The Decline of Western Man
Recent decades have seen some attempts to course correct from our path of self-destruction (hence the burgeoning number of Whole Foods Markets and other silver bullets of rehabilitation) but the steady decline of western life continues. A 2009-2010 study initiated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 68.8 percent of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese. That’s two-thirds of the American adult population!
Overweight and Obesity among Adults Age 20 and Older, United States, 2009–2010 Estimated Percentage by Body Mass Index
Not surprisingly, this has affected the expectations we place on each other. Our “goal posts”, or ideas of what constitutes a healthy body, have shifted dramatically. People are expected to be overweight and physically weak; we reserve athletic ideals for those “gods” who star in our movies or compete for our pleasure. Isn’t it time we became masters of our own lives and stopped living vicariously through others?
Not just the physical health of western man has declined–mental health has been affected as well. In the same study done by the CDC, almost one in twenty Americans over the age of twelve experienced feelings of sadness or depression for all, most, or some of the time in the thirty days prior to the interview. Suicide rates, especially among men, have skyrocketed in recent years. I believe this can be attributed to the paradoxical state of stress and boredom people live in; our lives seem to have become a circus of gratification and pleasure, rather than fulfillment and happiness. Thought and achievement are bent on increasing our comfort (both physical and mental) as we develop and elevate technologies which provide superficial stimulation; but where is the depth in our lives? We speak of our time as a golden age; it seems to me we live in a gilded age.
While physical and mental health have been deteriorating through overdoses of inactivity, something else has been declining. Honoring our Creator. Yes, I mean the Man Upstairs. Consider this: regular (weekly) religious service attendance in America, fell from 49% to 36% in the period 1954-2014. This spiritual decline is perhaps most frightening of all. The American colonies were founded on Christian principles, by men who placed their relationship with God above their own lives. The United States was declared independent from Britain by men who looked to God for their support and victory.
At the Constitution Convention in 1789, arguably one of the most influential meetings in recent history, that assembly of men appealed to Heaven for wisdom in drafting new laws and safeguards for their fragile, infant country. Every monumental moment in our past has seen men relying on their right and relationship with God to guide them and help them. Yet, we continue to abandon Him.
Conclusion: Building a Firm Foundation
The correlation between the declines in these three areas suggests an interdependence; neglect of any single aspect will cripple our most effective tool–ourselves. People continue monotonous, defeated lives by not recognizing they are a three-fold being; they have a spirit, a mind, and a body (Some argue that emotion is a separate part of our identity. For the sake of illumination, I will include a separate discussion on emotion.) Each aspect must be nurtured and strengthened to make the man more effective, just like the foundations of a house must be firmly laid before the house can be built. This truth was self-evident in the time of civilization’s ancestors; athletic ability and the training of the body have been hallmarks of civilization for thousands of years (Ancient Greek Olympics? Sparta?), the schooling of the mind has been a primary pursuit for just as long, and man has rarely forgotten his connection with God.
We live in a different age now. Our society has stripped the rites and dictates which used to help us build a proper foundation for life, and shore up our being to brave the great storm of the world. What a great challenge! We are the generation that gets to pursue our own mythology, and rediscover the greatness within. I believe that discovery starts with this recognition of the different aspects of our lives. It gives us a battle plan; four pillars in our foundation to build:
In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be discussing each pillar in detail, and suggesting ways for you to strengthen your foundation.
Until then, peace be with you.
Daniel H., Editor-in-chief