The one thing that I don’t do on this blog is “ambulance chase”. I know for some, it’s tempting to “cash in” on recent horrific events that have occurred, and now fills the airwaves, be it news, blogs, and, heaven forbid, political speeches. I believe it’s unfortunate, and says something about our society, that we don’t start “thinking” about things seriously until major crises cause us to stop and reflect. The downside of such a modus operandi is that little “thinking” is done, but a crap-load of reactivity fills the air, particularly from newscasts, talk shows, and politicians.
We hear a lot these days about the notion of worldviews: a Western worldview versus an Eastern worldview; a Christian worldview versus an atheistic worldview; an individualist worldview versus a collectivist worldview, and so on. During the Cold War, there was a worldview in front of and behind the Iron Curtain. But what exactly is a worldview? My purpose for this blog is to explore that question, as well as to encourage people to think, read, and live worldviewishly. Rather than merely reacting to the world and its events, which at times do shake us to the core, is it possible that we can we develop some understanding about the world and the people in it prior to events that come at us? If so, perhaps we can lay a foundation in thinking that allows us to understand what we encounter in life. Can we develop a core that, instead of crumbling, stands the test of the storms of life?
In the discussion that follows, I’m indebted to the work of James W. Sire and many of the books he’s authored. Specifically related to this blog, I draw from his two works, The Universe Next Door and Naming the Elephant, primarily the former. I will utilize Sire’s definition of worldview, as well as the seven questions he delineates that we can ask so as to understand one’s worldview. But there’s a larger question than merely defining and outlining ways we can possibly understand other people’s worldviews. Sire addresses this head-on in his works. We can think and read worldviewishly, as Sire says; however, we also have to live our worldviews. And in fact we do, whether or not we are aware of it. Going beyond mere description, I hope this blog leads one to question his or her worldview and consciously shape it so as to live it out. One of the tough questions of life is whether or not we align what we do or act with what we claim to know. Knowing and doing are two sides of the same coin. If what we’re doing, i.e. how we are living, does not align with what we claim to know or believe, then either we truly don’t understand what we know, or we are simply lost in self-deception.
Rather than reacting to life and following like little lost sheep our favorite talk-show host, politician, or some other guru who claims to have answers to life for us, let’s do the hard work of shaping our own thought, becoming aware, and living out what we claim to believe or know.
I believe it was T. S. Eliot who said, minor poets emulate, great poets steal. So I’m going to cop James W. Sire’s definition of worldview from his work, The Universe Next Door. (Since I’m at least referencing him, perhaps he will forgive me my theft.) Sire’s definition contains several components I want to delineate. But first let’s look at his definition:
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 or being. [p. 17].
This lengthy and rich definition is one that we must unpack. We can glean several components from what Sire has spelled out: commitment; orientation of the heart; expressed in a story or set of presuppositions; held consciously or subconsciously; open to critique as being true or not; lived consistently or inconsistently; and a foundation on which we live out our lives.
A worldview that one holds reaches deep into the core of his or her being. It is a matter of the heart in that one’s worldview entails one’s mind, emotion, and will. Hopefully, our worldview is one on which we build wisdom, that is knowledge and understanding applied to living skillfully, fruitfully, and fully. Sire comments, a worldview is situated in the self – the central operating chamber of every human being. Our worldview is such that we say, I’m committed to thus and thus; this is on what I stand. Our worldview is our channel to how we answer the question: How should I then live?
Expressed in A Story or Set of Presuppositions
When we think about how we would describe our worldview to others, obviously we use the tool of language. We may use the tool of narrative, expressing what we believe in some form of a story that makes sense to us. Likewise, we may draw on some form of logic to express what we believe in an interrelated set of presuppositions. Expressed in propositional form, a worldview is our statement about how we make sense of the world, our place in it, and our relationship to others who populate our world. With our worldview, we seek to make meaning of our existence.
Assumptions Which May Be True, Conscious, or Consistent
The notion of a worldview being true, partially true, or entirely false entails that we leave open our worldview to critique. Such an act sounds easy, but it is exceedingly difficult. To critique our worldview involves our capability to step back from our view of things, critically appraise them, and possibly look at them from other viewpoints. How do I step out of my worldview to accomplish such a task? Rather than the entire worldview, we may have questions about various components of our take on existence. To alter certain components of a worldview, however, can lead to minor or major shifts in our thinking. Questioning, analyzing, and critical inquiry allows us to do such assessment. The importance and the will to do so, however, may be built into our very worldview. If our worldview is closed to critical inquiry, then we are trapped in a maze of subjectivity.
It would be comforting if all of us were fully aware of what we believed. As finite human beings, that simply does not appear to be the case. Many times it takes experiences that shake up our thinking to discover that we are not living the way we thought we were. Other people, as well, can point out to us, or at least question us regarding our consistency with what we claim to believe. These experiences, too, call for our being open to our willingness to question, analyze, and assess. Knowing and doing is a powerful dynamic in life. The recognition that we are living out what we claim to know provides a powerful sense of fulfillment. Likewise, becoming aware of those times when we are not consistent in doing what we claim to know, allows us a corrective. Moreover, such awareness may lead to our questioning the foundations of our worldview, which, in turn, can lead to worldview shifts.
The Foundation on Which We Live
Again, knowing and doing is a powerful dynamic in life. Our worldview, as Sire points out, may not be exactly what we think it is. No doubt, however, what we show in our words and actions has much to declare about our worldview. Our worldview is the foundation off which we act and move through life. Personal and private analysis of our worldview must begin with profound reflection on how we actually behave. I personally believe there is nothing more disturbing than when I realize that I’m living in a disconnect with what I claim to believe and hold as true.
Thinking, Reading, and Living Worldviewishly
In this technological age, we encounter people from all over the globe who live in different cultures, with totally different backgrounds, values, and language. We also consume an extraordinary amount of books, magazines, blog articles, movies, plays, as well as all the various art forms from painting, photography, to sculpture. How do we think about all the worldviews that form the foundation of what people think, say, and do? Or do we think about it all? Rather than merely defining worldview, I hope this blog encourages readers to think, read, and live worldviewishly. James W. Sire, in his book, The Universe Next Door, provides seven questions we can ask, not only about our own worldview, but also about other people’s worldviews as they proffer what they theorize, hypothesize, think, as well as how they act and live out what they believe.
The questions Sire puts forth are as follows: 1) What is prime reality – the really real? 2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? 3) What is a human being? 4) What happens to a person at death? 5) Why is it possible to know anything at all? 6) How do we know right from wrong? 7) What is the meaning of human history?
Most philosophers, theologians, ethicists, artists, and others may not have an answer for all these questions, but they most likely have considered some of them in detail. Indeed, systems of thought seek to answer these questions in some systemic and logical manner. The questions cover the gamut of philosophical thought that people have asked from the docks and streets to the ivory tower of academics. Ontology, identity of nature, anthropology, death and finitude, epistemology, and understanding of history are all covered by these seven questions. And they are questions we can ask as we talk with others, read what others write, think, and say, as well as recognizing how they live. They are questions we can ask about our own take on existence as well. Then there are those uncomfortable questions: How am I living? Does what I do align with what I claim to believe? If not, how should I then live? Knowing and doing – how do we put it togehter? These questions, as well as others, can help us think, read, and live worldviewishly.
No doubt, Sire’s discussion and what I’ve said here are couched in a worldview. We cannot escape our worldview, even to think about, discuss, and act on our and other people’s worldviews. Hopefully, this blog will encourage readers to reflect upon, contemplate, and delineate their personal view of existence. I believe if we have a solid understanding of what we believe, how we think about the world and others, and how we grasp the major questions of life, then we might be less reactive when we encounter horrific events. Moreover, we can begin to think for ourselves rather than jumping on the bandwagon of newscasters, talk-show hosts, and politicians. My personal worldview calls us out to embrace the freedom to think about our own lives, shape our worldviews as consciously, with as much awareness as possible, and to live them out as consistently as we know how. All the time, however, we remain open to critique, analysis, and further understanding. From my worldview, such a process is called personal and spiritual growth.
John V. Jones, Jr, PH.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2016