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Survival instincts

I just ran across this article that was written in 2000 by a psychologist at University of St. Thomas.  It was definitely an eye-opening read, and I recommend it to all--religious or otherwise.  I'll paraphrase its content here, in very brief summary.  Basically, the brain has two ways of perceiving the world--through sensory data and through beliefs (about things which cannot be perceived).  Both of these work together as survival instincts in the brain.  Therefore, when one is challenged (eg, one's belief system) then that person switches into survival mode, viscously defending what their brain perceives as an attack on its survival.

Survival instincts are very strong.  In fact, just the other day I watched an episode of Doctor Who where one of the major points in the plot is that survival instincts in humans are too strong for them to commit suicide under hypnosis.  When the brain perceives a threat to survival, there are many defense mechanisms that it engages.  Sometimes, it pours a rush of adrenaline into the blood stream and initiates the "fight or flight" mechanism.  Sometimes it puts the body into a coma, not having the energy to sustain both consciousness and a heartbeat simultaneously.

So, I found it very interesting to read this article and find out that when one perceives his beliefs being attacked, survival instincts kick in.  So much of what I have observed and blogged about is now coming together and makes much more sense.

  • In my post Don't teach my children, I point out that one of the main arguments given by opponents of same-sex marriage is that they don't want their children to learn that homosexuality is okay.  Why is this?  Because their survival instincts tell them that in order for their children to survive, they must pass on their survival instincts to their children, which include teaching them that homosexual behavior is immoral.
  • In my post Mormons aren't Christian?, I point out that many non-Mormon religions accuse Mormons of not being Christian and feel a need to point this out.  Why?  Because they feel that their own beliefs are being attacked by Mormon teachings (which disagree in many points), especially when they see the possibility of having a Mormon president elected.
  • In my post Leaving a religion is hard, I note that my attempts to prove Mormonism wrong have only been met with anger and haven't accomplished any good.  Why?  Because these attempts, as honest and sincere as they might have been, are interpreted as dangers to survival.  The Mormon friends I have that would read such statements would kick into survival mode and start defending themselves.  
  • In my post Do unto others, I listed several ways in which I felt that Mormons could better treat their own members--in particular, those who are homosexual and those who do not believe the entirety of Mormon doctrine.  Why would people treat me the way that I depicted them treating me?  Because their beliefs are being questioned.  They go into survival mode.  If they accept me or acknowledge that I have a place in their church, then that goes against their beliefs, which challenges their survival.  
  • In my most recent post, Peer pressure, I point out that the most intense amount of pressure I've ever felt was the myriad responses I got from my friends and family when I came out of the closet.  Why did they exhibit such intense expressions of pressure at this particular time?  Because my status as a homosexual man was a threat to their beliefs.  They always pictured me as a man of high morals, and to see me make such an announcement was perceived as an attack of their belief that homosexuality is immoral.  
I could list several more examples, but I feel that I have sufficiently covered my bases.  I have a better understanding for why my religious friends have reacted the way that they have.  I also have a better understanding for the way I was prior to my departure from the dogma of Mormonism.  Now that I look back on my life as a Mormon, I can think of specific instances where my survival mode kicked in and I began doing things that I wouldn't otherwise do, simply because my beliefs were being attacked.  

Having had this epiphany, I am better equipped to exhibit compassion and to feel empathy.  If ever I did assert or imply that I blame anyone for the actions they have taken in response to any of the things I have said which could be interpreted as attacks on anyone's beliefs, I do apologize for it and I would retract any such statements.  

I appreciate the importance of your survival instincts and acknowledge that they are a vital part of your well-being.  I do not wish to trigger any survival instincts by questioning your beliefs.  I seek only to establish truth wherever it is to be found.  I invite anyone who is willing to come along with me on my journey to seek out truth anywhere it can be found and to expose falsehood wherever it may occur.  In doing so, I wish to establish falsehood as my enemy, not any particular person or their beliefs.  If we work on the same side, rather than in opposition of each other, then together we can combat that which is false and discover that which is true.  

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