Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Morality and Cleanliness

To what degree do outside influences, such as the media, influence how you think about morality?

Some Christians contend that media does not influence their thoughts or opinions. The basic gist of their argument is that because they are aware of the potential negative influence of the media they are somehow insulated from its influence. They are "guarded" in what they allow to affect them.

While "taking every thought captive" is certainly a means of protecting the believer, it is dangerous to believe that vigilance alone will guard our hearts and minds.  We fail to take into account how ealisy persuadable we actually are. We are not quite the critical, independent thinkers we give ourselves credit for. Even little things change the way we view the world around us, consciously and unconsciously.

In his article "Cleanliness is Next to Priggishness," published in a May 2010 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Barlett writes:

We like to think that our opinions are based on reason. We’ve thought something through and arrived at a conclusion. We’re not easily swayed, overly emotional, or wildly inconsistent. We are more or less rational.

But maybe we’re fooling ourselves. A new study titled “A Clean Self Can Render Harsh Moral Judgment” found that opinions on social issues like pornography, adultery, and drugs were affected by whether people had washed their hands prior to being asked. Participants were told to rate their feelings on social issues, like the ones mentioned above, on an 11-point scale from “very immoral” to “very moral.” Those who lathered up beforehand were significantly more likely than those with grubby palms to find, say, profane language immoral.
The researchers found that participants were also more likely to deem some practices immoral if they simply thought phrases about physical cleanliness.

In a second experiment, some participants were simply told to think of phrases like “My hair feels clean and light. My breath is fresh. My clothes are pristine and like new.” Meanwhile, another group was told to think “My hair feels oily and heavy. My breath stinks. I can see oil stains and dirt all over my clothes.” The groups were then asked, using the same 11-point scale, to rate [different immoral acts]. . .
I gain two insights from that study.  First, I now have a spiritual justification for my obsessive hand washing.  Second, is it any wonder that Scripture calls us to be so very careful with what goes into our minds? As Paul says in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Let us follow Paul's exhortation carefully, realizing that we are creatures that are influenced--sometimes, strangely so--by the world around us.

1 comment:

Dan H said...

I remember in high school justifying certain shows and music on a similar basis. Ultimately my desire was to engage in current, popular, and frequently discussed entertainment of the time, and I simply justified it by reassuring myself and anyone concerned of my objectivity.

I was no doubt influenced in subtle ways. The problem was that in my "objective awareness" there was a subjective blindness. Blindness to all that the Bible says on the content in question. Blindness to the justification my peer finds when their Christian friend finds it acceptable. Blindness to the heartbreak of a culture around me embracing portrayed lifestyles in a search for what could only be provided by Jesus. Blindness to my funding of more of the same. And to the point of the blog post, blindness to what the Bible says on guarding your heart, not listening to folly, etc.