Book review: Brain & Belief
by John J. McGraw
A worthwhile book, comprehensive in its treatment of the evolution of belief in the soul, and why we believe. McGraw possesses degrees in psychology, philosophy and religious studies, and he brings the three together in his writing … and in the wonderfully macabre cover of his book.
The three parts to the book are:
 A History of the Soul, in which McGraw leads us from our prehistoric beginnings of belief, through Shamanism, ancient Egypt, Judaism, and the famed philosopher Plato, into the development of Christianity.
 Part II, The Soul Matter, digs into the brain and its anatomy, the puzzle of consciousness, the effects of hallucinogens and other drugs, and illnesses such as depression.
 Part III, titled “Giving up the Ghost” introduces “the beautiful lie,” and attempts to carefully weigh what is gained and what is lost by perpetuating a belief in the afterlife.
I read this book several years ago, and I’m sure there are a number of other reviews out there to tell you about it, so I’d rather just quote a paragraph from part three that resonated strongly with me:
“The theologians’ heaven—singing, majesty, contemplation of God’s beauty—implies a total transformation of personhood and its context. This existence ceases to be a personal one at all and may be considered an Easter dissolution of self into the Godhead. Once everyone ceases to do personal things and engages in a standard universal, a fawning submission before ineffable beauty, one sacrifices one’s personality. At such a stage friend and lover, brother and son, all disappear. Hunger and admiration, play and sex, all dissolve into the singular experience—the singularly inhuman experience—of God worship. Every depiction of an existence worth living for disappears with the personality. Such an impersonal existence could be immortal but the person would have ceased to exist at death as surely as if he were simply mortal.” (p. 329)