Friday, February 12, 2010

Worldview, Part 1 - Definition, Components, and Nature of a Worldview

Romans 12:1-2 reads: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I. Introduction: What is a Worldview?

A. Definitions

(1) “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions … which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” (Sire, Naming the Elephant, 122)

(2) The conceptual lenses through which we view the world.

(3) [Christian worldview is] the “attempt to provide a comprehensive explanation of reality that is rooted in the Word of God.” (Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, 4)

B. Components of a Worldview

Every worldview answers at least six fundamental questions:

(1) What is ultimate reality? (God, Brahma, Allah, Demiurge, universe, multiverse)
(2) What is the nature of the universe? (the nature and character of the physical world: created/eternal; real/illusory; purely material/material-spiritual)
(3) What is the nature of man? (imago dei, sinful/normal, evolved/created, dualism/physicalism)
(4) What is wrong with the world, and what is the solution? (sin, ignorance, prejudice; salvation, enlightenment, tolerance)
(5) What happens to human beings after death? (judgment, universal salvation, reincarnation, extinction
(6) How do we know what is right and wrong? (ethics: divine moral law, social contract, evolutionary morality, transcendence of moral categories)

Every worldview makes assumptions in each of those six areas. For example, the Buddhist worldview (in classic Buddhism, anyway), claims that what is simply is, without explanation, and there is no divine transcendent Being; the physical world is primarily illusory; our fundamental problem is ignorance; the solution to the problem is enlightenment and getting rid of all personal attachments; after we die we are reincarnated endless times until (unless) we achieve enlightenment, at which point we are absorbed into an impersonal nirvana that transcends nothingness; moral categories represent mistaken worldly categories, and must ultimately be transcended.

The atheist worldview claims that the universe sprang into existence from nothingness with no explanation, life arose on primordial earth through random chemical reactions, and human life evolved through random mutation and natural selection; our primary problem is enslavement to a superstitious worldview that promotes religious belief; the solution to the problem is intellectual evolution; after we die we entirely cease to be; human ethics are either socially contrived or the result of naturally evolved reciprocal altruism.

The worldview questions can be put in different ways. James Sire, in Naming the Elephant and The Universe Next Door, develops seven fundamental worldview questions – (1), (2), (3), (5), and (6) above; plus (4) how is it possible to know anything at all?, and (7) what is the nature and meaning of history?

One could also compress the worldview questions into three: (1) Where did we come from? (2) Where are we now? (3) Where are we going?

C. The Nature of a Worldview

Every person has a worldview—worldview is ubiquitous and universal. But there are three distinctions in the nature of worldviews that we need to take note of.

(1) Some worldviews are consciously acknowledged; some are unconsciously entrenched. For example, I unapologetically hold a Christian theistic worldview which proclaims and worships God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But I have met many folks who have unknowingly embraced and adopted a worldview which discounts the very possibility of a personal, active deity.

(2) Some worldviews are critically analyzed; others are unquestioningly embraced. For example, Dr. Gary Habermas grew up in a Christian home, but had his faith shaken by trials and tribulations; he was forced to critically examine his worldview, and after a few years of philosophical and emotional searching, he concluded that the Christian worldview was, in fact, correct. He remains a vibrant Christian today, and a world-class philosopher and professor as well. On the other hand, there are folks in all of our churches who have grown up within the Church, remained in it their entire lives, and never felt a need to question or doubt the truth of their faith. Similarly, many are brought up within an agnostic or atheistic worldview, and never question the truth of the beliefs that they were taught as children. Others, like myself, come to a point where they examine the coherence and liveability of atheism, and convert to Christianity.

(3) Finally, some worldviews are challenged and eventually rejected; others are held firmly for life. For example, Billy Graham and Charles Templeton began their adult life on the same path—as promising and powerful Christian evangelists. In their mid-20s, they simultaneously went through a deep crisis of faith and belief. Billy Graham remained on the Christian path; Charles Templeton questioned and eventually rejected the Christian worldview, and is now an elderly agnostic.
So worldviews can be conscious or unconscious; examined or unexamined; rejected or maintained. But worldviews are like souls—everyone has one, even if they don’t know it or don’t like the fact. Unfortunately, the worldview of many (perhaps most) Canadians (and Americans) is unconscious and unexamined. The Greek philosopher Socrates declared, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To modify Socrates’ wisdom, I would also argue that the unexamined worldview is not worth holding. As Christians, we need to consciously hold and examine our worldview, and seek to see reality through the correct interpretive lenses.

In my next post, I will discuss the power and influence of worldview, and stress the importance of engaging people (inside and outside the church) on a worldview level. As always, comments, questions and feedback are appreciated!