The Dark Side of the Brain

Every Christmas, Andrea and I have the same discussion about where to place the Star Wars ornaments on the Christmas tree. I have a decent-sized collection, and early in our marriage, I even had a separate, small, artificial tree I used just for the Star Wars collection. My mother-in-law worked at the Hallmark Store, which gave me a direct line to inexpensive, but cool ornaments.

It’s not that my wife doesn’t like them–the point of contention always comes down to where to put Darth Vadar. She wants him on the back of the tree, since he represents darkness and evil. I contend that Darth Vadar is the ultimate example of redemption and the Gospel, and should be hung directly over the nativity ornament.

Somehow he always ends up towards the back. But, the discussion continues–is Darth Vadar an example of evil or good?

dark side of brain

What I’ve found to be true is that many things in life that are good can also be abused and do great harm. Authority is a good thing, and can be used to make decisions and lead people towards a common goal. But, authority can be abused, causing pain on many levels and immense shame. Money is a good thing. Imagine the list of incredible, good things that can be done with the right financial resources. But, money is an easy idol, corrupting the hearts of well-intending people every day.

I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the classic by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a dark and twisted allegory about the duality present in all of us–this constant inner conflict between good and evil.

It points to an uncomfortable reality that each human being has the potential for greatness or great evil.

The brain also has potential for greatness or great evil. It is the most complex mass of cells on the planet, with estimates of over 1 quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) synapses enabling a complex system of cell-to-cell communication. It is also adaptable, or “plastic” in its ability to change at any age. The brain’s gray matter can actually shrink or thicken. Neural pathways or connections can be forged, refined, weakened or cut depending on our behaviors.

In short, neurons (brain cells) that fire together start to wire together.

Our brain was favorably wired for sexual arousal. If you’re Christian, this is because God created us to bond with our spouse through the sexual experience to create the “one flesh” described in Genesis 2:24. If you’re an evolutionist, this is because if we keep having sex, the species survives. In other words, sexual stimuli fire up our brain’s rewards system in ways other stimuli don’t.

But, when it comes to pornography, this means our brain is the issue. Because the pornographic experience mimics the real sexual experience, the brain is tricked into thinking that a “one flesh” or “survival” experience is taking place. Our brain can’t tell the difference. It fires up the rewards system either way.

As a result, those chemicals and hormones that were intended for good, now start to show their dark side.

Recently, Covenant Eyes with Josh McDowell Ministries co-hosted the Set Free Global Summit, where some of the globe’s top experts shared insights about sexual addiction and pornography. Dr. William Struthers spoke about how pornography can ignite some unintended, “dark” consequences in the brain. Here’s an excerpt:

For more information about how pornography impacts the brain, we’ve created two resources to help. For those who just want the brain facts, download our free e-book, The Porn Circuit. For our Christian readers who also want to learn three biblical ways to renew the mind, download our free e-book, Your Brain on Porn.

Whichever one you download, our hope is that you choose to stop looking at porn, because you have the potential for greatness.