The Adolescent Brain, The Bible and The Koran

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In our teenage years and often well beyond them, the adolescent brain struggles to form a map, a system of cause and effect, a number of certainties, a group of expectations, some rules and criteria that might guide it through this life, and sometimes beyond. A very healthy brain settles on a few absolutes, and leaves the rest quite flexible, able to adapt, change, and grow with new awareness and understanding.

But a very significant aspect to this journey involves the acceptance and/or rejection of the received wisdom of our parents and teachers. And in this process, in this process of the adolescent brain picking and choosing what to believe, invariably it (the adolescent brain) perceives the inconsistencies, oftentimes the hypocrisies to be found in our parents’ and our teachers’ instructions.

This leads to one of two reactions, sometimes both at the same time: one is to reject it all, the other to swallow it all, to become more of whatever it is, than our parents. And this may be a phase that ends in a healthy compromise and adaptation.

In its benign form the teen may shout at her parents, “How can you call yourself Christians when you only go to church at Easter and Christmas?” or “Is there any archaeological evidence this actually happened?”

Or it may lead to the teen and post-teen joining a commune, “going back to the church”, declaring himself atheist, finding solace in the Hare Krishna cult.

And today, as we know, it might lead a young man or young woman, raised in a “moderate” Muslim family, into the arms of ISIS. Perhaps these young people are especially vulnerable, unable to otherwise find their way, to fit in, to belong, to succeed.

But in the process of adopting a strict, conservative, oppressive, violent, rigid, immutable code they are also overcoming, reacting to, the perceived hypocrisies of their parents and teachers.

These teachers and parents are preaching from ancient texts, the Bible or the Koran. And they are choosing only the nice parts, all the while claiming that the whole book is the word of God. I’m not really sure how they do it. “We think of those as parables today.” “But the message is evil.” “Well we don’t really believe that part anymore.” “But you said the whole book is a holy book.” “Well yes but…..”

Let’s face it. Both the Bible and the Koran contain truly evil, ignorant passages, advice, instruction, and rules to live by. If we really believed all of what is in these ancient texts we would stop reading this now and gather some rocks to stone adulterers and apostates, to kill a few homosexuals, get our kitchen knives sharpened to cut off a hand or two, choose a small flexible branch to beat our wives; we might all make it our life’s work to spread the gospel and to fight the infidels, the unbelievers, and worse yet, the fallen believers.

But the point of what I am saying is this: When that moment comes in the adolescent brain in which her angst, his quest for certainty, their struggle to find a community, a set of rules to live by – when this is floundering – and when that young man or young woman sees the abundant hypocrisy, or at the very least, the paradox of claiming to be a true believer in a particular ancient text, but not really, not all of it, though it is the word of God…..well…there is the solution right there, spelled out in the early pages of that ancient text sitting on the bedside table. “It would be righteous to kill abortionists. An eye for an eye. The damnation of homosexuality. The closed door of heaven…….”

So, here is one thing we could do. Our churches and mosques could do. Tear out those pages. Stop teaching the whole book. Select the parts that time and enlightenment and education have proved valuable. Discard the misogynistic, racist, intolerant, violent passages.

Do this now. Please.

It is telling, I think, that the young women who left the very conservative Muslim school in Mississauga to join ISIS  felt that the teachings of this school were not sufficiently “conservative.” Well, in the eyes of most of us, what that school is teaching belongs in the 13th century.

But, they are using as their instruction book, their text, their Holy Book, the unadulterated Koran. And even though they were teaching those girls to behave as if living in the 13th century, they must have been skipping the more outrageous passages of the Koran – which is, to that adolescent brain, a tad hypocritical.

For humanities sake, let us rip out the stupid pages of both the Koran and the Bible. And, if you would like to test your knowledge of religion, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has this test you can take.

2 thoughts on “The Adolescent Brain, The Bible and The Koran

  1. With respect, I don’t agree. Because I personally believe the biological explanation, I think it is the incubation of the molecules/prions that begins the disease symptoms.

    Sometimes science itself may stand in the way of change. Not very long ago stomach ulcers were assumed to be the result of excess stomach acid brought on by stress, smoking or bad genes. But Australian microbiologist, Barry Marshall became convinced that a bacterium Helciobacter pylori was the cause. Desperate to convince an extremely skeptical medical community , which refused to believe that any bacteria could survive in the acidic environment of the human stomach, Marshall was driven to perform the near-heroic act of swallowing a rich culture of the bacteria to prove his point. Within days he was very ill , reinforcing the idea that these bacteria were pathogens.

    In Marshall’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech he remarked that the belief that ulcers were stress related was “akin to a religion”.


  2. Of course, realizing that most Muslims are Islamists, regardless of their particular brands, and as Islamists they believe in Sharia, which absolutely prohibits picking and choosing portions of the Koran, or in fact of Sharia law. It is all considered applicable, even if not all of them follow every bit of it, when they live outside of a truly Islamic State. However, as Islamists, believing in Sharia, they are expected to also believe that one day the whole world will be governed by Sharia and will be one big Islamic State. They are expected to believe that then there will be no exceptions at all. Presumably those facts would create an immense amount of conflict. More conflict, and related guilt, than Catholics are subjected to. Perhaps, also, more than experienced by Orthodox Jews. In that sense too the Islamic system is very insulated from any real change. It’s core values and beliefs remain much more fossilized than those within Christianity or Judaism, so there is some question as to whether the Islamic system could ever really evolve as much, or as quickly, as Christianity and Judaism both have evolved, within their own histories. The divide into conservative (Orthodox) and liberal (Reformed), evidenced in the history of Judaism is far from evident in the Islamic system. Sunni and Shia are both conservative, and the divide is not on that type of basis. In Christianity Protestantism evolved as a conservative backlash against liberalization in Catholicism. Contrary to some opinions to the contrary. Protestants wanted to continue persecuting and killing witches when the Catholics had decided to stop that type of practice.


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