Keeping Bad Company With The American Culture & Environment

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Cor 15:33 NIV

Let’s be honest. In general, we humans are weak willed; we are easily influenced by our surroundings. The Bible is full of warnings and instructions about this potential problem. But who listens? The ancient Israelites were corrupted again and again through relationships with other tribes and societies, and they wound up in some bad situations.

Or how about Lot, Abram’s nephew? Lot, a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7), chose badly when he decided to live in Sodom as “…the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.” (Genesis 13:13) Although distressed by the general depravity, he eventually was prepared to give his daughters over to be raped by a mob in order to securely shelter his two houseguests. (Genesis 19:8) What’s with that? Sheltering the houseguests is commendable, but where did he get the idea it would be okay to sacrifice his daughters? Fortunately for Lot, the two guests were angels sent to rescue him and his family from destruction. Even then, Lot hesitated to leave and the angels had to drag him away.

That’s a little like how I see us in with respect to healthy living in today’s culture and environment. Our contemporary American environment fosters behavior that makes us sick. Unhealthy food and beverages are everywhere. I’ve noticed that even my local hardware store is selling sugary soda and candy in the checkout lane. Care for a Coke and a Three Musketeers with your hammer and nails?

Portion sizes are crazy. Big is the new small and gigantic is the new big. It seems like ½ lb is the new standard for hamburgers in sit down restaurants.  It’s hard to “eat small.” Can I get half a burger please?  Relentless upselling of harmful products is the norm – Want fries with that? Can I supersize that for you? There’s a fast food joint on nearly every busy street corner, and billboards advertising them on the corners without one.

The advertising and marketing of harmful foods is pervasive. Reviewing my local newspaper’s grocery ad inserts, I usually find beer, soda and snacks on the front page. Vegetables may be in there somewhere.   Consumerism, materialism and the pursuit of comfort are also major negative influences on our health behaviors. We’re too busy to cook and we “deserve” to have a nice meal out. Or we’re so stressed that we need to medicate with comfort foods. Or both.

Those who keep company with our culture and environment get fat and sick. It is that simple. Multiple studies have shown that immigrants from healthier countries become less healthy after arriving and learning to fit-in by living our American lifestyle.

Yet how hard it is for us native-born Americans to acknowledge that our culture and environment are big problems for us. Are we being like Lot, clinging to Sodom despite the corruption and harm? Maybe. Perhaps we just can’t see the problem. Culture is not tangible. As the saying goes, “does a fish know he’s in water?”

I think more commonly, we don’t want to see it. Many jobs depend on the continuation of our present culture. Perhaps yours is one. (Being in healthcare, mine probably is.) Most importantly, recognizing the behavioral effects of our culture forces us to admit our weakness – our trouble with temptation – our sinful nature. And it can be scary to think about having to live very differently, counterculturally.

As Christians, we should be, and need to be, able to admit our weakness – our trouble with temptation – our sinful nature. Jesus calls us to admit our brokenness and to lean on him. Yes, we are in the world, but we are not of the world. You can live in America without living like the average American.

Through God, Christians are able to think and act differently from the rest. We have an advantage the ancient Israelites and Lot did not – the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Holy Spirit in order that we can know and follow Jesus and have a new and better life now. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.        Romans 12:2 NLT

If you live like everyone else, don’t expect to be healthy. How should you be living? What would be good for you personally? Where is change indicated? Good questions. Ask God. Then listen. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide, and your power, to a new and healthier lifestyle. Let me know if I can help.