Let’s talk a little about conditioning. What is it and how is it accomplished? No, I’m not speaking about getting in shape to compete in the local 5k run. To be sure that is a form of conditioning (hence the name), where you are training your body to run at a higher rate for an extended period of time, but the type of conditioning I want to talk about is geared more towards how one thinks and reacts to given stimuli.
According to the good old encyclopedia Britannica conditioning is the “process in which the frequency or predictability of a behavioral response is increased through reinforcement (i.e., a stimulus or a reward for the desired response).”1 That is, it is a form of training where positive or negative pressure is applied to the individual or group in question in order to obtain the desired response when certain conditions are presented. It is a form of indoctrination2. It may be used in a positive or negative sense depending upon the desired outcome intended.
For example, we potty-train our children when they reach a certain age so that they no longer wet the bed or dirty their britches. Similarly, a pet owner will use conditioning techniques to obtain the type of behaviors that they deem appropriate (e.g., not jumping on guest, refraining from constantly barking, etc.). This is a good form of conditioning. It is done in a fashion that benefits the individual and those around them.
Conditioning Taught in the Bible…
Upon investigation we find such conditioning is confirmed and suggested as appropriate in Scripture. God instructs His people to train their children:
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22.6; ESV).3
Meaning what? That as parents we are commanded to know our children. To identify their strengths and weaknesses, their temperaments and passions, in order to train them to the best of their ability. While this text does not speak directly to the type of educational training our children are to receive, there is no question that such biblical writers presupposed a biblical precedent for godly parents to teach their children godly instruction. The wisdom writer is merely building on old capital as it were:
“Only take care, keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deut 4.9; Italics added).
Make what known? Be careful not to forget what? That they are a great nation because God has been gracious to them. He has poured His mercy out on them (at that time) and in so doing He has demonstrated His great love and care upon them. How so? By setting before them statutes, rules, the Lord’s righteous law (Deut 4.8) that they would do well to keep “for that will be your wisdom” (Deut 4.6) before the nations. These also they were to teach to their children:
“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deut 6.7; cf. 11.19).
By the way, have you ever noticed how children are easily influenced? Do you know that there is a reason for that and it is tied to the image in which mankind was created. As image bearers we are by nature reflectors. Like a mirror when light is presented and an object is given we reflect what is presented before us (in us). It is the source of the light that matters, as Jesus Christ explains,
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt 6.22-24a).
To put it another way, either God and His Law-Word (i.e., instructional-revelation) will be the apple of your eye or some other desire will be. Jesus said the marks of His true disciples are those that abide in His word (John 8.31-32), and as they abide in it they obey it by following His voice (John 10.14-16); a demonstration of true love for Him (John 14.15).
The Christian man, woman, or child, then not only seeks to have the light of God’s Word fill their heart, but also so that it might conform them to God’s way of thinking (Rom 12.1-2) as opposed to the thinking of the world (Eph 4.17-24). And so, this too is a good form of conditioning that takes place in the heart of the believer. It also explains why God encourages His children to train their offpsring correctly both in regards to His Law-Word, but also in light of the gifts, talents and abilities that God has gifted to them. So that in time they might be a blessing to themselves (have a good work ethic) and to others (contributing something good and lasting to family and society).
Turning our focus to the year 2020...
I went on vacation with my wife and my sister and brother-in-law this past July-August. We went out west, where exactly is not that important, but I will tell you it was a great distance (mileage wise) from Ohio. Now we could have traveled by automobile, but that would have cut into our paid time off, so we flew. The tickets had been purchased almost nine months (fall of 2019) prior to our journey via South West Airlines. By the time we flew Southwest had adopted new guidelines that required all passengers to wear face coverings, over the nose and mouth, at all times, regardless of any other exceptions current local guidelines allowed for. You had to wear a mask to board the plane, but you could take it off to eat and drink (duh! Everybody knows that viruses pause when their host or a potential host eats and drinks).
What struck me the most during our travels (on our departure and return) was the constant barrage we were experiencing to wear the mask. The exceptions to the guidelines have long been forgotten. It used to be said if you were under a particular age (2-10 years old depending on state or local guidelines), or if you had underlying health conditions (either physical or mental), and in some places religious convictions, you didn’t have to wear a mask. Although I was never challenged going through airport security, it was obvious that many other’s were extremely upset that we (my wife and I) did not wear a mask as we traveled through the airport. And to be honest after I boarded the plane I got out my snacks that I had packed and did not wear the mask the majority of the time. Once I was verbally spoken about (not to) by a young lady in Chicago and there were a few women that seemed to be pointing their phones at me as I sat waiting for my flight to board.
I noted on my Parler account that I felt like a wolf in the midst of many sheep. Honestly it is no wonder. The airports intercom continually stated that all passengers and persons with the airport needed to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth. No mention of the exceptions clause. All I kept thinking was, “This is what conditioning looks like. This is how you are conditioned to adopt a particular mindset.” Like dog training positive pressure is applied and rewards are given to those who comply. We receive our treat for good behavior. But if we fail to do as the current cultural climate demands negative reinforcement is not far from coming.
I have personally watched as more and more of my fellow citizens adopted wearing masks in public. Because it is safer? No, because of the pressure against those who do not. Many people don’t want the cross-hairs of society aimed at them. Not by their peers, not by their family, and not by their employers. Social media has capitalized on this conditioning practice as they continue to censor any dissenting voices regardless of how stellar their credentials might be. Any counter argument is labeled as harmful information.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what brainwashing looks like, the evidence is before your eyes. We are watching it being performed on United States citizens and all they had to do to get people to conform was promise them safety. I’m not sure how anyone outside of God can “promise” that you will be safe if you trust in them, but they are doing it and people (like sheep) are listening to their voice following after them. We are living in some crazy times….
1Britannica Desktop Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008), s.v., “conditioning.”
2I have heard some claim that only religious groups indoctrinate, but that is not accurate. To be indoctrinated means to have one’s teaching put into you. Every time you are taught something and that teaching has been understood and accepted you have been indoctrinated. Example: Your parents teach you that it is rude to not say “please” or “thank you,” but to do so is polite and the sign of a good-mannered individual. If you adopted the teaching (had it put into you), and now put it into practice you do so because you have been indoctrinated.
3All Scripture shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.