My dear friends,
We live at a time when we are highly aware of the threats to humanity from global pandemics. Quite rightly, we wrestle with the consequences of HIV infection and treatment, and we also perceive grave danger from the potential mutation of the H5N1 strain of avian ’flu. But some are beginning to discern another malaise in society that is a widespread and serious threat to mental and physical health. And the research suggests that few of us are immune.
The author Oliver James has used the term ‘affluenza’1. It is particularly manifested by the English-speaking world, and its causal factors are a distorted focus upon the rewards of money and possessions, our physical appearance, social status and fame. Those who suffer from this philosophical ‘infection’ are twice as likely to suffer medical problems due to depression, anxiety and addiction. James has said that if this discovery had been linked to a genetic defect in our DNA we would be pouring resources and research into the discovery of a treatment. As it is, it is largely being ignored, to the great detriment of our health and the health of our children.
I suspect that, even as I write these words, both you and I are suffering at the hands of our ‘affluenza’ infected mindsets. The materialism, self-obsession and insecurities that surround us are almost impossible to resist without conscious effort. We worry about the future when Christ specifically told us not to worry; we store up riches on earth when he told us to have treasures in heaven; we worry what people will think, when Christ warns ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you!’2 But I suspect you know these things, don’t you?
You know that human being is more important than human doing. You know that society’s values and priorities are distorted. But you find yourself succumbing again and again to its mores.
Christians have lost the habit of reflection and self-examination. These used to be the values of our Lenten devotions. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday Christians fasted and prayed. They recognised fundamental distortions in the way they thought and the way that they behaved, and they took steps to rectify their lives. I think most of us have lost that art. Consequently, we allow our desires and our actions to be driven by a godless and value-free culture.
God considers your life too precious to be allowed to suffer these things. And the cure is in our own hands: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God and what is good.’3
1 First coined in 2002 by John de Graaf et al: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic
2 Luke 6.263 Luke 12.2
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