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Worldview is a Framework of Beliefs

Everyone has a worldview, even though many do not understand, cannot articulate, and certainly do not acknowledge it. 

Worldview, or one’s “view of the world,” informs every decision we make from sunup to sundown, including the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, and the shops we patronize. It affects the movements we join, the candidates we support, and the god we worship. Worldview tells us who we are, why we exist, and what happens when we die. Simply put, worldview infuses everyone and everything.     

What is worldview?

Trying to make sense of the world and to discern our place in it has occupied the hearts and minds of people since the beginning of history. We all grapple with humanity’s basic questions at some point, or many points, during our lives. Underlying how we confront and ultimately answer these questions is a series of assumptions, presuppositions, and convictions about reality. Taken together, they form one’s outlook on life; they form one’s worldview. 

Consider the following:

  • Worldview comprises the fundamental beliefs through which we see the world and find our place in it. These fundamental beliefs create the standards by which – and through which – we define reality, manage both order and disorder, and understand the physical and metaphysical worlds.
  • Worldview shapes our values, informs our decision-making, assists in managing our daily lives, influences our thinking and perception, and, at its most fundamental level, provides the reason for our existence.
  • Worldview influences every dimension of life – intellectual, physical, social, economic, and moral. While many of us engage with our worldviews consciously, many do not. For some people, it’s a subconscious undertaking of which they are utterly unaware.

In a nutshell, worldview is the lens, the framework, the grid through which we see, filter, and process everything.

Worldview as “Metanarrative”

Worldview functions similarly to a “metanarrative.” It’s not an exact parallel but a valuable analogy for illustrating the concept.

A metanarrative, also called a grand narrative, is a significant, overarching, comprehensive, all-encompassing story within which all other stories exist. A metanarrative includes explanations for all of life’s events and circumstances, which, in turn, provides its adherents with a framework for their beliefs. Metanarratives give us meaning, purpose, and instructions for how we should live. We all need a worldview that makes sense of our reality and a defining story to explain our role in that reality.

For example, all world religions – secular and sacred – provide a metanarrative replete with instructions for understanding and conducting our lives. However, we need not look only to the secular or sacred for metanarrative; we can plop on the couch and press play on Star Wars, Superman, or The Lord of the Rings. Each presents a grand story with belief in a higher power and a battle between good and evil.

While all worldviews include a metanarrative or a grand story that gives us meaning, they also deal with entire systems of thought. They combine the concepts of origin, purpose, and destiny into one unified ethic, one source of Truth, so to speak.

Each worldview presents a fixed, comprehensive view of reality. But caveat emptor, buyer beware – not all worldviews are coherent, compelling, or complete, despite their claims to the contrary. 

The process of adopting a worldview takes time. One may change or evolve one’s worldview as one grows, changes, and learns new things. One may even adhere to several contradictory worldviews. Although operating out of multiple worldviews is common, it only creates chaos and confusion for individuals, families, communities, and society. It’s also why so many of us are exhausted and stressed by the cognitive dissonance that defines our daily lives.

Worldview Answers the Big Questions

At its core, a worldview is what answers the big questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Where am I going?
  • What is true, and what is false?

In his book The Universe Next Door, James Sire provides a comprehensive definition of worldview:

  • a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart 
  • that can be expressed as a story in a set of presuppositions (assumptions that 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, move, and have our being.

We aren’t born with a worldview; it is shaped over time by our parents, teachers, mentors, friends, society, and culture. Once we grow up, we may adhere to the worldview we developed during childhood or alter or abandon it altogether in favor of a different understanding of the world. Children leaving the faith traditions from their childhoods and adopting new religious commitments are among the most common shifts in worldview.

Worldview Addresses Attitude, Ideology, Religion, and Philosophy

Some worldviews offer a view and vision for a life defined by morals, values, and ethical standards. The biblical worldview is but one example. Others provide a view and vision for a life without morals, values, and ethical standards. For example, nihilistic worldviews such as atheism fall into this category.

Comprehensive or complete worldviews have become so refined over time that they’ve been codified into systems or creeds, such as naturalism, pantheism, and theism (more below). A comprehensive worldview provides answers to each of the six questions identified above, all of which rest on a set of premises or assumptions about the world, such as the origin of the universe (created by the Creator or made from matter), the origin of man (created by God in his image or evolved from cosmic matter over billions of years), and the relationship between man and animals (man is unique, distinct, and superior to the animal kingdom, or man is part of the animal kingdom that continues to evolve and will eventually become extinct). 

Worldviews are so central to our understanding of the world and our place in it that they become inextricably linked with the identity of those who hold them. It is nearly impossible to understand an individual, a community, or a nation without understanding the worldview to which he/she/it subscribes. Naturally, we must have a competent grasp on the various worldviews to which people, communities, and nations subscribe to know something substantive about them.

Three Worldview Categories

While there are more than three specific worldviews, the following are the broadest categories under which all others fall. These worldviews compete for the allegiance of the hearts and minds of Americans and people everywhere.

  1. Naturalism
  2. Pantheism
  3. Theism

Here’s a quick tip-of-the-iceberg explanation of these views. Although these are high-level explanations, you may recognize yourself in one or more broad categories.

NO GOD » Naturalism, aka humanism, is a worldview contending that God does not exist and that all of reality can be explained in the physical realm without reference to a supernatural order. In naturalism, people do not have souls (hence, no free will) or any non-physical essence, such as a spirit, that transcends a determined future. Nature is the only thing that is real. Darwinian evolution is a naturalistic worldview. In this worldview, the universe and everything in it, including man, comes from matter or physical material. Man is merely an accident of an impersonal universe without design, direction, or purpose. 

Secular humanism, Marxism/Leninism, existentialism, nihilism, and hedonism are metanarratives of the naturalistic worldview. In each, ultimate reality is limited to the physical or the material world. Everything operates inside a closed system, inside the box. 

IMPERSONAL GOD » Pantheism is a worldview claiming that a god exists, but god is not personal. God is nature, and nature is god. All of nature is divine, so everything is god.

Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, and Wicca are examples of pantheistic worldviews. In each, ultimate reality cannot be found in the material world; it can only be found in the spiritual or psychic realms, often referred to as “energy.”

Pantheistic worldviews are polar opposites of naturalistic worldviews. They operate entirely outside the box without reference to or recognizing what’s inside the box.

PERSONAL GOD » Theism is a worldview asserting that God exists and is the Creator of the universe and all things within it. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all theistic worldviews, although they splinter quite a bit in the details (they have diverging metanarratives). In theism, God is infinite, personal (not ethereal or mystical), and is the sole source of all truth.

Islam, Judaism, and biblical Christianity each claim that ultimate reality is defined by a personal God who created the universe. Theism is the only worldview category that recognizes that the physical body and soul are part and parcel of a unified reality of the universe and mankind. Everything operates in an open system, functioning inside and outside the box.

Can you see how one’s worldview impacts one’s view of the entire world, one’s understanding of the nature and scope of what is true or false, what can be known or must remain unknown, and the value and purpose of humanity?

Conclusion

Worldview is so fundamental, essential, and determinative of our individual lives, families, communities, nations, and world that we must approach it as thoughtfully, diligently, and factually as possible. We will engage this topic in significant detail over the coming months, examining the overarching views and the various metanarratives that operate inside them. Once we get a grasp on the big picture, we can discover how the component parts work or don’t work, as the case may be.  

While millions of people adhere to many different worldviews at different times and places, many remain confused about what all of it means. Yet, they’re curious and pursue clarity because it is in our nature to seek answers to things we do not know or understand. Worldview is a large, challenging topic that lies beneath everything else. It is the foundation on which the world stands and the axis on which it turns.

Grab our hands and come along on the journey with us. It’s where all the cool kids are.

References

1.  James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th ed. (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2004).

 2. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 17

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