouse, or you’re negotiating with a high-strung teenager.

Let's all take time to thank Brian McLaren for spelling this out.

Or dealing with terrorists.

Who are exactly like my spouse. This transition is great. No need to elaborate.

Terrorism, contrary to what our political leaders sometimes tell us, isn’t insane.

Insofar as labeling terrorism as insane represents a category error, I agree with McLaren. That said, if terrorists aren't insane, then there is no such thing as insane.

It’s actually a demonically brilliant strategy of manipulating an opponent to react from the primitive brain. Terrorists aren’t stupid; they know that by tempting us to submit to the primitive brain, we will become stupid and easy to manipulate.

That strategy has paid off like gang-busters. Just look at how all of America is celebrating Ramadan.

More specifically, if your enemies know they can provoke you to fight or flee on their prompting, they can pull your chain and push your buttons so you will overextend, overspend, and over-react.

How does this benefit the terrorists? Why would they do this? Why would they care if we over-react?

By leading you to overspend again and again, little by little they render you increasingly vulnerable to economic indebtedness, recession, depression, collapse, and all the civil unrest that accompany them, further weakening you from within.

I should take the time to note that Brian McLaren is a liberal Democrat who supports vast increases in government spending, which would dwarf any military expenditures of the past quarter century, and the contributions to public debt thereof. He hasn't considered this paradox because he does not know what a paradox is, and does not care.

If this sounds familiar, then perhaps we’re waking up to see how we have been dancing to the fearful song of the primitive brain, marching to the drumbeat of reactivity, and playing stupid to the script terrorism. And perhaps we begin to see the ancient wisdom of Jesus’ words: those who live by the sword die by the sword, because sword-play submits you to the primitive brain.

And yet, Jesus was pretty cool with Peter having the sword to begin with. In McLaren's world, terrorists, who have been brainwashed into blowing themselves up for Allah, are sophisticated psychological experts, while the rest of us rubes act on our primal instincts. Uh, huh.

What would it mean to “let this mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus?” What would it mean to put primitive ways behind us, and mature from the primitive brain’s fear-driven reacting to the “more excellent way” of love-inspired living?

Apparently it would mean spouting banal platitudes in the face of a threat on our life.

What would happen if we stopped listening to the religious leaders who play to fear and instead began listening to those who lead us to higher ground?

To that end, McLaren just so happens to have a book coming out about how all Christians need to change in order to find higher ground.

The challenge isn’t easy.

It seems pretty easy.

As Palmer says, “Unfortunately, the fight or flight reflex runs so deep that resisting it is like trying to keep your foot from jumping when the doctor taps your patellar tendon.”

In other words, the reflex is like a reflex. That is the least illuminating analogy I have ever read.

Misguided religious leaders, of course, embed people ever more deeply in the primitive brain simply by wallpapering it with religious language. But wise religious leaders help people learn to open hearts and hands that have been clenched tight in fear.

As an example of a wise religious leader helping people learn, McLaren links us to his own songs. What an ass. That said, if you haven't had the chance to listen to McLaren's music, it's a pretty unique experience. As Parker Palmer would say, Brian McLaren is to bad music as Yoko Ono is to bad music.

Palmer challenges his fellow Christians, but the challenge could easily be adapted to people of all faiths:

Such is the virtue of peddling fluff.

President Roosevelt may have overstated the case when he said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but he was conveying the truth that with every external threat comes a more subtle threat from within:

President Roosevelt imprisoned asian people simply because we were at war with Japan. So, apparently he feared fear, but also people.

we yield to the primitive brain and become puppets on the strings of fear.

Brian is employing the ubiquitous "we", here. He does not consider himself a puppet on the strings of fear. He is wise and creative. Listen to his song for more details.

So here’s the question: can the fear of fear challenge us to rise above fear?

Perhaps. The bigger problem is fearing that the fear of fear will outweigh the fearsome ways in which the fear of fearing fear make us into puppets who fear fear-fearing fearers who fear our fearing more than we fear.

P.S. If you’re a Christian who fears Muslims — or who knows others who do — a good first step in addressing fear would be to sign up for the Why Do You Fear Me? webcast coming up Jan. 28.

I fear webcasts.