“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out…” Romans 12:2
Culture is a powerful force; it shapes the way we think, what we perceive, and how we evaluate it. Throughout the centuries values and customs shift and change. People have fought violently to hold on to their culturally instituted traditions. Some of this has to do with the meaning that is attached to certain traditions and values and much of the reason is unconscious.
Interestingly, science has given us a glimpse into the power of one’s environment upon the brain. The brain is the only organ not fully formed at birth. The heart and lungs are smaller but they are fully formed. The brain on the other hand is not fully formed at birth, over the next three years parts of the brain will begin to form that aren’t there when a child is born. Those parts of the brain will develop according to the environment in which the child is raised. Most of these aspects of the brain are use-dependent, meaning they will form if used and will form to the degree they are used. In many ways, the brain forms to fit the environment that it is in.
So our environment and our culture play a tremendous role in the development of our brains, which may be part of the reason why many of us are more comfortable in familiar “bad” situations then those unfamiliar “good” ones. This bible verse (fix your attention on God) also touches on an interesting neurological truth- that sustained attention, activities like that of meditation, has the ability to transform our brains through the processes of neurogenesis and neural rewiring. Studies have shown that focusing on a loving God can actually make us more loving and patient. This is part of the renewing of our brains.
Conversely, if God is guilt inducing or punitive in your mind (perhaps like your parental experiences), it would serve to strengthen those feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. So it would therefore be wise of us to examine our culture and our cultural beliefs. How have we been formed in ways that we have never considered and how does that affect what we are “comfortable” with? Is this the person that we want to be? What neurological pathways are we reinforcing? What beliefs and values have we accepted without question? If we want to be transformed, we need to intentionally focus upon and steep our minds in the things that support the person we desire to be.