Most children who grow up in the church are probably four years old or so the first time someone teaches them about the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial degrees of glory. Those are awfully big words for a four-year-old, but we teach them anyway because they're an important part of our core story about what life is about. It's not just about getting things wrong or right, we're saying. Life is about choosing the kind of being you want to be and then letting God shape you into it.
A four-year-old will not, of course, understand much of this. But we plant the story early, so they can process it as they grow.
It's been a long time since some wise woman drew circles on a chalkboard and told me about eternity. It's been a long time since I was taught that decency isn't the same as valiance and that Christ can heal us from our sins, but can't force us to change the fundamental carelessness that causes most of them. I've known about the three degrees of glory for a long time, but I'm still trying to process what this story of three means.
Three degrees of glory, we say. Like there's a light in you and you're choosing how much to let through. (And how much of the consequences of your actions are you really willing to see?)
Three kingdoms of glory, we say other times. Like there are three visions for how people can live together. (And which are you willing to step up and help build?)
And then sometimes we drop the glory and just call them laws. Telestial law, terrestrial law, celestial law. Like they are ways of being inscribed into the universe like grooves and you are still vacillating above, choosing one to settle into.
I've been wondering lately if it also makes sense to talk about telestial, terrestrial, and celestial parts of the human brain.
A deep part of your brain, after all, is genuinely focused on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Which seem to be the dominant characteristics of telestial motivation. Another part seems to be concerned with group belonging and basic relational dynamics. Which seems to be central to terrestrial motivations. And as I understand it, only the most recent, outermost layers of the brain enable us to think ahead, to keep promises even when there are social costs, and so on. Are those parts of our brain necessary for celestial motivation?
According to my brief internet research, a "triune brain" model entered neuroscience in the 1960s and had become quite popular among laypeople for its simplicity, especially if you talk about the three layers as reptilian, mammalian, and human. That oversimplified version understates the complexity of many reptiles, exaggerates the uniqueness of humans, and fails to account for the complex interactions between layers, but still seems to articulate the important truth that different layers of motivation compete within us.
What do you think? Is it helpful to think of three degrees of motivation competing in our brains?