In 2011, on New Year’s Eve, I started thinking about all the years I spent in church listening to preachers talk dirt about humanity. I recalled the years I had a negative self-image. I knew why. Indoctrination began at a critical stage of brain development. There was continuous reinforcement in church, and from the Bible; there was no good thing in any of us—that our righteousness was as filthy rags.
The word “filthy” in Hebrew translates to “the bodily fluids from a woman’s menstrual blood”. Therefore, in the eye’s of the Biblical god, any prosocial behavior was as repugnant as a soiled feminine hygiene product. If you’re a woman, you are reminded where your place is in the patriarchal hierarchy. I heard over and over, and year after year, that humans were defective by nature, corrupt, evil and unworthy. Getting “saved” doesn’t change the internal dialog.
An excerpt from a video series by an ex-Christian:
“If an idea can’t stand on its own truthfulness, it has to find another way to survive. And often the way that happens is by the gradual, unintentional, or intentional refinement of the hijacking of our emotional architecture. Possibly the most effective, most powerful way a belief could do this would be to devalue or eliminate all other sources of self-affirmation— which Christianity does with devastating efficacy—so that there is no hope, or beauty, or meaning, and more importantly, no integrity of the self without it. Christianity alters your identity to ensure the survival of itself.
If a belief can do this to you, you will have almost no chance of being able to critically evaluate its truthfulness.”
Imagine what this does to the brains of the most vulnerable—children.
After my deconversion, I spent the next several years rebuilding my self-esteem. I researched for hours, days and years to understand human behavior, and the causes of both prosocial and anti-social behavior. I have no doubt that authoritarian religion, such as Christianity, especially evangelical, has played a huge role in negatively impacting the psyche of humanity.
Neurological studies using fMRI scans show positive words can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. They propel the motivational centers of the brain into action.
However, the scans also revealed that a single negative word can increase the activity in our amygdala (the fear center of the brain), releasing dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, which in turn interrupts our brains’ functioning. Fear-provoking words significantly influenced the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.
1 Peter 5:8 –“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Ezekiel 22:17-22 — “Because you have all become dross, I will gather you into Jerusalem. As silver, copper, iron, lead and tin are gathered into a furnace to be melted with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath and put you inside the city and melt you. I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you will be melted inside her, and you will know that I the Lord have poured out my wrath on you.”
Words create visuals and researchers discovered that even if these fearful thoughts are not real, parts of our brain (like the thalamus and amygdala) can react to negative fantasies as though they were actual threats occurring in the outside world.
“By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with.
A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will include you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”
The researchers emphasized that negative language partially shuts down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes. Remember the quote from the ex-Christian ?
“If a belief can do this to you, you will have almost no chance of being able to critically evaluate its truthfulness.”
This knowledge about how words impact the brain, especially the frontal lobes, helps me to understand why it’s so difficult for believers in the Christian God (Yahweh/Jesus) to critically assess their belief system and their holy book, the Bible.
On that particular New Year’s Eve, back in 2011, a rush of endorphins coursed through my body while thinking about how far I’d come since I deconverted, and how my perception of myself and humanity had significantly changed. The peace within was genuine. The rest of that evening was spent searching for some of my favorite humanism quotes to post in a video. I published the video at the stroke of midnight.
What are some of your favorite humanism quotes.