Mindfulness and the Brain: A Christian Critique of Some Aspects of Neuroscience -- By: Callie W. T. Joubert

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 12:1 (Sep 2011)
Article: Mindfulness and the Brain: A Christian Critique of Some Aspects of Neuroscience
Author: Callie W. T. Joubert


Mindfulness and the Brain: A Christian Critique of Some Aspects of Neuroscience

Callie W. T. Joubert1

Abstract

The aim in this paper is to critique some aspects of neuro-scientific studies on mindfulness and mindful practices. Firstly, because of the often mistaken assumption that it is something totally new; its roots in fact lie in religious and philosophical views which are the antithesis of a Christian worldview. Secondly, because of opposing views of what the mind is, and how the mind relates to the brain, Christians have come under pressure to show how their claims about God are different from those of epileptics and atheists. In order to deal with these issues, this study commences with a brief introduction to the concept of mindfulness, its historical roots and the scientific claims in support of mindful practices. A philosophical critique of physicalism and panpsychism is then offered from a biblical perspective, followed by a discussion of some of the dangers lurking in the neighbourhood of mindful practices. The conclusion is that the philosophical and religious assumptions that underlie scientific views of ourselves and spiritual growth matter enormously; they deserve continual scrutiny.

Introduction

It seems that neuroscience has become a ‘hot commodity’. On the one hand, some believe that ‘bit by experimental bit, neuroscience is morphing our conception of what we are’, which excludes any conception of a human person in terms of an immaterial soul (Churchland 2002:1). On the other hand, there are those who believe that ‘neuroscience acts like a magnifying glass, enabling us to see detail about the human condition that we might otherwise overlook’ (Thompson 2010:205).

Trends in the fields of mental and physiological health also reveal an increasing interest in neuroscience and the study of spirituality and religion. In such studies, the brain and mindfulness take center stage. A principal claim is that mindful practices have ‘life-changing effects’ and lead to definite ‘psychospiritual transformation’ (Beauregard and O’Leary 2007:290; cf Knight 2008; Lui 2005; Saure et al. 2011; Siegel 2006, 2007a, 2007b; Thompson 2010; Whitesman 2008). The scientific credibility of mindfulness, and the mindful practices associated with it, has consequently grown in popularity as a way to promote better brain function.

Its scientific coverage and increasing popularity among Christians warrant expose, for at least three reasons. Firstly, it is often incorrectly assumed that mindfulness, and the associated mindful practices are something totally new; its roots in fact lie in ancient reli...

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