The most primitive part of our brain, referred to as the reptilian or "lizard" brain, is our protector. It is constantly seeking our survival by evaluating our environment for threats. It is fear-based and the source of our stress response--commonly called the "fight-or-flight" response.
Dr. Paul MacLean, a research psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health, originated the concept of the lizard brain with his Triune Brain theory which he proposed in 1973. He saw the structure of the human brain reflective of three evolutionary eras:
* the Protoreptilian formation (lizard brain)
* the Paleomammalian formation (limbic system...feeling)
* the Neomammalian formation (neo-cortex...thinking)
The November 2011 issue of Vanity Fair explained this theory in an article that highlighted the work of Dr. Peter Whybrow, a British neuroscientist at U.C.L.A. Noting that the human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, the article quoted Dr. Whybrow: "We've got the core of the average lizard." The article explained that the brain core is wrapped around by a second layer which facilitates feeling and social interaction, followed by a third layer which enables memory and abstract thought. As Whybrow was quoted, "The only problem is our passions are still driven by the lizard core."
For those who subscribe to this triune theory, it is commonly understood that the reptilian and limbic brains have a far greater effect on the neo-cortex than vice versa. In practical terms, the heart always seem to win most any conflict with our head.
How does this relate to religion? My personal story provides a demonstration.
I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church, where I heard the "Gospel" message at a very early age.
I was told I was a sinner and deserved to be punished in hell (which God's righteous judgment required.
However, I was also told that God loved me and had arranged a way for me to escape that punishment, by allowing his perfect son Jesus to die on the cross and be punished in my place...
I needed to accept Jesus as my "Personal Savior" in order to be saved. If I didn't accept Jesus, I would be doomed to hell forever.
What do you think my lizard brain decided? Duh...I chose Jesus.
That "Gospel" message is what psychologists call a "double message."
God loves you...BUT!
The rational brain can see the problems with this message; its power lies in its appeal to the lizard brain.
So religion that is rooted in fear is "Lizard Brain Religion."