What Is a Worldview?
The following definitions are helpful:
“A set of assumptions or beliefs about reality that affect how we think and how we live” (Cosgrove, 2006, p. 19).
“The comprehensive perspective from which we interpret all of reality” (Keller, 2012, p. 157).
Worldview is often described as a set of lenses through which we view the world. As a descriptive lens, our worldview influences our perception of the world. What is true? What is reality? As a prescriptive lens, our worldview influences our evaluation of what is true. What does it mean? How should we live?
One may readily see that if one views the nature of the universe as consisting of only physical matter and energy, then that person’s understanding of the meaning of life and how we should live will likely be far different from one whose perception of the universe includes a spiritual realm where life continues after death and goodness is rewarded.
While it is true that all people have their own private worldviews with values and beliefs that have been shaped by culture, education, experiences, and relationships, it is also valuable to speak of shared worldviews, those foundational assumptions or beliefs that many people hold in common. For the sake of this course, the course content will be reduced from the many-shared worldviews to three basic worldview families.
What Are the Three Basic Worldview Families?
Though there are many different worldviews, for the purpose of this course they have been simplified into three basic worldview families. There are many variations within these families.
Atheism is the worldview of those who believe only in what their senses can detect–only what may be analyzed and understood in a scientific laboratory. This view believes in no God or spiritual realm. The cosmos consists of only the natural or physical realm of matter and energy. Other names often associated with this worldview family are naturalism and secular humanism. Most whose worldview values and behavior are aligned with atheism prefer to be considered agnostics. These are uncertain of the existence of God, skeptical for the most part, yet open to the possibility.
Pantheism is the worldview of spiritualism, the belief that “all is God” as the word implies. Pantheists believe in a spiritual realm, but no relational God who has revealed himself to humanity and is actively involved in the lives of those who believe in him. This worldview family consists of the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the more eclectic Western belief known as New Age. Pantheists typically embrace an impersonal oneness of which all humans may become a part, becoming godlike themselves as they reach higher levels of spirituality.
Theism, or monotheism, is the worldview of the three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Though these three have huge differences rendering them incompatible with each other, they do nonetheless have some similarities. Theists all believe in a single, personal, and relational God who is the creator and sustainer of all that exists. They all likewise believe in absolute truth and morality, and an afterlife. The focus of this course is Christianity, so the course will be comparing these three worldviews: atheism, pantheism, and Christianity.
Another common worldview name, deism, is somewhat of an enigma–having a basic belief in God, but a God who is not relational or involved in human life. So although falling under the broad category of theism, deists may effectively live as atheists. Many people have complex worldviews that are a mix of various beliefs from the major worldview families.
How Do We Determine Our Worldview?
There are six components that help to determine worldview. The following questions correspond to each component. Answering each of the following questions for yourself will help you begin thinking about your own worldview:
1. What Is Ultimate Reality?
Does reality consist basically of physical matter and energy, as the atheists believe? Is reality an impersonal spiritual entity that dominates the universe and to which all humans must endeavor to attain unity with, as the pantheists assert, or is there a personal and relational, all-powerful, and sovereign God who exists everywhere, but is separate from the physical world he created, as believed by Christians and other theists?
2. What Is the Nature of the Universe?
This is similar to the question above but focuses strictly on what one believes about the natural world. Is the universe strictly physical and yet eternal in one form or another? Is it merely an illusion intended as a battleground for us to work toward enlightenment, or was the universe created by God and far more complex than can be detected by scientists, consisting of both a physical and a spiritual realm?
3. What Is a Human Being?
Is a human basically a biological machine, just a higher level of animal? Is a human a type of god with powers to reach perfection, or is a human an off-the-charts creature designed in the image of God with an eternal spirit like his and similar abilities to reason, seek moral purity, communicate on a high level, create for beauty, and love even those who cannot love in return? Is death the end of existence, or is there a soul that lives on? Does that soul return in another life, or does it return to God and await judgment?
4. What Is Knowledge?
Is there such a thing as absolute truth, or is truth relative? Is true knowledge only that which may be acquired and understood through scientific means, or is there also knowledge that only may be acquired by revelation from God? Should you only trust your senses, or should you explore the spiritual realm and seek knowledge from God?
5. What Is Your Basis of Ethics?
How do you know right from wrong? Is morality learned, or is it designed into our conscience? Is there a set of absolute moral standards given by God, or is morality relative, a matter of culture, and what is acceptable to a society?
6. What the Purpose of Your Existence?
Is human life as you know it merely the result of some amazing cosmic accident, or is there an underlying meaning to history, a purpose toward which time will culminate? Does life have meaning and purpose for individuals, or is it simply whatever one makes it? Did the Creator design his children with a purpose? If so, what might that be?
How Do We Test Our Worldview?
Everyone (not only religious people) forms his or her worldview on the basis of faith (assumptions and presuppositions) and reason. So we must ask ourselves “how reasonable or consistent is our worldview?” Are there any contradictions that are apparent? Testing a worldview is critical because at the end of the day, most people want to make sure that they have truebeliefs about the world. The following tests are just some ways of determining whether or not a particular worldview is true. Consider only three basic tests summarized here:
1. The Coherence Test checks the internal consistency of a worldview to see if one’s specific values and beliefs contradict any other beliefs within the worldview.
2. The Correspondence Test examines how well a worldview corresponds to reality. It evaluates evidences and experiences to see if the worldview matches with what one perceives in the real world.
3. The Practical Test evaluates a worldview’s livability. Does the worldview bring satisfaction as one faces life’s challenges, or is it found to be lacking?
Foundations of Christian Spirituality and Ethics
The foundational beliefs of Christianity inform the Christian understanding of the nature of spirituality and the nature of ethics. Thus, the way in which the Christian worldview answers the six questions above shapes a distinctly Christian spirituality and Christian ethic. The term spirituality has many different definitions in popular culture and in different contexts. One influential definition claims, “spirituality is an aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred” (Puchalski et al., 2009). This definition is broad enough to give a general idea of what spirituality involves, but it does not give a full picture of a person’s spiritual life or spiritual needs. Those details will be filled in by examining a persons specific worldview.
Spirituality in the Christian worldview has its foundations in the reality of a triune God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one being in three persons and is the creator and sustainer of all that exists. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving to his core, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16). This God has revealed himself in different ways to human beings, including through the natural world. However, he has revealed himself and his will for human beings most authoritatively through the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. In this view, whatever it means to be spiritual will in some sense be related directly or indirectly to God, and will come to be known primarily through the teachings of the Bible. Furthermore, Christian spirituality will refer to the beliefs and practices that are meant to reflect the proper functioning of God’s creation, and which promote right relationship to God and deeper knowledge of him. Many times spirituality is taken to be synonymous with the feeling of deep emotion or of oneness with a transcendent reality, but Christian spirituality is not limited to the experience of mere emotions or feelings. Feelings and emotions are an important part of being human, and they are even an important part of one’s relationship to God. Yet, spirituality in the Christian worldview is not dictated by the feelings or emotions one might be experiencing in the moment, but by trust in the goodness of God and obedience to him.
In the same way that Christian spirituality finds its foundations in the reality of the triune God of the Bible, ethics also has its foundations in God. Ethics, broadly speaking, is the study of good and bad, right and wrong. Every worldview has to explain the foundations of ethics (in line with worldview question #5 above) such that it explains the basis of what counts as good and bad, right or wrong. In the Christian worldview, there is a God who exists and has created the world with a moral structure and purpose such that what is truly right and good is a reflection of God’s character. God’s own holy, loving and perfect character is the standard of right and wrong. Badness or what is wrong is then defined as anything that is contrary to God’s character, his will, or to his design and purpose for his creation.
The Bible reveals what God’s character is like. Exodus 34:6-7 says,
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.