Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Review: The Importance and Impact of Worldview

This week, we're reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger by OBU's Whitlock-era religion hires.  You may find the original article for this review here.

Again, this article is a basic introduction to the concept of "Worldview" with a bit more explanation as to what areas a "worldview" covers-- and what material will be covered through the rest of the series. The author begins with a story of three friends on a Safari. Upon seeing the same safari animals, each comes to a different conclusion about the meaning of such a sight. This difference, the author suggests, is due to "worldview." A "worldview" then, is the conceptual lens by which each person makes meaning in her/his world. The author determines the four core questions answered by "worldview" to be: "What is our nature? What is our world? What is our problem? What is our destination?" The author continues to suggest that "worldview" is thus important because it provides the frame by which we all make meaning out of the events of our lives. The author concludes by mentioning that there are many different kinds of worldview, "Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Existentialist, New Age, etc.," and gives some criteria for determining if "someone’s worldview is true—that is, if they see the world the way the world really is?" His suggested criteria include internal consistency, external consistency, and liveability. After reiterating the importance of a worldview which answers fundamental questions, he ends by saying, "It is, therefore, crucial that we examine our worldview, to ensure that we see the world the way God does."

First, the author is quite right to suggest that every person has a "worldview" and that it is the way we all make meaning of our world. I, perhaps, would not use the word "worldview" but the way he defines it, it does the trick. This is very similar to the idea of "thinking theologically" about all things which I introduced yesterday. The point is interesting, then, that the author admits that meaning is created by each person and not picked up objectively from the outside world. This is a very astute observation and bears remembering.

So then, perhaps I do not take issue with the idea of worldview but with the way it is being appropriated. One of our commenters (Thanks, Chris!) astutely pointed out that calling our own particular frame with which we view the world the "Christian Worldview" is simply taking the authority of Christianity and stamping it onto our own set of meaning-making presuppositions. Surely, we derive our worldview in great part from religion-- I'm not saying that the author's worldview is unchristian. But is it the Christian worldview? Are there not many things on which Christians disagree? 

Especially in light of the way the author of the last article insisted that worldview is adopted from the bible, it makes me cautious when anyone speaks of "The Christian worldview" or "The Biblical worldview." Case in point, let us take the example of the animals on the safari. Sure, Christians might all agree that those animals are created by God. But then what? Should we protect them as God's creatures? Or should we care nothing for them because as soon as the earth is destroyed Jesus is coming back?-- Both options come from people with "Christian worldviews" and find their backing in scripture.

So my problem with worldview, with the way it is being used by the authors of these articles, is the way that they turn to worldview to solve all of their problems. It is as if we could just teach everyone the right answers to the four questions of the article, "What is our nature? What is our world? What is our problem? What is our destination?," then we would all know the right answers to everything all the time. (Also, look for the suggested answers to these questions provided by the series in the upcoming articles. Thus far we really only have hints-- but we're getting there.)

But that doesn't really work. First, Christians don't know everything (remember Paul's looking into a mirror dimly), and second, that which we do know, we disagree on. So even if we had all of the completely correct answers to those important questions (we don't), we still probably wouldn't know what to do with them.

The other major problematic implication of this use of worldview is the divisions which it draws between "us and them." There are the people with the "Christian worldview" and there are those with other kinds of worldviews. Ours is true and theirs isn't. End of story.

That is a shockingly different affirmation than the one which I received at OBU which was to "seek God's truth wherever it may be found" and that "all truth is God's truth." Rather, this use of "worldview" presupposes that Christians have the monopoly on truth. I am not saying that we should believe everything we hear-- but I am saying that people who are not Christians are not stupid. And they don't believe what they believe for no good reason.

Again, take the author's example of the animals on the safari. I may not agree with the new age persona he crafts to say there is a "spark of the divine" in the animals just as there is in human beings. But, probably I could learn a lot more about caring for the creation of God in real ways from someone who does believe that than from many Evangelicals. 

And what about the picture he gives of the atheist response, supposed to be characteristic of Richard Dawkins? Fundamentalists might be surprised to find how much they have in common with Dawkins worldview-- i.e. the need for absolute truth based on hard evidence. Granted, they come out on different sides of the equation. But believing there is proof that there is a God and believing that there is proof that there is no God requires many of the same underlying presuppositions.

I guess what I am trying to say is that reducing someone to a "______ worldview" be it Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, New Age, etc. means we cannot take them seriously as people. Because believe it or not, there is as much diversity in each of those movements as there is within Christianity. And each of those people probably has something to teach you.

If we are going to affirm that all people are made in the image of God-- then there is something to learn about God from all people, no matter their worldview.

If OBU really wants to "equip students to engage a diverse world" the way to do it is not to teach them why they are already right and already have all the answers while everyone else is wrong. 

And finally, once they leave Bison Hill and begin to meet people who are different from them, they may find that many different "worldviews" are "liveable." I'm not saying that makes them all worth the same. But I think it's pretty offensive to say that no one can live a bearable life without Christianity. It's the straw-man fallacy. People all over the world spend their whole lives unchristian all the time. And if you think that they are all miserable, what will it do to your faith when you find out that they're not?

So I agree with the author that "worldview" is important. But I am unsure if it can be taught as a definitive set of answers. First, those are answers that we don't have-- and they are answers that are incomplete anyway. If we are truly seeking to be a Liberal Arts University which integrates faith and learning-- that probably means my faith is going to be shaped by that which I learn-- and hopefully I will never stop learning. 

The purpose of education is not to create students with all the answers. The point is to teach students how to learn-- and that God is faithful to us when we seek to find God in the truth. But all of us must be willing to change, because this side of glory, we will never have it figured out completely.

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