Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: The Anatomy of the Soul

book cover

The Anatomy of the Soul
by Curt Thompson, M.D.

Hardback: 304 pages
Publisher: SaltRiver
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Back Cover Description:
Do you want to improve your relationships and experience lasting personal change? Join Curt Thompson, M.D., on an amazing journey to discover the surprising pathways for transformation hidden inside your own mind.

Integrating new findings in neuroscience and attachment with Christian spirituality, Dr. Thompson reveals how it is possible to rewire your mind, altering your brain patterns and literally making you more like the person God intended you to be. Explaining discoveries about the brain in layman’s terms, he shows how you can be mentally transformed through spiritual practices, interaction with Scripture, and connections with other people. He also provides practical exercises to help you experience healing in areas where you’ve been struggling.

The Anatomy of the Soul wasn't very well written. The information on how the brain works was information I already knew--mostly things I learned 14 years ago in college.

I found the writing repetitious and unnecessarily wordy and complex. The author made up new, Christian-sounding terms for some old, proven ideas I've heard elsewhere and then put in a lot of filler ("this really changed this guy's life, so keep reading to learn how!) or repetition before revealing a pretty simple concept. To give credit where due, his "Memory and the Brain" and "Implicit Memory" sections in chapter 5 were concise, helpful in nature, and clearly showed how how-the-brain-works directly related to changing behavior. Chapter 7 also had some interesting information on child development.

However, I didn't like how the author often said "this is what this Christian term or phrase really means" when it didn't and how he often quoted verses from the Bible out of context or with incorrect context so that they sounded connected to the point he was making.

God also came across as limited in power and knowledge. In chapter 4, the author portrayed God as being pleasantly surprised that Moses is curious about his burning bush trick and so decides to reward Moses by talking with him. (p. 51: "God was pleased enough that Moses was paying attention to him that he went further than lightening a botanical candle. He decided to talk with him.")

Other statements that I don't agree are biblical: The author said, "Jesus came to touch our minds" (p.84)--but no mention is made of His intent to make atonement for our sins. Also, "[God] does not seem to be in a hurry to clean up our personal scandals, much less the world at large, all by himself. He is looking for serious partners. The first partner, Adam, failed miserably, as did several others. Some partnered more helpfully than others, but only when Jesus came did we see what partnering with God really looks like....We have been invited to add our chapters and verses, to be coauthors in this Story" (pages 133-134). And " get the sense that the [Bible] is not so much about how to simply clean up the mess [of our lives], but how creative you can get with the mess you have" (p.141). And page 142 implied that, when Jesus was a child, he behaved in ways not pleasing to God but God was pleased with Jesus anyway. That God is always pleased with us and feeling that makes us act in ways pleasing to him (p.144). And "[Jesus'] deep awareness of God did not happen automatically. In fact, no one has ever worked harder at knowing and being known by God than Jesus" (p.180). Sin is merely being disconnected from God (p.183) but "the good news is that Jesus has shown us this new way to be human" (p.222) because even when things got really bad (on the cross) he kept a perfectly integrated brain (p.225). Jesus defeated "mindlessness" on the cross (p. 226). Likewise, we need to "kill off" our old neural pathways (p.229). And so on.

He repeatedly said that when people tell you "the Holy Spirit will transform you" that's of no practical help, but we can perfect ourselves using this knowledge of how our brains work. From other statements the author made, it appears that he believes God created using evolution--letting creatures perfect themselves over time from imperfection--so I guess he's just being consistent in his thinking: that God intends for and enables humans to perfect themselves. The author did credit God with hinting about this information in the Bible and using His knowledge about how our brain works in His interactions with us. But the author apparently doesn't see God as personally working the transformation, just using this transformation process.

The author encouraged reading the narrative and poetry portions of the Bible. He also suggested meditation--closing your eyes and visualizing God saying how much He loves you and is pleased with you--and movement exercises such as yoga and tai chi to enhance your awareness of your body's sensations and breathing. He briefly mentions prayer (which promotes an awareness of God's constant presence), fasting (to put us in touch with our bodies), reading and writing (to integrate the brain), and confession (to make us aware of old neural pathways [habits] and to create open, trusting relationships).

I don't recommend this book due to my problems with his theology. I'd recommend The Search for Significance by Robert McGee if you want to change your bad habits and hang-ups.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Sara L. Allen said...

I am the author's publicist. Might you share a way for us to possibly contact you apart from the blog?
Best regards,
Sara L. Allen

Genre Reviewer said...

Among other places, my e-mail is on the sidebar of this blog. It's ChristFocus @ hughes . net

I assume that's what you're asking for.