Our task here is to define and understand exactly what worldviews are and how they operate and work via the individual, through the community and through a national identity and understanding. This means taking into consideration different cultures and historical periods while they adhere the same world, yet expressing their view of life in a radical and almost diametrical opposition to one another. Various terms are used for describing worldviews such as: way of life, view of the world, way of understanding, interpretative framework, view of reality, ethos, cultural assumptions, philosophy, set of values and value system. This is in no way a complete and final essay on worldviews but may be taken as a starting point.
- Albert Wolters defines a worldview succinctly as “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things”.(Creation Regained, Leicester: IVP, 1986, P.2.)
- James Sire comments “….a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously) about the basic make-up of our world”.
“A worldview is composed of a number of basic assumptions, more or less self-consistent, generally unquestioned by each person, rarely, if ever, mentioned by his friends, and only brought to mind when challenged by a foreigner from another ideological universe”.
(The Universe Next Door, Downers Grove, III, IVP, 1977, P. 17/18.)
- Charles Kraft brings out the relationship between worldview and cultural life:
“Cultures pattern perceptions of reality into conceptualizations of what reality can or should be, what is to be regarded as actual, probable, possible and impossible. The worldview is the central systematization of conceptions of reality to which members of a culture assent (largely unconsciously) and from which stems their value system. The worldview lies at the heart of the culture, touching, interfacing with, and strongly influencing every aspect of culture”. (Christianity in Culture, Maryknoll, N.Y: Obis, 1979, p.53.)
- Warren Wager defines a worldview as: “…. a picture of the world that reveals the meaning of life and the ends for which life should be lived; ….a conception of the nature of the cosmic and human reality that discloses the meaning of life …. Worldview furnish answers to the largest questions that human beings can ask about their condition … The ingredients in a worldview may have cognitive significance to the thinker; he may find them true. But a worldview is pre-eminently a structure of values, a credo responding to man’s need for anchorage in life. Its ultimate source lies not in any formal system of religion, philosophy or science, but in our ancient psychic struggle to establish a relationship to the world that binds heart and will. It functions in the conscious and the unconscious mind. It is a surrogate for the instinctual world of animal life”.
Worldviews: A Study in Comparative History. (Hinsdale, Illinois: Dryden Press, 1977.)
Worldviews – A Guide to Life
The above examples are illustrations of distinctive ways of life, which includes all human experience and activity. They are in essence, a means of believing, and how ultimately we arrive at personal conclusions and opinions on how we see things in life around us, how we feel about culture, justice, arts, the science, life and ourselves in general. They are in fact a guide to life – although the individual is primarily unaware as to how they have arrived at their personal worldview despite having strong opinions within it. The areas that a worldview covers is all that human beings are active in which include such areas as social and economic, moral and legal, political and medical, liturgical and celebrative. They shape the entirety of our lives and no area can evade their directing effects. However, the manner in which a worldview fashions a persons way of life is complex and difficult to understand in its formation.
Worldviews – A Communally Held View.
Rarely does a single person hold an individual worldview but rather worldviews are held together within a community, a society or indeed, a nation, hence individuals may co-exist within a community on the basis of a shared understanding of life, relating and joining together towards the common good. In general, the means for an individual to acquire a worldview is by joining a community and adopting that communities lifestyle.
Presuppositions play a vital role in worldview.
- Central to one’s thought forms (or noetic structure) are beliefs that are presupposed without support from other beliefs, or arguments, or evidence. These presuppositions are taken upon faith.
- Such presuppositions or assumptions are necessary in order to think at all. (When we think, we simply take some things for granted. Even scientists in order to do science, make certain important assumptions: They make ethical assumptions (honesty is good, even vital in research). They make metaphysical assumptions (the universe is regular, nature is uniform). They make epistemological assumptions (knowledge is possible, there is a real correspondence between physical phenomena and the human mind).
- The assumptions one makes that are most important to worldview are in philosophy and religion. The reason for this is that philosophical and religious assumptions “put us on a set of tracks” that lead to certain inevitable destinations.
- People are never neutral with regard to God. They either worship Him as Creator and Lord or they reject the rightful claims He has upon His creatures.
The major elements of a worldview.
There are certain commonalities when speaking of worldviews.
- Each worldview has an ultimate reference point (or authoritative vantage point).
- In a world where the law of non-contradiction is universal, two contradicting statements cannot both be true. (This is most obvious to the believer, but in a culture that is increasingly relativistic, it is a needed reminder. It is of special importance when dealing with the internal inconsistencies of the natural man’s worldview.)
- In order to reason at all, every person presupposes certain things to be true without absolute proof.
- Only one worldview mirrors reality – although many worldviews embody certain aspects of reality, ‘what is’ and which are not based on superstition and ideals. Like a key to a complex lock, one worldview fits the lock (with its unique combination of slots and tumblers). Only the Christian worldview opens the locked barrier that separates experience from truth and reality.
The elements that make up a person’s worldview can be broken down into five categories.
- THEOLOGY – What does the person believe about the existence of God? What is God’s relationship with nature? Is God personal? Can He be known? If so, how may He be known? What are God’s attributes?
- METAPHYSICS – What is the nature of ultimate reality? What is God’s relation to the universe? Is the universe sustained by God or is it self-existent? Is the universe created? Is the universe co-eternal with God? Is the universe mechanistic, solely material, non-purposeful, closed?
- EPISTEMOLOGY – Is knowledge about the world possible? Can man trust his senses? Does man’s abstract reason correspond with the physical universe so that meaning is possible? Is all truth relative and none absolute? What is the proper role of reason? Can God reveal Himself? Has God infallibly revealed Himself? What is the ultimate authority in the realm of knowledge? What is the source of man’s innate ideas?
- ETHICS – Are moral laws the same for all people? Are moral laws to be discerned by investigation? Are moral laws constructed by human beings? Is there an absolute source external to humans? (Do morals transcend culture, history, and individual boundaries?) Are morals always changing?
- ANTHROPOLOGY – Are humans “pawns” controlled by deterministic forces? Is man material only, or does he have a soul? Does man’s existence end at death or is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven and a hell where individuals are conscious and physically present?
The Basis of Worldviews – Faith
Worldviews entail the sum total of propositions a person believes. Faith – ‘human faith’ plays a crucial role in peoples view of life, its creation and maintenance in an on going modern society. Walsh and Middleton state that “worldviews are founded on faith commitments . . . our ultimate faith commitment sets the contours of our worldviews. It shapes our vision for a way of life”
Wolter’s writes: “worldviews have to do with basic beliefs about things. They have to do with the ultimate questions we are confronted with; they involve matters of general principle”.
Ultimate World View Questions
- “Who am I” – What is the nature and significance of human beings ?
- “Where am I ?” – What is the origin and nature of the reality in which humans find themselves ?
- “What’s wrong ?” – How can we account for the distortion and brokenness in this reality ?
- “What’s the remedy ?” – How can we alleviate this brokenness, if at all ?
James Sire in his The Universe Next Door sets out the following list of basic worldview questions:
- What is prime reality – the really real? To this we might answer God, or the gods, or the material cosmos.
- Who is man? To this we might answer a highly complicated electro-chemical machine whose complexity we do not understand, or a personal being created by God in his own image, or a sleeping god, and so forth.
- What happens to man at death? Here we might reply that man experiences personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or departure to a shady existence on “the other side”.
- What is the basis of morality? The character of God, the affirmation of men, the impetus toward cultural or physical survival, we might say, among other things.
- What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer to realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare for a life in community with a loving and holy God.
These then are the ultimate questions we face in life. They are questions of faith (even if you hold to no spirituality or religion) and the answers we give are our ultimate commitments in life – things we would stake our lives upon.
Worldviews are not purely intellectual or theoretical frameworks
It is a misunderstanding to think that worldviews are purely the domain of the intellectuals and philosophers with deep theories on the nature of the cosmos, life and everything else. They are not some value and thought systems brought about by intellectuals, writings of classical scholars or political treatise, although theoretical frame works and philosophies are very much influenced by worldviews. But they are not the same as worldviews. It is crucial to understand that worldviews are not the sole domain of scholars and not only influence academic studies – but they nevertheless shape the entirety of our lives as no area of life can evade their directing effect so that they assist in forming a fundamental perspective and outlook on the whole of life, leading to a “confessional vision”.
Components Found in All Worldviews
In addition to putting worldviews to these tests, we should also see that worldviews have common components. These components are self-evident. It is important to keep these in mind as you establish your own worldview, and as you share with others. There are four of them.
First, something exists. This may sound obvious, but it really is an important foundational element of worldview building since some will try to deny it. But a denial is self- defeating because all people experience cause and effect. The universe is rational; it is predictable.
Second, all people have absolutes. Again, many will try to deny this, but to deny it is to assert it. All of us seek an infinite reference point. For some it is God; for others it is the state, or love, or power, and for some this reference point is themselves or man.
Third, two contradictory statements cannot both be right. This is a primary law of logic that is continually denied. Ideally speaking, only one worldview can correctly mirror reality. This cannot be overemphasized in light of the prominent belief that tolerance is the ultimate virtue. To say that someone is wrong is labeled intolerant or narrow-minded. A good illustration of this is when we hear people declare that all religions are the same. It would mean that Hindus, for example, agree with Christians concerning God, Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, and a host of other doctrines. This is nonsense.
Fourth, all people exercise faith. All of us presuppose certain things to be true without absolute proof. These are inferences or assumptions upon which a belief is based. This becomes important, for example, when we interact with those who allege that only the scientist is completely neutral. Some common assumptions are: a personal God exists; man evolved from inorganic material; man is essentially good; reality is material.
As we dialogue with people who have opposing worldviews, an understanding of these common components can help us listen more patiently, and they can guide us to make our case more wisely.
Six Worldview Questions
First, Why is there something rather than nothing? Some may actually say something came from nothing. Others may state that something is here because of impersonal spirit or energy. And many believe matter is eternal.
Second, How do you explain human nature? Frequently people will say we are born as blank slates, neither good nor evil. Another popular response is that we are born good, but society causes us to behave otherwise.
Third, What happens to a person at death? Many will say that a person’s death is just the disorganization of matter. Increasingly people in our culture are saying that death brings reincarnation or realization of oneness.
Fourth, How do you determine what is right and wrong? Often we hear it said that ethics are relative or situational. Others assert that we have no free choice since we are entirely determined. Some simply derive “oughts” from what “is”. And of course history has shown us the tragic results of a “might makes right” answer.
Fifth, How do you know that you know? Some say that the mind is the center of our source of knowledge. Things are only known deductively. Others claim that knowledge is only found in the senses. We know only what is perceived.
Sixth, What is the meaning of history? One answer is that history is determined as part of a mechanistic universe. Another answer is that history is a linear stream of events linked by cause and effect but without purpose. Yet another answer is that history is meaningless because life is absurd.
(Copyright-written by Jerry Solomon-Probe Ministries)
What is REALITY? – What is man MAN?– What is TRUTH? – What are true VALUES?
These and many other life questions have many answers – all based not necessarily on prime reality but rather on what ‘collective’ worldview a person holds within a community or culture, as may be seen from the following. In each case the description for each of the worldviews are an assessment but may merge one into another.
Naturalism: Atheism; Agnosticism; Existentialism
The material universe is all that exists. Reality is “one-dimensional”. There is no such thing as a soul or a spirit. Everything can be explained on the basis of natural law. Man is the chance product of a biological process of evolution. Man is entirely material. The human species will one day pass out of existence. Truth is usually understood as scientific proof. Only that which can be observed with the five senses is accepted as real or true. No objective values or morals exist. Morals are individual preferences or socially useful behaviors. Even social morals are subject to evolution and change.
Pantheism: Hinduism; Taoism; Buddhism; much New Age Consciousness
Only the spiritual dimension exists. All else is illusion, maya. Spiritual reality, Brahman, is eternal, impersonal, and unknowable. It is possible to say that everything is a part of God, or that God is in everything and everyone. Man is one with ultimate reality. Thus man is spiritual, eternal, and impersonal. Man’s belief that he is an individual is illusion. Truth is an experience of unity with “the oneness” of the universe. Truth is beyond all rational description. Rational thought as it is understood in the West cannot show us reality. Because ultimate reality is impersonal, many pantheistic thinkers believe that there is no real distinction between good and evil. Instead, “unenlightened” behavior is that which fails to understand essential unity.
Theism: Christianity; Islam; Judaism
An infinite, personal God exists. He created a finite, material world. Reality is both material and spiritual. The universe as we know it had a beginning and will have an end. Humankind is the unique creation of God. People were created “in the image of God,” which means that we are personal, eternal, spiritual, and biological. Truth about God is known through revelation. Truth about the material world is gained via revelation and the five senses in conjunction with rational thought. Moral values are the objective expression of an absolute moral being.
Spiritism and Polytheism: Thousands of Religions
The world is populated by spirit beings who govern what goes on. Gods and demons are the real reason behind “natural” events. Material things are real, but they have spirits associated with them and, therefore, can be interpreted spiritually. Man is a creation of the gods like the rest of the creatures on earth. Often, tribes or races have a special relationship with some gods who protect them and can punish them. Truth about the natural world is discovered through the shaman figure who has visions telling him what the gods and demons are doing and how they feel. Moral values take the form of taboos, which are things that irritate or anger various spirits. These taboos are different from the idea of “good and evil” because it is just as important to avoid irritating evil spirits as it is good ones.
Reality must be interpreted through our language and cultural “paradigm.” Therefore, reality is “socially constructed.” Humans are nodes in a cultural reality – they are a product of their social setting. The idea that people are autonomous and free is a myth. Truths are mental constructs meaningful to individuals within a particular cultural paradigm. They do not apply to other paradigms. Truth is relative to one’s culture. Values are part of our social paradigms as well. Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values.
Copyright-Xenos WEB site at http://www.xenos.org)
Wolters, Albert. Creation Regained, Leicester: IVP, 1986.
Sire, James. The Universe Next Door, Downers Grove, III, IVP, 1977.
Kraft, Charles. Christianity in Culture, Maryknoll, N.Y: Obis, 1979.
Wager, Warren. Worldviews: A Study in Comparative History. (Hinsdale, Illinois: Dryden Press, 1977.
Danto, C Arthur. The Abuse of Beauty, Open Court, Illinois, 2003.
Danto, C Arthur. unnatural wonders, Columbia University Press, New York, 2005.
Seerveld, Calvin. Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves, Piquant, UK, 2000.
I would like to thank my friend and mentor the philosopher and writer Richard Russell for assisting me on my journey in trying to think wisely. Also for my studies at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity on the Offspring Project.