Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Worldviews: Part I

This week and for a few weeks to come, I’d like to spend some time considering the concept of worldview and how it relates to Ecumenical Dialogue. Spurred on by various comments I received from some highly esteemed interlocutors on my facebook wall, I felt it would be helpful to discussion to first define and discuss worldview in more general terms, apply it in more specific terms to dialogue, and finally note some of the areas where the concerned worldviews really don’t see eye to eye. From the beginning, I must apologize for any misrepresentations or “unacademicness” in this post... as this is simply a weekly contemplation, I don’t have a whole lot of time to do a great deal of research. I welcome comments and would appreciate if they were made on the actual post for the benefit of all (not simply on my facebook wall... I know it’s convenient, but still...)

Very broadly defined, worldview denotes the manner in which a person (or society) “thinks about the world.” Naturally, this has many implications for both how one answers basic existential questions as well as how one interacts with those of different backgrounds. Applied to societies as a whole, this concept of cognitive philosophy often coalesces along basic linguistic boundaries and gives rise to the Folk-epic (or cultural story) that by and large defines a given society (eg: The Illiad for the Ancient Greeks, Beowulf for Anglo-Saxons, the Kalevala for the Finns, The Gilgamesh epic for the Sumerans, etc)

Philosophically speaking, the discussion of worldview is relatively new and especially essential to Germanic epistemological discourse (aka Weltanschauung). While the philosophy of worldview has been applied to many different fields as a model for explaining various social phenomena, there are two basic views regarding the development of a given worldview: 1) that worldviews can be constructed by the individual (as per Leo Apostel et. al.), and 2) that worldviews are constructed on a community level and are based out of unconscious reactions to environment and learned behaviours passed down through the generations.

The Dutch philosopher Leo Apostel equates worldview with ontology or the study of being and becoming. Thus a worldview is a descriptive model of the world. Apostel’s work provides us with the idea that any worldview should comprise 6 fundamental elements: 1) an explanation of the world, 2) answer the question “where are we going?” 3) include values and ethics i.e. “what should we do?” 4) a theory of action i.e. “How should we attain our goals?” 5) a theory of knowledge i.e. “What is True and false?” and finally 6) an account of its building blocks. If your head is hurting by now, it’s okay, you could probably answer most of those questions if you really thought about it, and thus, at least as far as Apostel is concerned, you should be able to change your worldview.

On the other hand, many philosophers believe that worldview exists on a much larger scale than the single individual (and to a certain extent this is true because even if you can change your own worldview, this really changes nothing about worldviews of those around you aside from challenging them to consider their own worldviews... but I’ll come back to that...). For example, there is a certain line of thought that considers worldview to be fixed by language, therefore, the only way to change your worldview is to either 1) learn a new language, or 2) invent your own... (!!!) Personally, I think I find myself on the side of Apostel on this one, simply because I think that his ideas hold up much better in a pluralistic society where there are many competing worldviews in collision with each other (though I’m not so sure our society is as pluralistic as we’d like to believe... or maybe pluralism is the predominant worldview???)

Now for some application... (don’t worry, we’re not even close to out of the woods on this one...) At the Christian Liberal Arts University that I recently attended, “Christian Worldview” were major buzzwords. I even had  to take a series of classes and read several books that examined what it was to have a Christian Worldview (and I thoroughly enjoyed them). Part of the goal of these classes was to challenge students to think about how they see the world and how it lines up with how we should see the world as followers of Christ. This was a controversial class because (as one of my compatriots stated in his comments to a previous post) “People... [are] always... subconsciously very scared to truly and fully understand the worldview of an opponent. For once one does, [that worldview’s] inner logic and attractive force make it much harder than before to disagree on self-same surface issues.”

Now, a large majority of the participants in these classes were Christians, thus the question remains; If the way in which a Christian should view the world was being presented, what should any God-fearing follower of Christ have to worry about? Precisely the fact that the manner in which a Christian should view the world was being presented. What if, it doesn’t line up with what you believe to be the proper way that a Christian should view the world? I recall a certain friend of mine who is a practicing Lutheran who entered into the class with much trepidation simply because he was convinced that he was going to disagree with everything that was said...

But this only serves to illustrate my point more poignantly. If we were to attempt to use Apostel’s six elements in order to come up with a homogenous “Christian Worldview” there would be many points of contention because various Christian groups have vastly different answers to the questions inherent within his system. From what I have seen, these multiplicities of views fall in to three general categories which I shall seek to describe next week (otherwise this post will get rather long winded...) So make sure to check back for Part II next week =)

1 comment:

  1. To me the underlying problem of trying to define a Christian (or any communal) worldview is that it necessarily requires individual interpretation. Whereas Ecumenical Dialogue is centered around the notion of discussion, worldviews are more introspective. Obviously we can still discuss worldviews and try to convince other people that our way of seeing and interpreting the world around us is correct, but at their best worldviews can only be generally shared by more than one person, because they inform and are informed by every experience we have on an individual level, leaving us incapable of perfectly sharing a worldview. Doctrines, catechisms and creeds, however, do not require a perfect agreement. At least in the Evangelical Free Church I attended as a kid, they believed "major in the majors, minor in the minors" as far as beliefs (read: worldviews) went.

    Perhaps some of this can be traced back to Karl Marx's original understanding of the word worldview (not sure if he coined the term or merely brought it into common usage). He by no means wanted everyone to call themselves "marxists" or unite under a term. He used worldview to describe - as you mentioned - a holistic view of the world. Or, as most Christian worldview classes will most likely say: The lens through which we see the world.

    Contrary to what I believe is popular opinion, rather than fixing our worldview (read: experience) to be aligned with the right lens to see the "perfect" Christian worldview, I think that we should use our individual experiences to contribute to a wider and more vibrant understanding of the bounds to which Christianity extends. Existentially, we are unique. No matter how similar or different our lives are, I would argue that trying to nail down an ideal "Christian worldview" will unnecessarily alienate Christians who are "minor on the minors" and also limit our understanding of the Christian experience within the world.

    Thanks for the blog post! I enjoy reading them a lot