Lizard Brain: Seth Godin’s Christian Theology

Lizard Brain. That’s what Seth Godin calls that evil still small voice in your head that resists your dreams. Lizards, says Godin, only seek survival. They don’t make a risk to produce something artistic or generous. They desire the warmth of the sun, but live fearful of others. When we humans act like this, says Seth, we are listening to our “Lizard Brain.”

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If you want to be a nun, Lizard Brain says, “You’d be a terrible nun. You cannot pray and you’d burn out. Plus, there are no good religious orders anymore. Forget it.”

If you want to write a book, Lizard Brain says, “You didn’t go to the right school. Plus, it’s so hard to get published. And your grammar isn’t perfect. Nobody would buy your book. Don’t waste your time”

If you want to give a public speech on a passionate topic, Lizard Brain says, “People will laugh at you. Your topic isn’t that interesting. Plus, your suit looks funny and you don’t look professional. Will people even take you seriously.”

Lizard Brain is similar to what Steven Pressfield labeled “The Resistance” in the soul. It’s the voice that haunts you. The voice that tells you that you will certain fail and make a fool of yourself. I’ve written about this before in a post called “The War of Faith: Understanding Resistance.”

I do not think that Seth Godin (nor Steven Pressfield) are Christians. However, they are pointing at a profound teaching expressed by Christian theology. In the New Testament, it’s called “Sarx” or “The Flesh” and in medieval theology it’s also labeled “concupiscence.”

In the tendency in us to what is lower when we should be reaching higher. Fear, lust, anger, gluttony, boredom. These are the consequences of the Sarx.

Now I really, really like Godin’s phrase “Lizard Brain.” In fact, my wife now uses the word to talk me of the ledge. “Oh Taylor, it’s sounds to me that you’re now thinking with your Lizard Brain.”

There is one think about Godin’s term that I LOVE. Remember back in the Garden of Eden. What kind of animal led Eve and Adam into sin?

Did you say “Serpent”?

Actually, go back and read the Scriptures. Before the Original Sin, the serpent may have had LEGS. God removed the legs from the evil critter as a punishment. So in fact, that primordial voice leading Adam and Eve into sin and survival mode may have been a legged lizard.

While Seth Godin refers to Lizard Brain from an evolutionary point of view (the less evolved “lizard-like” part of the human brain), from a Christian point of view, Lizard Brain can also refer to that which is Satanic and diabolical.

Question: Do you experience Lizard Brain? How? Leave a comment and explain.

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  • Magistra Bona

    Dear Taylor: Thank you for your post. Maybe it’s Liz talking, but some of the objections at the top of the post might just be prudent, not evil or dream dessicating.
    a) You can’t be a nun because of X. So, pray and scheme a way around X. Many of the greatest religious have overcome barriers and setbacks. Liz may be our reality check, which in no way nullifies your higher calling. And if you don’t become a nun, you’ll be a stronger more tested Christian. That’s not the worst outcome.
    b)You can’t write a book. So, pray and then write. If you really are a writer, you’ll write. Period. And the obstacles be damned! (Excuse me. That’s the sarx talkin’.) J.K. Rowling wrote first, and was rejected before blowing the top off the industry. Just write.
    c)You can’t give a public speech. So, pray, and then press your suit and iron your shirt, show up and talk anyway. Does it matter if people like you? If what you have to say is truth, and worthwhile in and of itself, just speak. Considering the large quantity of idiocy that is spoken and preached in this world to adoring fans, laughter is a kind of back-handed compliment. You may bomb the first time, but with practice, you’ll get better. We’re reptilian, but teachable. The answer to Liz is the Nike slogan: Just do it. Sneakers contain a lot of theology. Just sayin.

  • Howard

    I don’t think it’s helpful to confuse things.

    There is an inner core of the brain that we have in common with reptiles. This may or may not be responsible for a phenomenon I’ve noticed, which is that when I fall asleep, the more logical parts of my brain seem to go to sleep first, leaving me vulnerable to irrational fears (often of disease or conflict) and other emotions that I can easily control while fully awake.

    There is also the lust of the flesh, It’s not really the same thing; it certainly is not confined to any one area of the brain, probably not even to the brain itself.

    Different from both of these is the habit of questioning oneself. It’s the part that tells you to measure twice, because half the time you’re distracted and not really paying attention to what you are doing. It may also question whether your rational analysis of the safety of that bungee cord was sufficiently rigorous and point out both that you have been equally confident, though nevertheless wrong, in the past, and that a mistake about the bungee cord may be your last mistake. This part of the mind certainly deserves more respect than you’re giving it.

    • Dennis

      Hello Howard,

      I believe there is a distinction that needs to
      be made. Dr Marshall doesn’t seem to be referring to a reasonable
      questioning of oneself (“Should I measure again?”), but to a self-doubt
      so strong that it commands us to avoid trying something (“You are not
      smart enough to read the ruler, so don’t bother measuring.”) Notice
      each of his examples ends in a command to not even try while your
      examples show that an effort has already been made and can be made
      again.

      In other words, you are referring to a prudent questioning
      of one’s motives, means, and abilities to determine a course of action
      while Dr Marshall is referring to an illogical fear based on unexplored
      assumptions of inadequacy that deter us from even trying.

      • Howard

        Yes and no. I think it is the same basic faculty, and not always a rational one — or at least not entirely rational, though it may arm itself with reason, EXACTLY in the same way the part of us that “dreams” is not exclusively rational, but may make use of reason.

        Let me give a personal example. In 1998, I was in Paris for a conference, and I visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I took the tour up to the towers, and the view was amazing. Unfortunately, the experience was marred by an overwhelming instinct to GET DOWN.

        I have two fears that operated here: a fear of heights, and a fear that old buildings may be on the verge of collapse. Normally, these cause me no trouble. I prefer the window seat on airplanes, and I worked on the roof of the 1-story house in which I grew up; in 1995, I visited and entered a 4500 year old megalithic tomb in Denmark. But in Paris these came together. Part of me said that the Cathedral had been standing for hundreds of years and would not fall during the half hour of my tour, but the other part remembered the fallen gargoyles I had seen around the building before starting the tour. Part of me argued that the cathedral must surely be inspected by engineers every year or so, but the other part of me pointed out that the men who built the cathedral did not understand either vectors or calculus. In the end, I had to descend and content myself with other sights — starting with the catacombs, which at least were the opposite of high.

        In this case, my instincts had a negative effect (though it was sufficiently enlightening to largely make up for that), but in other cases it might well save my life. Fear is very much like pain; pain is not good in itself, but the ability to feel pain is necessary if we are to avoid unnecessary injuries and attend properly to injuries when they occur.

      • Howard

        I just remembered: there is an episode of Red Dwarf that deals with this rather nicely. Lister’s fear and confidence are both materialized as separate entities. Eventually his uninhibited Confidence murders his Fear, after which he tries to convince Lister that he doesn’t really need his helmet in the vacuum of space. His Confidence takes off his own helmet to show Lister it is safe, and that’s the end of him.

  • JoeAllen

    I have a theory about those negative voices within.

    Just as Mary Magdalene was possessed by 7 demons, I believe that most of us, at least 70% of us, are possessed by a number of demons. This explains all the growing amount of cruelty and divorces and crime in the world today.

    Most of us need to be … EXORCIZED … on a daily basis … ))<: }

    • Howard

      No. You are confusing the ordinary action of demons, which is temptation, with the extraordinary activity. Demonic possession does occur, surely more often than we think, but not nearly as often as you claim.

      Besides which, not even all temptations come from the Devil. There is also the world, which you may have noticed is becoming more openly and extremely evil, and the flesh.

      • JoeAllen

        This world is the kingdom of Satan. After fasting for 40 days, Christ was tempted to experience (1) pleasure and (2) power and (3) glory. All 3 temptations were orchestrated directly by the KIng of this world, Satan.

        • Howard

          So, you think “Christ was tempted in the desert” implies “Most people are possessed”? There are some holes in your argument.

  • http://cantuar.blogspot.com Dr. Taylor Marshall

    Let me suggest that there are external voices discouraging us and drawing our attention to the negative.

    I believe that God calls us to extraordinary callings – supernatural lives that result in a creative, generous, and profound impact in the world. “thy kingdom come.”

    But our inner voice of the Flesh is drawing us away from this divine calling. There may also be exterior voices (demons) doing the same.

    The only way to battle this is mental prayer, worship, and charity toward our fellow man for the sake of Christ. However, just being able to recognize it for what it is proves helpful!

    It’s also helpful to remind yourself daily that God is calling you to make an impact every day. But it’s uncomfortable. It’s like jumping in a cold pool. Shocking but refreshing. Make the jump.

    • Howard

      OK, fair enough. But we ourselves are poor judges of which is which. After all, there are women who have sincerely thought that God was calling them to be priests. They were sincere, but they were still wrong. The more exceptional the call, the more we need holy, wise, and cautious spiritual advisers.

  • Jim

    You are blessed to have a wife who calls you lizard brain.

  • Douglas Beaumont

    I’ve thought about the legs thing myself – not much of a curse to go about on the belly if that’s already the case! You also mentioned Satan so here’s an interesting connection – what does a serpent with legs look like? What’s another name for Satan? The word used for the fiery serpents in Numbers also refers to angels. So add up serpent, legs, fiery, Satan . . . and you get one the most well-attested “mythological” beasts from around the world!

    • Howard

      I know where you’re going with this, but actually, in the ancient world a dragon was originally just a big snake (or serpent, if you prefer). It was only later that it was considered to have legs.

  • steph

    When I read “lizard brain,” I immediately think of something old and dark sitting on the soul. Someone referred to it once as demonic oppression. There are people in my family who have passed their lives under this. It’s horrible.

  • Nicole

    I immediately thought of the creature on the soul’s shoulder in C S Lewis’ _The Great Divorce_, the one whom the angel asked permission to kill.

  • http://evangelizela.com/ Ricky Jones

    Taylor, I’m glad to see you’ve got everything migrated over to WordPress. It looks great and is much easier to navigate.

    In regards to the post, The first time I heard this term was from my wife after a local religious education conference. It makes sense that there is that resistance, or lizard brain, that prevents us from doing what we want to do. I immediately think of St. Paul: “What I do I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Rom 7:15). And it’s true there always seems to be something holding us back especially when we’re about to take that final step out in faith. Sometimes it’s something within us (ie. concupiscence), and others it is something without (ie. the Evil One). Either way it’s hard to get past. All I can say is thank God for grace!

    BTW, I love Seth Godin’s writing and have found it beneficial not only for business/marketing but also in evangelization, since we are in a way “marketing” not something, but someone.

    Thanks for the post, great insights as always!

  • http://cantuar.blogspot.com Dr. Taylor Marshall

    I was just at the Fides et Ratio seminar where we read the Great Divorce. That passage was on my mind when I wrote this!

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