A World View of World-views – Is It Possible?
by Chris Barrett
By Chris Barrett, October 29, 2013
My “world-view” is essentially the way I describe or see the universe, the world, and life within it. Based on this I will hold, form, and accept or reject particular beliefs about what exists, what is good, bad, or otherwise. My world-view becomes the filter or glasses through which I see the world.
While our world-view is coloured by our personality, race, or genetics, at its core it is shaped by our immediate family, social, cultural, racial and geographic context. Imagine for a moment an indigenous tribesman living in a remote jungle where spirit worship and cannibalism are the norm (as once was possible to find). How would this person see the world, and what is good, bad, acceptable, etc? Now contrast this with a 20-year-old, Internet-connected, smartphone-carrying, university graduate Swede, (Sweden is predominantly atheist, and deeply secular)?
How would these two begin to understand one another?
Of course, the problem is not that far removed. On another AToday thread, Dr. Taylor had this to say about the repetitive clashing of world-views on this website: “One is the world-view of a fundamentalist evangelical Protestant Adventist who rejects the outcome of the Enlightenment assumptions of the Modern world, and the other of a progressive Protestant Adventist who accepts the outcome of the Enlightenment assumptions of the Modern world.”
Regardless of which we contrast—an atheistic, university-savvy, smartphone-toting Gen Y'er with a cannibalistic, jungle-dwelling animist, or the theocentric world-view of a fundamentalist evangelical Adventist and that of a person who has accepted the outcomes of the enlightenment—profound problems exist either way.
Critical to this discussion is understanding that the underpinnings of world-views cannot be proven. This is the case with every possible world-view. Answers about ultimate reality, free will, human nature, and the associated beliefs about good, bad, etc. all rest on unprovable assumptions. That's just the way it is. Sorry. This includes a theocentric world-view which builds on an assumption that God and or the spirit world exists, and that it has the authority to impose these “answers” on the hearers.
Now I frequently notice a solution offered: respect one another's world-views and effectively “co-exist.” This sentiment of respecting, not confronting, another's world-view is fine within a cozy environment where secular political structures ensure freedom to one's own world-view. We call it religious freedom, ironically brought about by, among other things, recognition of the plurality of belief and the need for tolerance and respect.
Let's look at history. Christian Missionaries set out deliberately to change the world-view of their target audience. They did this based on an authority external to both themselves and their listeners: God. Of course in most cases, both hearer and preacher were generally “theistic” in that their world-views included God, gods or spirits, etc. The commonality is that it was an external “authority” system. Adventists and Christians still use the word “Evangelism.” At its core, is not evangelism an effort to change or reshape the hearers world-view?
Widen the scope a little further, and we find that Islam, and most every other religious entity, remains underpinned by the same thinking. They want to change your world-view. We could say the same about other world-views too. The principle of being evangelistic demonstrates to me the shortcomings of this call for tolerance. All world-views should be challenged and tested.
This is important because there are some world-views that are positively dangerous for the well-being of humanity and this world today. You only need to briefly turn on the news to find new examples of proponents of religiously driven world-views destroying life in one place or another…all in the name of their God.
Sharia Law and the advance of fundamentalist Islam is a significant force! Brunei is the latest place to impose Sharia Law. Notice what the Sultan said to a legal conference about the change: "By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled.''
This is the classic theocentric world-view underpinned by an external authority. Allah says it; we do it!
So how do we confront such world-views? Closer to home, how do we fairly evaluate our own world-views and resolve the constant clashing of symbols?
The number and complexity of the differing world views means they must be compared in other ways than to claim that either one or another is exclusively true. The big challenge is that world-views are often deeply emotional and cultural experiences. Often, logic is ignored, and facts are not agreed upon or are considered irrelevant.
There must be legitimate grounds available upon which to challenge any particular world view, including Islam, Christianity, or others. If there are no grounds upon which to do this, what is to be done about the advance of militant Islamists?
To recognize and understand world-views may lead one to no longer assume their own view is correct or true. This knowledge should lead a person to evaluate their own and other world-views with less bias! I think for the person who understands world-views and the fact that all rest on unproven assumptions, there is little reason to avoid respectful dialogue. They cannot justify an arrogant stance on assumptions by claiming they look through a different set of glasses! Awareness of other ways of seeing the world is a first step.
The only hindrance to open communication and understanding between world-views is that one or both parties hold their world-view with arrogance or dogmatism. Any person or culture that has a sense that “their” world-view contains “Truth” is at high risk of this attitude and will have great difficulty adjusting their glasses!
Whenever a person grants authority to something or someone that does not have the potential to be common to both hearer and speaker, they will struggle to engage in meaningful dialog. Such dialogue will usually be conflicted, with each side asserting and buttressing personal claims to truth. Ending the default position of resting on assumptions which may not be held in common with your listener is essential.
To move beyond these levels, there must be legitimate and common ground available upon which to challenge any particular world-view.
Just as the evangelist takes his message with the voice and reason of an external authority, so too, I suggest, we must find, or accept, an external voice or authority to challenge and test all world-views. Obviously, that voice must not be “God,” for the moment we say it should be, we have the impossible questions of “Whose God?” or “Why God?”. We must ask, “Is there some other legitimate voice or authority? If so, what is it? And if it is found, how do we avoid having it just bounce off the emotionally plated armor of those encased and encrusted in their own world-view?”
Assumptions are things we presume to be true in the absence of evidence, but if you prod any person regarding the basis of their world-view, almost without exception, they will present evidence to support it. Very clearly, evidence matters; evidence carries weight. Unfortunately, more often than not, when the objective, measurable evidence fails to reach back to prove the basis of their assumptions, the emotional evidence kicks in. There is often a move from objective evidence to the subjective, usually without justification.
On the basis that ultimately all humans value objective evidence, I would propose that we need a World View of world-views, one that builds on common denominators within human reason, knowledge and science—a fact-based World View. Such a World View would require at least two criteria. First, it must offer the least assumptions. In other words, it would reach back the furthest, with the best evidence, before it is forced to make any assumptions. It would be based on objective evidence and depend least on emotional experience or subjective evidence. Next, it must be willing to be agnostic on many of the questions linked to the remaining, unavoidable assumptions.
Such a World View could appeal to the ethics and values common to humanity. It could and should have the right and authority to become the evangelistic voice of reason in this world.
I suggest such a World View could have a remarkable similarity to the “outcome of the Enlightenment [and] assumptions of the Modern world.”
The problem is that naïve and simplistic theories, such as certain faith claims, seem to survive the acquisition of mutually incompatible scientific data. Newer and better theories seem to be compartmentalized and simply coexist in the same world-view.
However, there is a global secularization taking place, and such a shift may well swell the tide towards a more robust world-view. I notice in the latest landmark survey of perceptions among Adventists, that this global secularization is reported with alarm. In a report on AToday, Trim noted: “It’s a globalized society…. People are watching the same television programs, reading the same apps and websites on their phones and computers, and secularization is a problem.”
No doubt the alarm expressed by such Adventist leaders is echoed by fundamentalist Islam as well. A rising tide floats all ships. Perhaps a growing militancy in both bodies reflects fear at the loss of power over people that results from such changes. World-views are not only resistant to change; they are also forms of power over people.
When one considers that this secularization is likely to be the same force behind the, sadly, failing Arab Spring, one would think that Churches would see the benefits these more secular world-views are bringing. Would it not be better, rather than resisting it, to add a positive contribution to the future shape it may take? Do we not see the benefits of such a world-view shift for the millions of Malala's out there?
From this backdrop, it seems to me both reasonable and helpful to challenge the logical, and too often illogical, inferences that otherwise intelligent humans draw and have drawn from the evidence that validates their particular world-views. I believe doing so from the perspective of such a World View can only make the world a better place, that is, unless man's perception of God gets in the way.
“Which God?” I hear you say. Excellent question. Unless you are assuming it should be “your” God, such a question spells the death of religious arrogance. At the moment you consider that assumption for what it is, you are ready to obtain reason from the world around you, and also from the ethics and values common to the human heart.
You are ready for a World View!
It is a view that exposes the cannibalistic tribesman in his jungle valley for the dark reality it is. It is a view that exposes narrow-minded fundamentalism for the dingy, life-sucking dungeon of the mind that I believe it to be, be it Islamic or some Christian form. It is a World View that could see an end to female genital mutilation. It is a World View that can see girls in school without guns to their heads for doing so. And the list could go on.
Such a World View will be both confident and humble—confident that its conclusions are based on the best possible objective evidence, and humble to the reality that as human knowledge grows, so too may the World View change.
Of course, for many the price of such a View is too high, thus we may be doomed to continue bumping along the rutted highways of conflict, argument and hypocrisy, embracing over and over again the tired, rubbery arguments that just never quite get past the assumptions required to ensure the comfort zones of the power players, who enjoy their optical isolation—or perhaps optical illusion—as they power their smokey, outdated WV's recklessly down the road.
Oops… car bearing down on me, I better get off the road!