7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind

from Dec 16, 2011 Category: Book Reviews

7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind. The title sounds scary. The book’s cover looks scary. The truly alarming thing about the book, though, comes with the realization of how very common, how all-pervasive these ideas are in contemporary Western culture. If I were explaining any one of these ideas to the average American, she would nod in understanding and agreement as she listened. If I should suggest that this is one of seven ideas an author suggests is harmful, my listener would probably frown and say, “What? What’s wrong with that?”

  • What could possibly be problematic about the blessing of technology?
  • Don’t we all have to take our stand as individuals and do what’s best for ourselves? Isn’t it the mark of some kind of disorder if we’re so concerned about others that we’re not taking care of our own needs?
  • And who doesn’t know that no one has the right to boss me around? Why would I put up with nonsense like that? This is the 21st century!
  • And how can it be harmful to have and enjoy the things I can afford?
  • New is better than old. Isn’t it? Things always improve, right?
  • Personal beliefs are just that: personal, not universal. It’s just plain bad manners to try to convince someone that his opinion is wrong.
  • And all educated people understand that we can only fully trust what we can verify with our senses and prove with science, right?

You surely recognize that, in certain contexts, there is at least a measure of truth in each of those statements. Maybe, in one or more of them, you can’t see how there is anything but truth. Anthony Selvaggio is out to convince you that there are, in all seven of these ideas, falsehoods that Satan, as ultimate deceiver, would like you to believe, falsehoods that our culture, for the most part, has swallowed, hook, line, and sinker.

Giving a chapter to each idea, Selvaggio does a much better job than I did above in setting forth these ideas as they actually exist in today’s world. At least at some point in each chapter, I found myself thinking, “Oh my goodness, that is exactly what I hear all the time.” That’s why I kept thinking how useful this book would be to a new believer, especially someone thirty or younger. While some of these ideas have been deeply entrenched in modern thought for decades, some of their more radical expressions are more recent. People of my generation (never mind what generation that is; suffice it to say I have young grandchildren!) can remember a time when some of these ideas were new, or at least not held in popular acceptance. For people coming of age today, these ideas are as common, as invisible, and therefore as unnoticed as the air they breathe.

Most, if not all, of these seven ideas have had whole books written about them. Selvaggio has done his homework, not just launching diatribes off the top of his head, but quoting from these other expert sources. The value of this particular work is in bringing these ideas together in one place and summarizing them briefly, then demonstrating in what ways they oppose a biblical worldview.

Each chapter sets forth its particular toxic idea, bringing in “expert witnesses” who have studied and written about it, and demonstrating at length how very toxic the idea can be. Concrete examples from everyday life are given. The author shows how, in each case, the opposite idea is the one set forth in a biblical worldview. The chapters provide practical suggestions, some briefly, some at greater length, on how to prevent the seven ideas from seeping into our minds by default.

The thing I appreciate most about this book is the way that, in almost every chapter, the author leads us on a quick excursion through the Bible in order to provide evidence that the ideas opposite to the “toxic ideas” are the ideas set forth in God’s word. He does this sometimes by reminding us of principles explicitly stated in Scripture, sometimes by bringing out assumptions that underlie all of Scripture, sometimes by doing both. I love it that Selvaggio does not just quote isolated proof texts to make his points. In many chapters, he begins at the beginning, in Genesis, and leads us briefly, but thoroughly, through Bible history to show what God would have us believe about the idea in question.

That’s why I was so disappointed with the author’s use of Proverbs 22:28: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.” Early in his chapter on neophilia (love of the new), he says that this verse informs us that there are two kinds of people in this world: stone movers, those who relish the new, and stone preservers, those who are preservationists at heart. The verse, Selvaggio says, admonishes us to preserve tradition, and he returns to it several times, using it as a main support for valuing tradition. When we look at the similar verse in Proverbs 23:10-11, we see that the problem with moving boundary stones is the dishonest advantage taken of poorer landowners, as is forbidden in Deuteronomy 19:14 and 27:17. It may seem a minor point, but I always cringe when a given Scripture is used to say something—however true—that it doesn’t actually say.

My other complaint is with comments made in the discussion of egalitarianism. Sometimes, the discussion is lucid and biblical. It’s especially helpful where it’s applied to modern-day churches. Sometimes, though, the author confuses what are two different issues: the failure to recognize superior ability (which is foolish—handing out trophies to all contenders, even if all they did was show up) and the failure to submit to authority (which is sin). Early in the chapter, he says that God establishes hierarchies, that hierarchies produce order, that hierarchies are systems with superiors and subordinates—all of which are true. Then he says that, “in a properly established hierarchy, the superiors in the system achieve their status because they possess superior qualities as a result of their natural abilities and experience”—which is not necessarily true. We all know at least one refined, well-educated woman whose husband is almost oafish by comparison. In the hierarchy of marriage, she is, biblically, required to submit to him—regardless of who possesses superior qualities. Submission to authority is based on a person’s position of authority, not upon superior qualities. Even Selvaggio ends the chapter by pointing out that “the Lord Jesus Christ, being equal in essence with the Father, willingly submitted himself to the authority of the Father.” Surely, we would not argue that the Father possesses qualities that are superior to the Son’s.

I whole-heartedly recommend ‘7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind’ by Anthony Selvaggio

Those two concerns aside, I whole-heartedly recommend 7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind, and I especially recommend it as a useful tool to study with people of high school and college age. I could see it providing an excellent springboard for discussion and an exercise in developing discernment, either for parents to work through with their teens, or for those who teach classes or lead Bible studies for people in high school or college. Any age group would profit, but younger people, especially, are the most likely to embrace these ideas without giving them a second thought.


Starr Meade is the author of several books for families of children and teens and teaches classes for junior high and high school students from home school families.

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