Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's Your Worldview?

I’ve been thinking lately about worldviews, what the Germans called weltenshauung in the 19th century (in fact, “worldview” comes from the translation of the German word.). Its approximate meaning is how one views the world, or even the universe, and humanity’s relation to it.

Ideally, a worldview would emerge after careful study, instruction, guidance, inference and understanding. I don’t know if any worldview, or any specific person’s worldview, actually happens that way. These days, to watch what passes for governance in our national and state capitals, the only worldview that seems to matter is power and who has it at the moment. One might even argue that many of us have a worldview, and we see and interpret everything to justify what we believe, whether it does or not. And perhaps especially when it does not.

However a person develops a worldview, it’s clear that we all have one, even if we’re unconscious of it. It could be a religious worldview – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, secular. It could be political – Democrat, Republican, Socialist, communist, progressive, liberal, conservative. It might be economic – wealthy, poor, middle class. It could be based on education. It might be some combination of all of these and others (and usually is). And we all have one.

Worldviews tend to filter things out and in. If a congressman proposes a tax, like an increase in income taxes, worldviews automatically determine how it will be received, explained and understood. I’ll give you two names, and your response to each will tell me a lot – probably everything – about your worldview. The first name: Sarah Palin. The second name: Barack Obama.

(The media play a role in this, too, of course, and the media have their own particular worldview, one that usually starts with denial of having one. Journalists always seem so shocked to be accused of bias.)

The times we live in seem to require that worldviews scream at each other. Every worldview presupposes that anything conflicting with it must be destroyed, or at a minimum contained and neutralized. We live in shrill times, and shrill times require reasonable people to be marginalized.

This is not an argument for coexistence, like the bumper sticker reads. But it might be an argument, perhaps a plea, for civility.

In chapter five of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis puts his finger on this issue of worldview:

“…Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind that law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power – it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.”

In fact, until we all have understood there is a Moral Law, and a Power behind it, and how we have all failed to obey that Law, then the spectacles of worldviews screaming at each other will continue.

And end badly.

This post is part of the book discussion hosted by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. To see other posts, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.


Megan Willome said...

I heard a recent interview with Cormac McCarthy, and I don't have the exact quote, but he said that just because he's a pessimist doesn't mean that he has to be miserable. My thoughts exactly! That'll do for my worldview: pessimistic, but not miserable.

Helen said...

Great points. When I read that same passage, it clicked as to why he is explaining the obvious. It is true that some people don't recognize themselves as having done anything in need of forgiveness. He was trying to find a polite way to convince his listeners and readers of their (our) own sinfulness.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

My reaction to the name, Barack Obama is, "Yikes! Please have mercy on us Father." My reaction to the name, Sarah Palin is, "She's a Christian woman. Everyone wants to show how tolerant they are and prove they are more accepting- to put the first woman in office. Is she truly qualified? Father forgive us for focusing on things that shouldn't matter. Grant us wisdom. Your will be done." There is a real Moral Law and the power of God is behind it, waiting for us to let Him lead.

jasonS said...

I think Lewis is brilliant for building brick by brick in this, and so many don't understand their own worldview or what has gone into forming it. This is a patient, careful, thoughtful examination and I believe more people need this desperately. Wonderful post, Glynn. Thanks so much.

Gwen Stewart said...

"Mere Christianity"=classic for the ages.

I agree about the shrill times we live in, too. Good people can and do disagree. Used to be we were all "Americans" even though some of us voted D and some R. Now, it seems, one or the other group is downright "unAmerican"...

God bless you. I'll return to read more from "Mere Christianity" of my all-time favorite books!

Maureen said...

Very well-written post, Glynn, that leads beautifully to the C.S. Lewis quote. I keep thinking how wonderful it would be to wake up one morning and find everyone helping everyone else, working for the common good of people everywhere. Well, I can hope....

H. Gillham said...

Loved this --- I love how your mind works... I love that your mind works.


"shrill times" is a great turn of phrase...

and I don't know what to think of either of those two you mentioned ---- and that's all I'm sayin'.


I have got to read that book. It's on my list... it probably needs to move up a notch.