Worldviews-What You Think, Even When You’re Not Thinking About It

by Matt Lefebvre

What is a worldview?

The subject of worldviews is a vast topic, because it is hard to think of something in which worldview is not involved, so it is also hard to know where to start when writing about it.  Breaking the word down, it may seem to mean something as simple as “looking at the world” in the same sense as ocean view could mean you have a room that allows you to look at the ocean.  However, the concept of a “worldview”, as the term is used today, encompasses a lot more than simply how people view the world.  Thus, before I jump into describing various worldviews, some definition is in order.  I find humour to be a good tool in getting us to think about the way we think, so by way of introduction, I hope a joke will prove useful.

A man sat down at a restaurant and promptly asked the waitress to turn up the air conditioning, saying he was too hot.  Just a few minutes later, this man asked the waitress to turn the air conditioning down, because now he was too cold.  This same exchange went on several times throughout the man’s lunch and the waitress was very patient with the customer, never once getting angry.  Finally, the man paid for his lunch and left the restaurant.  Another customer had been watching how this man just couldn’t be satisfied and was impressed that this waitress didn’t lose her nerve.  As the waitress was passing by her table, the customer asked, “I can’t believe how difficult that guy was being.  How could you not get angry at him?”  The waitress just smiled and said, “Oh, it’s no big deal.  We don’t even have an air conditioner!”

A definition I find helpful comes from James Sire.  The reason I think it is useful is its attempt to cover the various aspects of a worldview, complete with antitheses: “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) 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.” (Naming the Elephant, p.122).  The man in this little story finds himself in a situation when he is too hot and not long after that he is too cold, but in line with the above definition, his views might not be in line with reality.  He thinks the temperature is not what it should be and he acts accordingly, but if he had known the truth that there was no air conditioner, it would most likely have changed his views and therefore, his actions.  A worldview is not just what we think about; it is actually what we think with!  Our worldview determines the fundamental orientation of our lives, for better or for worse, and is thus worthy of our conscious attention.  Just because we have a worldview does not mean we chose it or have spent time thinking about the values and consequences of it, so I hope to raise what I consider to be important questions about the most common worldviews.  I am not going to hide the fact that I will be defending the Christian worldview, but regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I do hope that whatever your worldview is, I can at least convince you of the significance of examining some crucial issues.

 

Why does it matter?


Now you may be asking yourself why I consider worldview assessment to be important.  After all, some would say that it is intolerant to question other people’s beliefs or that people can just find their own path because there are many ways to God.   There is even the assertion that all religions teach basically the same thing.  In reference to intolerance, it is usually in reference to Christianity, because we make exclusive claims.  However, what is usually meant by tolerance is not simply respecting the beliefs of others and not imposing one’s beliefs on someone else, with which I would agree, but rather that tolerance means accepting anyone’s beliefs as equally valid and equally true.  While this may sound very accepting at first, it really sets up an absolute claim to truth, because it must reject those who claim to have exclusive truth, like Christianity.  So even though they seemingly accept all truth claims as valid, they can really only accept those who agree with them on this central point.  This leads to a logical inconsistency and really only reveals the exclusiveness of those who want to be considered inclusive.

This is not to say that as a Christian I must believe that there is no truth whatsoever in other religions, for this would equally lead to a logical inconsistency.  Philosopher Charles Taliaferro lists five examples of “the Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do to you-Matthew 7:12) in five different traditions outside the Bible and there are many more examples of this similar teaching from other religions and teachers (Philosophy of Religion, p.185).  However, to go from this to saying that all religions just teach that we should do good to one another, without having any significant difference in teaching is highly uninformed.  I hope this will become clearer as I go through different worldviews and also that not all religions can thus be true.  One could be right or we could all be wrong, but in looking at the kind of things different people believe, we certainly cannot all be right.

How can worldviews be evaluated?

Any worldview can be evaluated on the basis of some fundamental questions and though lists vary, there are four main ideas that emerge:

  1. Origin-Where did we come from?
  2. Meaning-Who are we and why are we here?
  3. Morality-How should we live?
  4. Destiny-Where are we going?

These questions arise as we as humans wonder about our lives and worldviews attempt to answer them in various ways.  However, for a worldview to be good it does not merely have to provide answers for these questions, but it must correspond to reality.  If a worldview does not do so, there will be consequences.  To give an example, even if I do not believe in cliffs or gravity, it would still not be in my best interest to jump off a cliff.  No matter how sincere my belief might be, reality will catch up with me sooner or later in different ways.

Dean Halverson gives some helpful criteria for testing the truth of a worldview (The Compact Guide to World Religions, p.30):

  1. Logical consistency-A true worldview will not contradict itself
  2. Factuality-A true worldview will best fit the facts
  3. Viability-One can live consistently with a worldview that is true

The first criterion allows a person to evaluate whether any given worldview actually makes sense within itself as an answer to the basic questions of life.  If concepts and ways of thinking oppose each other, it is not very beneficial in answering basic questions.  Secondly, it would be expected that if a worldview is true, it would not go against the facts presented in the world around us.  If it does, either we are not very good at discovering things or our worldview needs to be reevaluated.  Finally, a true worldview is one that can be lived out in real life.  A worldview may sound agreeable and theoretically plausible, but if it does not work in actual practice or is irrelevant to how we live, it may not be as great as it first sounded.  It should also be pointed out that even within any given worldview there can be variations, as we will see, but what I will be presenting is a general overview of commonly shared beliefs within the different worldviews.

Now that I have explained a little about what a worldview is, you may want to read about some of the different worldviews.  I have evaluated the worldviews from a Christian perspective, so if you do not know much about the Christian worldview, it might be helpful to start with the article about Christianity.

Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism

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Comments
  1. Max says:

    Matt,

    Thank you for such a detailed and funny introduction to Worldview topic! Keep up the good work.

    I wish you guys have fruitful work both in your studies and in maintaining this useful blog.

    Max

  2. I have shared your link. I am taking an Apologetics class at Liberty University and this goes right along with the papers we have been assigned about worldview. You clarify the topics very well. Thanks for posting this.

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