Ideas matter. They matter because they shape how we understand the world in which we live. They matter because they motivate us to want to change or why we desire to keep things the same.
Dallas Willard made his living in a world of ideas. As a Christian philosopher he would routinely think through different ideas and how they could impact the larger society. His book, The Divine Conspiracy, is a masterful work provoking Christians to live their lives consistently with Christian ideals.
In one section, Willard underscores how powerful ideas are b quoting economic John Maynard-Keyes. Keyes states:
"…the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."
Willard then goes on to opine:
One could wish this were true only of economics and politics. But it is true of life in general. It is true of religion and education, of art and media. For life as a whole, Keynes's words apply: "I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas." Not immediately, as he acknowledges, but after a certain period of time. The ideas of people in current leadership positions are always those they took in during their youth. "But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."1People love to believe in conspiracies. Whether it's the grassy knoll, a faked moon landing, or the CIA blowing up the World Trade Center, it's easy to think that evil acts can only be brought on by some powerful group hiding in a secret back room.
The power of mere ideas is a matter about which intellectuals commonly deceive themselves and, intentionally or not, also mislead the public. They constantly take in hand the most powerful factors in human life, ideas, and most importantly, ideas about what is good and right. And how they handle and live them thoroughly pervades our world in its every aspect.2
The truth of the matter is that the "conspirators" are those who teach in classrooms or make subtle claims in otherwise benign entertainment. They want to remake society into their particular view. That shouldn't surprise anyone. If a person believes their views are true, of course they would seek to persuade others to hold it as well. But it does mean that Christians should also be prepared to argue how those views are not true and have good reasons demonstrating the truth of Christianity.
If Christianity tells us the truth about good and evil, man and morality, and the nature of the world, then we must inject our ideas into the public sphere. It's the best way to thwart a culture of evil.
2. Willard, 1998. 5-6.