Is Modern Life a Disease?

“We do not die as much as we slowly kill ourselves,” goes an ancient Roman saying.  By that, the ancient Romans meant that we often hasten our own deaths by the harmful ways we live.  Looking at modern life, it seems that not much has changed since the days of Caesar.

A science researcher named Stephen Ildari poses that many of the diseases that plague us are not natural.  Diseases such as depression, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc., are caused by high-stress, industrialized, modern life; a lifestyle that is incompatible with our genetic evolution.  Rampant in the modern world, his laundry list of diseases are virtually non-existent among current aboriginal peoples that still live in the quiet corners of this earth.

He is not alone in his observations.  Since WWII, biologists and medical researchers have observed that the fast-paced, stressful life of the industrial revolution, a period of human history barely 200 years old, is incompatible with the 2,000,000 year evolution of hominids. Some pose that, if we lived as simply and stress-free as many aboriginal people and combine that lifestyle with modern medical practices, we’d all live to be 120 years old.

Personally, I’m not so sure I’m ready to live to 120 years of age.  I’ve known too many people who were ready to move on by the time they reached their late 80’s, even those who still enjoyed a decent level of health.  That said, it is intriguing to consider that we have been way too eager to embrace a 21st century lifestyle that is high on speed, stress and achievement, and low on relationships, relaxation, and presence-to-the-moment. What have we gotten for our choices?  A lot of money to spend on doctors to cure our self-inflicted diseases?

One anthropologist poses that while most of us put in a 50-hour week to support ourselves, our hunter-gatherer ancestors worked 17 hours a week, on average.  Sure, not many hunter-gatherers had to make payments on a second car, but they didn’t need a car, or the need to work off the stress and extra weight from riding around in a car.  Ildari says that “exercise” is a foreign concept among aboriginal people.  “Exercise?  What for?”

This leads me to consider a book I’m reading called “Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus”. Written by two hip millennials, it is an examination of the challenges of being hip millennials in the Christian church.  Up to this point, they’ve been involved in pop-up church plantings. It was only recently that they discovered the Benedictine concept of stability.  Instead of churches being spiritual filling-stations where you drop by to fill up and get back on the road, they are places where people come to live, make connections, grow in faith together and be leaven in the world. It has struck them as closer to the Body of Christ they read in the New Testament that what they have been experiencing.  This is a new concept to the two authors, but we in The Episcopal Church simply call it “The Episcopal Church”.  I’m sure it sounds real familiar to Romans, Lutherans, and a whole bunch of other mainliners as well.

It seems to me that modern life can inflict many diseases upon us if we are not careful, physical, psychological, and spiritual. We can find many of the causes in how we live and the cures in how we decide to change.  It appears that the cures are all around us if we but stop, lay aside the new, and reconsider the old.  We will be healthier for it.



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