The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

Are You a Cultural Chameleon?

Posted on: June 14, 2016

Are You a Cultural Chameleon?


Chameleons are able to take on the color of the plants or other background in which they find themselves. They blend in so well that they often cannot be distinguished from their surroundings.

Humans are the same, culturally. We all tend to blend in with our cultural surroundings. Americans tend to act like other Americans, Austrians tend to act like other Austrians, and Angolans tend to act like other Angolans. The influence of culture on us is largely subconscious.

This is a benefit when the cultural influence is good, and is a detriment when cultural influence is bad. Therefore, Christians must recognize this subtle seduction and choose our attitudes, values and behavior, rather than allowing attitudes, values and behavior to choose us.

In a psychological experiment, five hungry monkeys were put into a cage with a tall pole in the middle of the cage. A bunch of bananas was at the top of the pole. Immediately, a hungry monkey started to climb the pole. But when it did, it was sprayed with water until it came back down. But not only was that monkey sprayed… all the monkeys were sprayed. After a while, a monkey tried again, with the same results. This continued until none of them any longer attempted to climb the pole, even though they were still hungry.

Then, when that group was conditioned not to climb the pole, they took out one monkey and put in a new hungry monkey. The new hungry monkey immediately started to climb the pole… and when it did, the other monkeys grabbed it and didn’t let it climb the pole. They didn’t want to get sprayed. Quickly, the new monkey learned not to climb the pole.

Next, they took out another original monkey that had been sprayed and put in a new monkey, with the same results. They did this until all the original monkeys that had been sprayed were replaced with monkeys that had not been sprayed.

Finally, with only monkeys that had never been sprayed with water in the cage… they put in a new hungry monkey. When the new hungry monkey tried to climb the pole, the other monkeys, none of which had ever been sprayed with water, grabbed it and wouldn’t let it go up the pole. They had no idea why. They had just caught the values of the culture, and then, even though the ones who established the values were no longer there, the culture still remained.

This shows the power of culture. It is almost like a living thing. It survives the people who are in it at any given time.

As Christians living in America, we naturally tend to absorb the values of our culture and, without realizing it, can often end up with American values that are in conflict with biblical values.

This is a growing problem because our American culture which, for hundreds of years, was dominated by biblical values, has in the last fifty years been severely compromised by secular values. The magnitude and speed of the compromise has been fueled by the pervasiveness and toxic quality of much of electronic media… internet, television, movies, music, social media.

So, this is the world in which we now live. It has been deeply corrupted from what it once was. This coarsened culture has a powerful effect on us, whether we want it to or not, and whether we realize it or not.

Neil Postman has written a compelling book regarding the impact of television on modern life entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he warns of the danger of television beyond the debased moral quality of entertainment. The book describes how an entertainment mindset of television, especially when directed toward news, commentary and public discourse, discourages reflection, diminishes critical thinking and reduces public discourse to “happy mindlessness.” He warns that when serious public discourse becomes a form of entertainment, people become an audience and important public discourse must be entertaining enough to maintain sufficiently high ratings. The result is that important things are treated as trivial. Immediately after a news report of a horrifying mass death, the newsperson says, “And now this…” , and a silly advertisement for deodorant follows. Ultimately, the senses are dulled and important things begin to be perceived as trivial.

Postman then makes the important point that the first step in breaking the hold of television on us is realizing that it has a hold on us. Christians can expand that helpful observation to saying that modern culture has a hold on us, and the first step in breaking the hold of modern culture is recognizing that it has a hold.

Because we become what we behold, unless we move to a remote, fenced-in compound without electricity in northern Montana, or the like, we are beholding plenty of harmful input from electronic media in the living of our everyday lives. As a result, many Christians are in trouble because the world’s values have become embedded in their hearts. But they often have no idea that it’s happened, and so they are oblivious to the danger.

As John said in 1 John 2:15-16, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

We must awaken to the danger. We must resist the moral bankruptcy of much of electronic input. We must resist the trivialization of what is important. We must resist the seduction of interpreting reality without God. We must choose to avoid toxic input when we can, and neutralize it when we can’t by strategically filling our minds with offsetting helpful input, including memorizing and meditating on Scripture, reading good books, watching good movies and television (when possible), spending time with good friends, and creating a good environment for ourselves.

We must not be cultural chameleons.  We must not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds”.  (Romans 12:2)

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