Sunday, March 15, 2009

This Is Your Brain On Joy

Can some of our "spiritual" problems actually be caused by brain malfunction? Can we blame our spiritual problems on our brain? Dr. Earl Henslin delivers an entertaining, informing, and interesting work on this challenging topic.

His book, This Is Your Brain On Joy: A Revolutionary Program for Balancing Mood, Restoring Brain Health, and Nurturing Spiritual Growth, published by Thomas Nelson Publishers is a surprising work on a difficult topic. Certainly there is no shortage of scientists (and wannabe scientists) who assert there is nothing spiritual going on in the brain. And just as certainly, there is no shortage of Christians (or followers of other religions) who are constantly on guard against thoughts that everyone is a victim of biological malfunction. I must confess, I happen to tend toward the latter camp. I tend to beieve we find too many "scientific" excuses for our sin.

But Dr. Henslin makes a compelling case for how our minds affect our attitudes, actions and responses. Our mind processes information and reacts according to how it's wired. If the wiring is faulty, it will react in a faulty but consistent manner. He sets forth the arguments based on years of study with Dr. Daniel G. Amen MD, a world renown neuroscientist, pioneer in brain imaging research, author of over thirty professional papers and twenty-two books. But he also bases his case on biblical principles and even uses some of the science to verify those same principles.

The book opens with a very descriptive layman's description of the brain and the areas to be discussed. He shows SPECT scans (single photon emission computer tomography) which highlight the areas of brain activity. For several years, Dr. Amen has been scanning patients in different situations to find patters in brain activity linked to different chemical reactions within the body. The book contains many photos illustrating the findings. Dr. Henslin keeps his descriptions at a level most can understand. He makes clear, sometimes even humorous, analogies to real-life comparisons with everyday language in a way as to keep the average reader awake and engaged.

After the initial explanation of the brain's areas and function, the book presents test to see which areas of the brain you might address. There is a general chapter on therapies, foods, and behaviors, called Joy Boosters, that should help improve any of the mood areas and the the next five chapters of the book discuss the five mood areas specifically. If you have a particular tendency, you can concentrate on those areas of most interest to you or read straight through.

The mood section is followed with a chapter on joy from the spiritual perspective using the book of Philippians as a guide. As a Christ-follower himself, the author brings together the arguments of the science-only group and the bible-only group in one chapter that addresses what the bible says about joy. A healthy mind still must deal with issues of joy due to our fallen sin nature too. Dr. Henslin explains his belief "that science and spirituality go hand in glove: God created our brains and our bodies to respond positively and in healing ways." Dr. Henslin shows the six secrets of joy from this small epistle from the apostle Paul; secrets we should be using to experience joy and glorify God without regard for any specific brain condition.

The book closes with three appendices. The first is titles The Day I Had My Head Examined; a first hand account of the SPECT imaging and analysis performed on Becky Johnson, collaborator on the book. She candidly describes her background, her thoughts, the procedure and the result. The book is filled with specific examples of other people whose lives were changed dramatically by the diagnoses made using the SPECT scans. This first-hand account helps bring the point home and provides an appealing perspective.

I highly recommend the book. My wife and I both appreciate the information provided as it applied differently to each of us but it also helped from both of our perspectives on 26 years of marriage and behavioral patterns. We're thankful to the authors and the publisher for having the courage to address both extremes of the physical / spiritual argument and reach informed conclusions.

1 comment:

  1. Timely posting! A friend of mine (no, really!) is struggling with his faith a bit. Perhaps this will offer him some ideas. Thanks, Mike!