Viruses can kill on a mass scale. Bad ideas spread even faster. Through social media, they can travel the world in nanoseconds. At this moment, every “ism” from every part of the world—from communism to terrorism to materialism—is recruiting followers right here, among people who have backgrounds and outward lifestyles very similar to our own.
The 4 I’s to Arresting the Influence of Bad Ideas
Let’s look at how the 4 I’s—identify, isolate, inform, and invest—can help us arrest the influence of bad ideas just as they help curb the effect of deadly viruses before they do irreversible harm to us and those we love.
Thinking of bad ideas as viruses can help us see how ideas work. It also can help us stop bad ideas from attacking us and those we love. Let’s see if the 4 I’s that stop viruses can help stop bad ideas from doing their miserable work.
Step 1: Identify
Doctors can identify viruses by the symptoms they cause: aches and pains, fever, and so forth. Among Christians, for example, a terrible “virus” is striking the young. They are walking away from their faith. One measure of the virus’s reach is how many drop out of church. Up to 75 percent of students who were significantly involved in church in high school are no longer even attending church as twentysomethings, and only 35 percent return and attend regularly (defined as at least twice a month).9 Many think higher education is the problem. It’s not. Those who don’t attend college after high school are even more likely than college-goers to stop attending church.10
What kinds of bad ideas produce such casualties? Having worked with hundreds of thousands of young adults, and recently completing a nationwide Summit-Barna worldview research study, we’ve discovered they fall prey to one of five worldviews:
- Life is about control. Secularists don’t ask what God wants or what history requires of us, but instead what we think best serves us during our lifetimes.
- Life is about capital. Karl Marx in the mid-1800s proposed that the working class’s wretched condition was due to exploitation by the rich. Marxism demands a forcible overthrow of all existing social structures: government, the economy, religion, and family.
- Life is about context. According to this worldview, “Capital-T” truth cannot be known to exist; there are only “lowercase-t” truths that we create for ourselves.
- New spirituality. Life is about consciousness. With new spirituality, at the core of reality is a higher consciousness, a force some people call “god.” New spirituality recommends spiritual practices that make people feel at one with the universe.
- Life is about conquering. Considering itself to be the one true religion, Islam teaches that we all are born Muslim (“those who submit”). Disbelief must be conquered through jihad.
Each of these worldviews—secularism, Marxism, postmodernism, new spirituality, and Islam—says something about God, existence, right versus wrong, life, the soul, society, governance, law, money, and history.
Step 2: Isolate
We need to look at patterns of how symptoms break out, not just individual cases, because most people carrying viruses don’t display symptoms themselves. They’re not sick in any noticeable way, but they make others sick with every touch. The same is true of the ways bad ideas are spread. They hitch rides on someone or something that otherwise seems completely harmless. Just as viruses trick the body because they’re coated with proteins, something the body finds beneficial, bad ideas attempt to make themselves believable by coating lies in bits of truth.
Bad ideas masquerade as something good—or at least harmless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t spread. You probably wouldn’t be tricked by an idea that explicitly promotes fear, disappointment, despair, or defeat.
Step 3: Inform
William McGuire, a psychology professor in the 1950s, specialized in showing people how to resist bad ideas. He suggested that you don’t just tell people the truth; you also inform them about the lies that would stand against the truth. You give them a little of the disease so they can build an immunity to it. It’s called inoculation. Inoculation seemed to work against deadly viruses such as polio and smallpox.
The point is that we can’t just pretend bad ideas don’t exist and hope no one will believe them. It seems counterintuitive, but with so many bad ideas threatening to infect us, focusing on only what we know to be true doesn’t build up the immunity we need. Even the strongest of us is vulnerable.
Step 4: Invest
The final thing you can do to stop bad ideas is help people survive once they’ve been attacked. It’s true with idea viruses, too. You can’t “uninfect” someone. But you can help him fight it off himself by saying things such as:
“Would you be willing to tell me what you’re thinking?”
“I just want you to know I love you and am cheering for you.”
“Have you considered …?”
“May I share something I’ve learned that has helped me a lot?”
Love. Encourage. Administer truth in doses appropriate to what the person can handle.
A Sixth Worldview That Provides the Cure
The sixth worldview is the Christian worldview. It says that life is about Jesus Christ. This isn’t a religious claim; it’s about the simple premise that Jesus answers life’s toughest questions when other worldviews leave us unfulfilled.
According to the Christian worldview, the other five worldviews—secularism, Marxism, postmodernism, new spirituality, and Islam—offer interesting insights. However, the battle between competing worldviews is not like a sports league, in which theoretically evenly matched teams compete for the championship. Rather, says the Christian worldview, there is a way, a truth, and a path to the good life. As respected theologian and Anglican priest John Stott said, “Christ is at the center of Christianity; all else is circumference.”
This is an adapted excerpt from Dr. Jeff Myers’ new book, The Secret Battle of Ideas about God. To read chapter 1, click here. To continue reading about how the Christian worldview stands apart from false world views in answering life’s biggest questions and how you can bring this to your church or home, download sample materials or purchase at secretbattlebook.com.
Listen to the ChurchLeaders podcast with Dr. Jeff Myers.