Cultural Conditioning

I was reading Ed Harrell’s book "Quest for a Christian America, 1800-1865" and found this interesting observation in a section entitled “Worldly Allurements”:

“The expanse of ‘worldly allurements’ which came under the disapproving scrutiny of Disciples leaders during these years was enormous; virtually every facet of the private life of a church member was subject to congregational investigation. The struggle to keep the saints ‘unspotted from the world’ was nowhere more heated than in the area of entertainment. Balls, masquerades, routes, grand levees, sumptuous dinners, theater-going, gambling, cards, dice, cockfights, horse races, puppet shows, checkers, backgammon, novels, fairs, parties and other such ‘frivolities’ all received attention from the moral guardians of the West” (185-186).

By antebellum standards, I’m destined for doom. But here’s the larger question: How much are we affected by our surroundings? Have we been so conditioned by the prevailing cultural atmosphere that we are unaware of its influence upon us?

We are saturated in cultural messaging clamoring for our attention, our approval, our money. And we are naïve if we think advertisers, politicians, movie makers, music producers, the “acronyms” (MLB, NASCAR, NBA, NCAA, PGA, etc.) don’t know our psychological tendencies and weaknesses.

This is where the present pandemic can be of great value. While we lament the loss of life that has come with it, for those yet living the disease is an opportunity to honestly examine the ties we have to our culture. Routines have changed, amusements suspended, college cancelled, trips and vacations banned, weddings and funerals stripped of guests – well, you know the routine by now. We live by a very different standard of “godliness” than our antebellum brethren.

So, let’s recalibrate:

  • What is really important?
  • What can I live without?
  • What is a waste of time?
  • What have I exaggerated in importance?
  • What distracts from my relationship with God?What has interfered with my family life?
  • What do I do purely out of habit?
  • What have I neglected because I’m “too busy”?
  • What worldly values have I unconsciously adopted?
  • What scriptures have I manipulated to fit cultural norms?

It is painful to do such introspective re-evaluations, and that is why we resist them. But the coronavirus has forced changes that raise some fundamental questions. Cultural conditioning is a formidable, gradual, covert force that can alter our perspectives without our awareness. The best antidote is exposure to scripture and honest appraisal of its applications to life. Easier said than done.