Neurogenesis: Neuro-theologically speaking (part 2)

O dear.  It’s embarrassing, but apparently I perfectly fit the target audience for the BBC’s show “Sherlock,” which is beloved by teenaged girls and middle-aged women.  At least that’s what my teenage daughter, who got me hooked, tells me.  In my defense, I choose to believe Sherlock’s fans are highly intelligent teens and middle aged women.
Really – even if you are not a teenaged girl OR a middle-aged woman, you should check out this show.  It’s brilliant.  And it provides a brilliant example of neuro-plasticity (see previous post) and redemption as one could hope to see.
You see, Sherlock, while a brilliant solver of mysteries (too many “brilliants?”  Just trying to pay homage to the British-ness of the show) he is also – as he describes himself  – “the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet.”   He also labels himself a “high-functioning sociopath.”   “Sociopath” is not a clinical term, although some use it interchangeably with psychopath.  One blogger explains it this way:“So when Sherlock describes himself as a “sociopath,” what does he mean?

He is likely referring to his difficulty with empathy, his tendency to disregard others’ feelings, and his ability to feign emotions to manipulate people. He is not describing himself as violent, amoral, or criminal.”

These are the kinds of people we consider “unredeemable.”  These are the kinds of people – usually men – who when they are violent, end up filling our prisons, often with life sentences or the death penalty.  And then we throw away the key and assume there is no rehabilitation. Brain scans of those with psychopathic tendencies show certain consistent patterns, including shrunken amygdalae.  Some see this as in-born and unchangeable as say, Downs Syndrome.  Yet read this excerpt from Sherlock’s wedding toast to the man he now understands is his best friend:

SHERLOCK: “The point I’m trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet…..I am dismissive of the virtuous  … unaware of the beautiful … and uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So if I didn’t understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody’s best friend….Certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing.  John, I am a ridiculous man … redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship…  John, you have endured war, and injury, and tragic loss …  so know this: today you sit between the woman you have made your wife and the man you have saved – in short, the two people who love you most in all this world. And I know I speak for Mary as well when I say we will never let you down, and we have a lifetime ahead to prove that.”
Does the end of this speech sound like a sociopath?  The cynical might say it is mere manipulation on Sherlock’s part.  The faithful might say that his friend John’s constant, reliable, steadfast, insistent care and expressions of love have changed Sherlock’s brain, making him (maybe just slightly) more capable of genuine relationship.  Could it be that what Sherlock says is true?  That our relationships can save us?  That redemption, as understood by the Christian faith, is possible?  That our Maker is brilliant in fashioning brains that can be changed by our hearts?  No, that is not a scientific statement.  But again, it reflects the intersection of spirituality and neurosciences, and the hope shared by both.
So what do you think?  Are some people beyond redemption, beyond saving, beyond changing for the better?  I’m curious what you think – what you believe – Let me know!



3 thoughts on “Neurogenesis: Neuro-theologically speaking (part 2)

  1. Btw, even us over 60 guys, straight and married like “Benedict” Cumberbatch! I.e. the actor! He was also in War Horse! (And I was an RMC, retired reserves, officer) Yes, us Brit’s, especially Irish one’s are a proud lot…now there’s some “neuro” stuff! 😉 )

    • O you do tv so much better than here in the States! Thanks to my daughter who loves all things British, I’m discovering! This middle aged female Presbyterian pastor is so glad to know the demographics of Sherlock Followers include Anglicans over 60.

      • Btw, my wife and I have been here in “the States” (So Cal/OC) for about five years now. (My “dearheart” has chronic COPD, and she’s younger than I!) I am semi-retired as a Anglican priest/presbyter, but I do hospital chaplain work almost daily. And I am an old “theolog” type (a conservative one, and a “neo-Reformed”! ;)…love old John Frame! 🙂

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