Nutritional Guidelines and the Bible

One of the characteristics of modernity is the idea of rationalization (that reason alone can help us discover truth). In order to be "rational" it is important to have all the facts, or evidence. Being obsessed with evidence is another imprint of modernity on our culture. The pursuit of evidence in order to make a "rational" decision is also the underlying assumption of traditional economic thought. That is to say that there is an economic theory that states that people are rational and given enough information then people will make the best possible choices. 

This sort of thought is underlying the way we talk about eating. Specifically, we have been told that we need to look at nutritional labels before we buy our foodstuff. Putting calories on the menu at Starbucks or Applebee's, the theory goes, will help people make healthier choices because we can see more evidence and information.

This just is not the case.

Studies have come out and articles have expressed that begin to show that nutritional labels do not result in behavior change. Some say we need more information such as information for take out food or salt levels. Some say the information displayed is due for a makeover. Others say that we need different information, such as fullness factor.

All this information seems like a great idea, but it could also lead to paralysis by analysis (the paradox of choice).

The idea that information acquisition leads to behavioral change has always been a way to learn new things, but it is not the only way. Modernity has pushed out other ways to learn and this is where religion steps into the frame. 

Religion understands that information acquisition can only affect someone so much. Religion, at its best, knows what social psychologists have just discovered and named attitude polarization and confirmation bias. Religion, at its best, encourages a number of different ""practices" in order to form people and shape behavior. Here are the spiritual practices of Christianity as laid out in the Christian classic by Richard Foster. I have italicized the ones that focus on information acquisition:

  • meditation
  • prayer
  • fasting
  • study
  • simplicity
  • solitude
  • submission
  • service
  • confession
  • worship
  • guidance
  • celebration

One. The majority of disciplines force behavior change.

And yet, the majority of us Christians think that the primary way we are "transformed" or changed is through the following practices. I have italicized the ones that focus on information acquisition:

  • listening to sermons
  • bible studies
  • reading a daily devotion
  • highlighting our bibles
  • worship
  • service
  • reading pastors blog *wink*

Christian spiritual formation, at it's best, focuses on the practices and less about the acquisition of information. However, we as a Church have been teaching the way to changed behavior (repentance) is through gathering more information. 

That is like reading nutritional guidelines and expecting a behavioral change. This is the promise of modernity, not the promise of Christian spiritual formation.