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Tue Jul 17, 2018, 05:51 AM

Science and Philosophy Offer More for Grief than Religion

Last edited Tue Jul 17, 2018, 06:39 PM - Edit history (2)


Bereavement is horrible, but religion is false comfort.


In a recent New York Times column, Stephen T. Asma claims that religion can help people to deal with grief much better than science can. His case for religion over science has four flaws. It depends on a view of how emotion works in the brain that has been rendered obsolete by advances in neuroscience. It underestimates how much science can help to understand the nature of grief and to point to ways of overcoming it. It overestimates the consoling power of religion. Finally, it neglects how science can collaborate with philosophy to suggest ways of dealing with grief.

Asma tells the heartbreaking story of the murder of a teenager and its devastating effect on his mother, brother, and sister. I know how overwhelming grief can be, having lost two parents and a beloved wife who died young of cancer. But Asma’s reasons for looking to religion as consolation are not convincing.

He claims that science can only reach the recently evolved rational part of the brain, the neocortex, whereas religion can access the older emotional part of the brain, the limbic system. This view of the brain as sharply divided between cognitive and emotional systems has been overthrown by decades of research. Brain scanning and other methods find enormous integration between the prefrontal cortex and parts of the limbic system such as the amygdala. Luiz Pessoa’s book,The Cognitive-Emotional Brain, thoroughly reviews the effects of the amygdala and other parts of the limbic system on many kinds of perception, cognition, and motivation. These cortical functions also affect the amygdala, so science with its evidence-based approach to theory and rationality can influence emotions by helping people to evaluate the situations that generate emotions. Understanding grief can help people to recover from it.

There is good scientific research on grief that can help people understand its process and prospects. For example, Ruth Davis Konigsberg's The Truth about Grief cites studies that most people substantially recover from the horrors of grief within about 18 months. For those who have greater difficulty, there are psychotherapists who are skilled at helping people deal with underlying emotional problems. There is no scientific backing for the famous five-stage model of grief based on denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Coping by repressing emotions is sometimes effective. So science can suggest ways of dealing with grief without buying into the metaphysics of religion.


https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hot-thought/201807/science-and-philosophy-offer-more-grief-religion

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Arrow 20 replies Author Time Post
Reply Science and Philosophy Offer More for Grief than Religion (Original post)
Voltaire2 Jul 2018 OP
Wwcd Jul 2018 #1
Act_of_Reparation Jul 2018 #2
edhopper Jul 2018 #3
Jim__ Jul 2018 #4
Duppers Jul 2018 #5
Voltaire2 Jul 2018 #8
Jim__ Jul 2018 #10
Voltaire2 Jul 2018 #11
Jim__ Jul 2018 #13
gtar100 Jul 2018 #6
Act_of_Reparation Jul 2018 #7
Voltaire2 Jul 2018 #9
gtar100 Jul 2018 #12
Voltaire2 Jul 2018 #14
gtar100 Jul 2018 #15
Act_of_Reparation Jul 2018 #16
gtar100 Jul 2018 #18
Act_of_Reparation Jul 2018 #19
Voltaire2 Jul 2018 #17
Pope George Ringo II Jul 2018 #20

Response to Voltaire2 (Original post)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 06:51 AM

1. "God wanted it this way"

 

This is the most worthless thing to tell a person in a state of grief.

Been there.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Original post)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 07:29 AM

2. "Believe in God because it makes you feel better"

As an atheist and long-time sufferer of depression, I find that pitch doubly insulting.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Original post)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 08:03 AM

3. What about all the research

religion does to find the most effective treatments to deal with emotional and mental issues?

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Response to Voltaire2 (Original post)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 08:17 AM

4. For reference, a link to - what I assume is - the cited Asma's column.

I assume that this is the column being cited. An excerpt:

...

One day, after pompously lecturing a class of undergraduates about the incoherence of monotheism, I was approached by a shy student. He nervously stuttered through a heartbreaking story, one that slowly unraveled my own convictions and assumptions about religion.

Five years ago, he explained, his older teenage brother had been brutally stabbed to death, viciously attacked and mutilated by a perpetrator who was never caught. My student, his mother and his sister were shattered. His mother suffered a mental breakdown soon afterward and would have been institutionalized if not for the fact that she expected to see her slain son again, to be reunited with him in the afterlife where she was certain his body would be made whole. These bolstering beliefs, along with the church rituals she engaged in after her son’s murder, dragged her back from the brink of debilitating sorrow, and gave her the strength to continue raising her other two children — my student and his sister.

...

Religious rituals, for example, surround the bereaved person with our most important resource — other people. Even more than other mammals, humans are extremely dependent on others — not just for acquiring resources and skills, but for feeling well. And feeling well is more important than thinking well for my survival.

Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve psychological health. When you’ve lost a loved one, religion provides a therapeutic framework of rituals and beliefs that produce the oxytocin, internal opioids, dopamine and other positive affects that can help with coping and surviving. Beliefs play a role, but they are not the primary mechanisms for delivering such therapeutic power. Instead, religious practice (rituals, devotional activities, songs, prayer and story) manage our emotions, giving us opportunities to express care for each other in grief, providing us with the alleviation of stress and anxiety, or giving us direction and an outlet for rage.

...

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #4)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 08:40 AM

5. This atheist agrees BUT...

This is the case for envying stupidity and ignorance. I have lost a child, yet I did not and cannot throw out knowledge and all logic.


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Response to Jim__ (Reply #4)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 02:47 PM

8. It was this specific claim that was nonsense:


He claims that science can only reach the recently evolved rational part of the brain, the neocortex, whereas religion can access the older emotional part of the brain, the limbic system.

Nobody denies that religion offers community. But if you somehow think we atheists are forced to grieve in solitude you are sadly mistaken.

What we don’t do is serve up idiotic platitudes along with the food and drink and hugs as we console each other over the death of friends and family.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #8)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 04:00 PM

10. That specific claim is not from Asma's column.

That claim was made in the OP, apparently as an excerpt from something, but without citation.

As to:

Nobody denies that religion offers community. But if you somehow think we atheists are forced to grieve in solitude you are sadly mistaken.


I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Is that you directed at me? Is it directed at Asma? Could you cite the text from either my post or Asma's column that somehow implied atheists are forced to grieve in solitude?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #10)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 06:41 PM

11. Sure it is.


The human brain is a kludge of different operating systems: the ancient reptilian brain (motor functions, fight-or-flight instincts), the limbic or mammalian brain (emotions) and the more recently evolved neocortex (rationality). Religion irritates the rational brain because it trades in magical thinking and no proof, but it nourishes the emotional brain because it calms fears, answers to yearnings and strengthens feelings of loyalty.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/03/opinion/why-we-need-religion.html

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #11)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 09:15 PM

13. From the original claim: He claims that science can only reach the recently evolved rational ...

... part of the brain, the neocortex

Your post fails to support that part of the claim.

The actual claim his column makes is:

My claim is that religion can provide direct access to this emotional life in ways that science does not. Yes, science can give us emotional feelings of wonder at the majesty of nature, but there are many forms of human suffering that are beyond the reach of any scientific alleviation. Different emotional stresses require different kinds of rescue. ...


That explicitly contradicts the claim made in the OP.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Original post)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 01:39 PM

6. Narrow definitions aside, it would depend on the individual and what "religion".

Is this an argument for science and philosophy to take the place of religion? As far as I've been able to tell, there is far more to religion than just the examples of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Given their ubiquity, their many culturally bound practices, and all the splintered sects within each branch, I can understand why anyone would want to run away from the "religion" label. But it's far from fact that materialism is the be-all, end-all basis of reality. To toss out the word "religion" like there's a common understanding of what it is, that's as absurd as taking the worst case scenario and making it the norm for understanding an entire field of study or cultural or individual practice.

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Response to gtar100 (Reply #6)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 01:49 PM

7. "But it's far from fact that materialism is the be-all, end-all basis of reality"

Is it now.

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Response to gtar100 (Reply #6)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 02:50 PM

9. Just curious what mechanism the non material

parts of reality use to affect the material parts?

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #9)

Tue Jul 17, 2018, 08:24 PM

12. Something separate from material? Goodness, I don't know!

Just my opinion based on my own education and experience (or lack thereof) but I don't think it's a matter of some yet undiscovered "spirit molecule" or something along that line. I lean towards understanding everything as consciousness or mind. Debatable words, no doubt, because people hold differing definitions of what consciousness is with many seeing mind as a human phenomenon and everything else driven by automated behaviors and traits. From what I've read, there's the notion of consciousness emerging out of matter and there's the idea of matter emerging out of consciousness. The latter makes more sense to me. So in answer to your question, it's not only baked in the goods, it's the goods themselves.

A book I like that I think explains this well is by Bernardo Kastrup, "Why Materialism is Baloney" (link: Bernardo Kastrup, "Why Materialism is Baloney"). Fun read if you're into that sort of thing.

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Response to gtar100 (Reply #12)

Wed Jul 18, 2018, 02:56 AM

14. Oh ok, so you are a philosophical idealist.

That is one approach. Seems obvious to me that the material world exists and that the idealist position is untenable intellectual posturing, but it does avoid the “spirit molecule” problem.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #14)

Wed Jul 18, 2018, 09:26 AM

15. A box with a label. Thank you!

It's also obvious the world is flat (except for the bumpy parts) and the sun goes around the earth too. Why else would we call it a sunrise or sunset. Duh!

Models, such as idealism, materialism, theism, atheism, etc., are interesting. They may provide a different perspective for the intellect but they don't change the thing being modeled one iota. Thus, an opportunity to compare notes.

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Response to gtar100 (Reply #15)

Wed Jul 18, 2018, 10:23 AM

16. If it walks like a duck...

I had a couple of boxes with labels on them for folks who trot around quoting woo-peddlers like Bernardo Kastrup, but none of them are quite as polite as "philosophical realist."

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Response to Act_of_Reparation (Reply #16)

Wed Jul 18, 2018, 07:15 PM

18. You prefer being rude and condescending. I get it.

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Response to gtar100 (Reply #18)

Fri Jul 20, 2018, 06:42 AM

19. I don't think you do, actually.

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Response to gtar100 (Reply #15)

Wed Jul 18, 2018, 03:03 PM

17. If we accept that there is an observable material

world it’s flatness is demonstrably false. If on the other hand one believes that there is no material world, flat earth beliefs are as valid as those held by those idiot round earthers.

Do you think only your conscious entity exists, or are we all nodes of some universal consciousness?

Without an empirical basis for evaluating truth claims about the perceived world,how do you as an idealist decide what is true and what isn’t?

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Response to Voltaire2 (Original post)

Sun Jul 22, 2018, 12:23 PM

20. Monty Python also offers more than religion in times of grief.

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-30143250

For religion is quite absurd, ah, death's the final word.

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