What a man or woman does or does not believe, is a matter of very little concern for most modern Americans. We like to think that we can separate private from public concerns, character from performance, worldview from responsibility. What we think—even when we are not fully aware of what it is that we’ve been thinking—shapes our perceptions, our preferences, our prejudices, and our priorities. What we think will determine not only how we interpret what we see, hear, and feel, but how we react to those sensations. Even if we never actually think about what we think, it is at work in us in a dramatic way. In a very real sense, we are what we think.
You have a worldview. I have a worldview. Everyone does. It is our perspective. It is our frame of reference. It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us. It forms our presuppositions—our basic outlook on all the different aspects of our faith, and life. A worldview is simply a way of viewing the world. When a writer writes, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. When a painter paints, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. When a singer sings, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. When a legislator legislates, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. When a teacher teaches, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. It is not possible to separate what it is we do from how it is we think. We simply cannot escape from our worldview.
Alvin Toffler, in his well-known work Future Shock, wrote, "Every person carries in his head a mental model of the world, a subjective representation of external reality." This mental model is, he says, like a giant filing cabinet. It contains a slot for every item of information coming to us. It organizes our knowledge and gives us a grid from which to think. Our mind is not a blank slate. It is simply not possible for any of us to be completely open-minded or genuinely objective. Economic philosopher E.F. Schumacher observed, "When we think, we can only do so because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think." These more or less fixed ideas make up our mental model of the world, our frame of reference, our presuppositions—in other words, they make up our worldview.
The reason it has been so difficult to solve the grave cultural crises of the day is that we have largely ignored the fact that changes in our society have occurred first and foremost because of changes in our thinking. We have failed to recognize the fact that ideas have consequences. We have failed to see the central importance of worldview to all that we are and all that we do. If we are to have any hope of maintaining a civil society then it will be absolutely essential to recognize this principle: ideas matter; ideas make all the difference; ideas shape the course of human events.