Human Mind Pre-Human Minds Religion Spirituality

Quadrune Mind: A Secular Spirituality for the 21st Century


To define religion and spirituality is difficult to do. Yet, it is important that we have some understanding of what these words mean for the quadrune mind model of spirituality and this blog. The best definitions of “religion” and “spirituality” for the quadrune mind model come from Bowling Green State University.1 Spirituality is defined as “the search for the sacred. Religion is defined as “the search for significance that occurs within the context of established institutions that are designed to facilitate spirituality.” 2

Religion and Spirituality from the Quadrune Mind Perspective

Religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. —Reinhold Niebuhr

There have been many religious and philosophical thinkers who have proposed explanations for the co-occurrence of belligerent religious fervor and loving spiritual consciousness within the same religious tradition. This confluence of apparently conflicting “human” natures has confused generations of people when trying to debate the strengths and weaknesses of “religion” and “spirituality.” 

I believe that the controversial Reinhold Niebuhr quote above hints at how religion and spirituality function differently in people. But the quadrune mind model has a more nuanced response. It would say that religion is a bad thing for people living out of a pre-Human level of consciousness, and religion for a spiritually conscious Human-minded person may be superfluous. In other words, the essential real life difference between “religiosity” and “spirituality” that determines how it is acted out is which mind is dominant in the person. I have cited John Lewis as an exemplar of a religiously-based, spiritually-minded Human being, but I also have known people in my own life that were both religious and a spiritual blessing to all who knew them. 

The problem of warring religions is not caused by a God out there favoring some people over others, or the monotheistic doctrines of a religion, or the spartan customs of a culture. The problem (and the solution) always arises from the individual mind—the level of consciousness—of each believer.

In the following sections I will describe how each of the three pre-Human minds pursues religious beliefs and practices that are consistent with the person’s level of consciousness, but are not beneficial to living a spiritual life. In the final section I’ll describe the spiritual, Human mind, which is the only mind able to heal the suffering that seems so prevalent during this challenging century. 

Reptilian Mind: Behavior over Life

Religion can make it worse. Are you supposing that if people were encouraged to believe in a transcendent reality, and to be encouraged by grand rituals and music and preaching, to love their neighbors, then they would put jealousy and frustration aside? —Mary Douglas

The reptilian-minded person is dominated by the “behavioral” level of consciousness. “Right” behavior in the reptilian-mind is not a foundation for a more spiritual life, as it is in Buddhism.3 To the reptilian mind, the behavior that is “right” is not the one that leads to healing and reduces suffering, but the one that instinctually feels right in the gut. The behavior is its own justification: the letter of the law is greater than human love. In this kind of mind, “God created people to serve the Sabbath,” rather than the other way around, as Jesus taught.

This mind represents a group of people for whom the whole universe4 must conform to their rules for a meaningful life. When it doesn’t then the person, as the embodiment of “moral law,” must correct—or eliminate—the people who are clearly the source of all that’s wrong with creation. Oliver Crangle in The Twilight Zone episode, “Four O’Clock,” epitomizes such a person. 

He keeps meticulous records on all of the people he has judged to be evil. He cannot stand for them to exist in his world. He decides that at four o’clock he will finally do something that will destroy all evil people in the world once and for all. Of course his plan goes wrong as only it could in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  

Crangle’s example is even more chilling now than it was when the show first aired. Today we have computer power to analyze “Big Data,” which Crangle would gladly use in his crusade. There is also the pervasive influence of social media, which allows millions of Oliver Crangles to join in common cause to expunge all “evil” people from their lives.

It seems that Mr. Crangle’s parrot considers Mr. Crangle to be a “nut.” And the FBI agent who responded to Mr. Crangle’s telephone calls suggests he might need psychiatric care. But from the quadrune mind perspective, Mr. Crangle may represent a population of people who are scared, confused, angry, and fighting for their survival in a universe of people who seem (are) indifferent or hostile to their existence. 

It is tempting to want to eliminate the Crangles from the world as they fervently wish to do with everyone they disapprove of. From the quadrune mind model of spirituality, the more healing approach is to preserve, or to firmly establish, a relationship of trust, comfort, and physical safety. The person has a better chance for growth if our behaviors toward them are firm but compassionate, helpful in practical terms, and respectful. Any humanizing goals can only be achieved within a humanizing relationship. No shortcuts will ever work; a truth that the more conscious person must model with integrity. 5

You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. —Anne Lamott

Old Mammalian Mind: Emotional Bonds over Life

Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd. —Bertrand Russell

Religion is often used as an excuse for attacking other people, but it is not a necessary one. Religion is a good motivator for marshalling the masses against other groups, but it could be masking more down-to-earth territorial, political, economic, and narcissistic needs of powerful people, such as medieval kings and popes.

An especially egregious form of herd, or tribal, aggression toward the “Other” is genocide. Gregory H. Stanton is a research professor specializing in genocide studies. Stanton describes ten stages of escalation that can move one group’s random behavior toward another group of people into a truly horrific mass slaughter of “insects.”6

Step 7, “Preparation,” is of particular interest here: “They indoctrinate the populace with fear of the victim group. Leaders often claim that ‘if we don’t kill them, they will kill us,’ disguising genocide as self-defense. Acts of genocide are disguised as counter-insurgency if there is an ongoing armed conflict or civil war. There is a sudden increase in inflammatory rhetoric and hate propaganda with the objective of creating fear of the other group. Political processes such as peace accords that threaten the total dominance of the genocidal group or upcoming elections that may cost them their grip on total power may actually trigger genocide” [emphases added].

As Bertrand Russell said, fear of the other can turn people into animals (a stampeding herd trampling to death what is placed before them). But rage can sometimes be directed toward one’s own who commits apostasy. For example, parents can declare that a child who rebels against their conditional love (that is, the conditions, not the love, although the parents may not see it that way), is dead to them. We have cited the emotional turmoil underlying Tara Westover’s break with her family in order to retain her hard-gained intellectual independence, and how in her life she (along with many other thoughtful children growing up in an Old Mammalian-minded family) became a reenactor of an entire era of Western cultural history: the Age of Reason.

It takes international cooperation among the more conscious people of the world to resist the incremental steps toward genocide. On the personal level of a Westover, preserving the family bonds may be nearly as difficult a goal to achieve. Interventions must be able to reach a part of the family that values love for the “ungrateful, hateful,” child more than the survival of the family as it is.

Occasionally, when I was teaching college courses, especially to freshman, I would mention to them that it took a lot of courage for a parent to send their children off to be taught something the parents may not understand, by professors who may have values quite different than their own. Especially so, perhaps, for the son or daughter who is the first family member to attend college. I said that if they returned home after four years of school unchanged then they had wasted their time and their parents’ or their own money. And if they returned home changed, the family risked estrangement.

(Incidentally, the “age of reason” is a landmark in childhood development at around age seven years old; however, because of negative life influences, the “reasoning” mind can be expressed in unhealthy ways; for example, as described in the next section.) 7

Even fear must not make me forget the other person. —Alexander & Margarete Mitscherlich

New Mammalian Mind: Ideology over Life

As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that. —Anthony de Mello

The opening and closing quotes for this section say it all for this mentality. Each of the pre-Human minds is dedicated to survival of one kind or another. For the reptilian mind it is the survival of the biological “self”; for the old mammalian mind, it is the survival of the family or herd/tribe at whatever cost to other families or herds/tribes; and for the new mammalian mind it is the survival of an ideology. 

Religious ideologies fare no better than secular ideologies in either encompassing life or controlling the future. Because no religion is immutable,8 each religion must explain why it fails to deliver the future it promised, relocate that certainty into a future “life,” redefine its ideology, make the world conform to its doctrines, or go extinct. Religion may be replaced by political ideologies to provide especially ideological Americans a deeply needed sense of personal transcendence—or at least aggrandizement.

Since the time humankind was able to imagine a future, religion has been used to try to control it. It is the use of religion to control the future that makes it indistinguishable from superstition, but essentially different from spirituality. 

Very ancient religious practices involved rituals designed to ensure the Gods’ blessings on future seasons, crops, fertility, and other elements necessary for tribal survival. The Axial Age ushered in a new kind of religion upon which the whole world turned. For the first time religious rituals served to control the penitent’s worthiness to be accepted into a transcendent life after death—eternal survival of a soul. 

The need for certainty and control of outcomes could not have higher stakes. Perhaps paradoxically, the greater the need to control our fate through an afterlife, the greater our anxiety. Consequently, there is an intensifying loop of increasing religiosity-increasing anxiety-increasing religiosity. 

On the other hand, the essential trait of spirituality is to devote our life to making the future (and the present) better without the egoistic need to control the outcome of our efforts in the world. This is a characteristic of the Human mind.9 10

Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it. —Khalil Gibran

Human Mind: Service is Life

Service is the rent we each pay for living. It is not something to do in your spare time; it is the very purpose of life. —Marian Wright Edelman

The spiritual consciousness of a fully actualized Human being is often demonstrated in otherwise mundane circumstances. They are unlikely to be the action heroes of historic epics or to have charitable foundations. The inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and internal conflicts experienced at the pre-Human mentalities are healed. Behavior, emotion, and thought are harmonious in spirit and intent: to reduce suffering and increase healing whenever possible. The Human being has the capacity for a sense of responsibility to, and communion with, people never met, all living beings, and the earth. The person continually strives to have the skills needed to actualize this capacity.

One of the best examples of the progression of a person’s consciousness from a pre-Human to a Human mind is described through the character of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables11 and Boublil and Schönberg’s theatrical production.   

Valjean did not initially choose to become a better person: “[T]hough he did not suspect it… he was no longer the same man… all was changed in him… it was no longer in his power to prevent the bishop from having talked to him and having touched him.12 Inspector Javert represents the rule-bound reptilian-minded person who cannot bend his principles in the face of flesh-and-blood humanity—who pursues humanity until his brittle principles ultimately break under the strain, taking the man with them: “… Javert’s nature… this savage in the service of civilization, this odd mixture of Roman, Spartan, monk, and corporal, this spy incapable of a lie….”13

In a crisis of conscience, Valjean suffers on an epic scale before retreating: “He felt clouds of thunder and lightning above his head…. [H]is first thought was to go… give himself up, to drag this Champmathieu out of prison, and go back in his place… [B]ut … he said to himself, ‘Let’s see! Let’s see!’ He repressed his first generous impulse and recoiled before such heroism.”14 As with St. Peter, Valjean’s initial refusal to choose the right path came after holy words were said to him and after years of penitence. 

Hugo’s masterpiece provides a deep and thorough insight into humanity’s efforts to become Human in the midst of great social upheaval. The dynamic interactions among the Human-minded Bishop of Digne, the reptilian-minded Javert, and Valjean, who represents our own struggles to become Human, pretty much covers all of the points made by the quadrune mind model regarding the human condition.

If you or I were in this book, we would likely be the early outraged Jean Valjean (but with much less cause) who has concluded “that life is a war and that in that war he was the vanquished.” 15 If we’re very fortunate, we would encounter a spiritually Human-minded person like the Bishop of Digne, who bestows grace upon Valjean, giving him more silver than Valjean had stolen. This act of mercy sets off a fierce inner struggle as Valjean examines his life trying to determine if he is the good man the Bishop called him to be or the eternally guilty man of his past deeds. He seeks redemption through philanthropy and a modest lifestyle. Valjean saves Javert’s life after Javert had pursued Valjean with the single-minded purpose of bringing him back to “justice.” Finally, Valjean gives up his beloved “granddaughter” to the young man she loves. Valjean continues to experience painful consequences of his good actions but does not curse his fate. 

So, if we are also willing to work harder to reflect honestly upon our own character than anything else we do, to challenge ourselves to become a better person than we are, and to accept the costly consequences of a spiritual life without a sense of suffering, then we might become another “Bishop of Digne” passing the inspirational power of the Human being to another struggling life—as Valjean did.16

Whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another. —1 Peter 4:10a   


God, in the quadrune mind model of spirituality, is that which “brought” the human brain into existence. There are no temples other than the structure of the brain; no archaeological artifacts except the evolutionary ancestry of the brain; no creed except how the major neurological areas relate to each other and the world. Scripture is written by the prefrontal cortex upon the Human mind. 

We hope that no one would expect special social privileges with the acceptance of the quadrune mind as a model of spirituality or kill anyone over spiritual beliefs. We would also hope that no one would condemn members of another group as less human than themselves on any basis or harm other people or the earth in order to become wealthy or for their own convenience.

Quadrune mind is not an ethical or moral philosophy. It is the way of a spiritual life, informed by wisdom literature from many religions and philosophies, psychological insights, neuroscience, biological research, artistic revelations, and our own discernment of what is spirit-healing in us. 

I began with academic definitions of spirituality and religion: “the search for the sacred” versus “the search for significance that occurs within the context of established institutions that are designed to facilitate spirituality.” Institutions are effective preservers of the status quo. We have presented religion as one way the pre-Human minds can experience a sense of control in an otherwise unpredictable world. Unfortunately, uncertainty seems to be an integral part of change. Without change there is no growth; without growth there can be no life. Religion can be an obstacle to its own expressed goal of facilitating spirituality. 

Spirituality is something that seems to require intentional effort to acquire for most of us. Fortunately, because spirituality is the innate state of being of the fully conscious Human, the quadrune mind model provides a path to spirituality. The more we become mindful of our actions, emotions, and thoughts and consciously choose a more Human-minded path, and the more we cultivate relationships of unconditional love with all living beings, the more spiritual our lives will become. The spirituality that we are seeking has become who we are—we were seeking ourselves, in our fullest human potential. What has been sought has become the seeker.


Bernard, C.  (2021, April 30). Editorial: The Beauty and the BeasteNeuro: Society for Neuroscience. “Technological developments play a key role in driving the framework in which neuroscience is done. I remember the time when knowing the genome would be the answer to all our questions. Geneticists promised that this knowledge would solve human diseases….

“[B]ig projects have the advantage to federate and organize neuroscience in a coherent manner, which is more productive. Of course, one has to be careful and ensure that the vision does not become dogmatic, which then produces more bad than good.

“If vision is the Beauty, money is the Beast. Perhaps a mathematician has already invented specific mathematics that explains the brain (instead of our continuous struggle to adapt concepts developed for physics and other fields), at the cost of few sheets of paper and pencils. But the current state is that neuroscience needs more and more money, and more complex and costly machines to explore the brain. Money is limited, and we, scientists, are very numerous and competing to get a share of it to do our research. The Blue Brain Project and the Human Brain Project are swallowing a large amount of money. If you are in one of these, you may be well financed. But if you are not, you may think that you would have done better with the same amount of money….

“As for the [10-year, one-billion euro] Human Brain Project, of course, as a scientist, I am selfishly happy to benefit from it. Perhaps such projects are necessary to prevent and treat all neurologic disorders, a very important problem for humanity. But are we truly investing in our future? Will the generations to come praise us for our insight, or will they condemn us because we chose not to dedicate all our money and efforts to find a solution to save the planet and prevent the extinction of so many species?” [Emphasis added].

  1. Pargament, K. I., Mahoney, A., Exline, J. J., Jones, J., & Shafranske, E. (in press). Envisioning an integrative paradigm for the psychology of religion and spirituality. In K. I. Pargament (Ed.-in-Chief), J. Exline & J. Jones (Assoc. Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology: APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality: Vol 1. (pp. xxx-xxx). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [These definitions only scratch the surface of the informative general discussion the authors provide on how they derived these definitions].
  2. Please see the Study Guide and our posts under the Religion and Spirituality blog categories for additional information about the quadrune mind model of spiritual consciousness.
  3. Right action in the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path is not analogous to the behavior of a reptilian-minded individual, because it is a difference of consciousness and effect. Right action in Buddhism is a conscious choice to avoid the types of behaviors that cause harm to others, which is a Human-minded pursuit.
  4. A demand for “moral correctness” required of the whole universe by this mentality is shown, for example, by the condemnation by the Catholic hierarchy of Galileo for his “heretical” astronomical observations.
  5. See pages 9-11 of the Study Guide and our posts under the Reptilian Mind category for additional information about the quadrune mind perspective on people who tend to be dominated by the “reptilian-like” behavioral level of consciousness.
  6. Stanton, G. H. (2016). The ten stages of genocide. McLean, VA: Genocide Watch. [The ten stages are: 1. CLASSIFICATION, 2. SYMBOLIZATION, 3. DISCRIMINATION, 4. DEHUMANIZATION, 5. ORGANIZATION, 6. POLARIZATION, 7. PREPARATION, 8. PERSECUTION, 9. EXTERMINATION, and 10. DENIAL].
  7. See pages 7-10 of the Study Guide and our posts under the Old Mammalian Mind category for additional information about how the Old Mammalian mind presents itself in our lives.
  8. Paul-Choudhury, S. (2019, August 1). Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?  BBC Future.
  9. See pages 7-10 of the Study Guide and our posts under the New Mammalian category for additional information regarding this abstracting mentality.
  10. Also, see the Appendix below for a neuroscientist who questions our cultural ideology that science and technology are our best investments for the future of humanity, which is a typically new mammalian-minded belief.
  11. Hugo, V. (1862/1987). Les Misérables. (C. E. Wilbour; L. Fahnestock & N. MacAfee, Trans.). New York: Signet Classics.
  12. Hugo, p. 111, emphasis added
  13. p. 204
  14. p. 211
  15. p. 89
  16. See pages 6 and 9-11 of the Study Guide and our posts under the Human Mind category for additional information on the quadrune mind model’s description of what it’s like to be a Human being.