“The world is too much with us,” wrote the poet William Wordsworth. He meant that our lives are influenced more than we realize by the society in which we live, leaving us unable to properly perceive “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).
As Elder David R. Stone explained:
Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty…. All too often, we are like puppets on a string, as our culture determines what is “cool.”“Zion in the Midst of Babylon,” General Conference, April 2006
In ancient Israel, the powerful Babylonian empire represented the dominant culture of the day. The capital city, Babylon, was enormously wealthy. Isaiah referred to it as “the golden city” (2 Nephi 24:4) and called it “the glory of kingdoms” (2 Nephi 23:19). He also warned his people that the supremacy of Babylon was temporary. “Babylon is fallen, is fallen,” he foretold, “and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground” (Isaiah 21:9). (See also Revelation 14:8.)
In light of all this, Isaiah’s admonition, “Go ye forth of Babylon” (1 Nephi 20:20) represents more than a prophecy of deliverance from the Babylonian captivity. It also represents a warning not to be enticed by Babylonian culture, not to let the culture of the world pull his listeners away from the culture of God.
In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord issues the same warning to people in our day:
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.Doctrine & Covenants 1:16
Elder Kevin W. Pearson described one way this can happen in the life of an otherwise righteous individual:
To all missionaries past and present: Elders and sisters, you simply cannot return from your mission, do a swan dive back into Babylon, and spend endless hours scoring meaningless points on pointless video games without falling into a deep spiritual sleep. Nor can you indulge in online pornography and ignore virtue and chastity without dire spiritual consequences. If you lose the Spirit, you are lost. Don’t be distracted and deceived.“Stay by the Tree,” General Conference, April 2015
The ancient city Babylon was formerly known as Babel. (See Guide to the Scriptures, “Babel, Babylon.”) According to the Book of Genesis, the name of the city is related to the Hebrew word balal (בָּלַל), which means “confused,” because it was there that people began to speak different languages and were no longer able to understand one another. (See Genesis 11:9.) That imagery is significant to me. Connecting with God helps us see things more clearly; immersing ourselves excessively in the culture of the world can distort our perception of reality.
Today, I will be attentive to the cultural influences in my life and in my home. I will recognize that social norms can subtly influence my perception and my decisions. I will be careful not to let the world be “too much with [me],” and I will ensure that I spend my time on activities that keep me connected with God.