Jul 042011

Photo by NASA Earth Observatory

This will be the first in a series of Thoughts that will deal primarily with Worldview. By this term I refer to the dynamic that exists between a personal worldview, and the process of worldviewing. I feel it worth noting that a personal worldview and a collective worldview do stand apart from one another. A collective worldview, such as the Islamic worldview, is actually comprised of countless personal worldviews that have at their core the basic mythos of Islam. Within this Islamic worldview are the many personal (and even smaller collective worldviews such as Sunni, Shi’a, Ibadi, or Suffiyya.) that differ from one another in varying degree. Ultimately there is still the thread of commonality that ties them all together and allows them to all be called “Islam”. While all being different, they are not all quite different. If they were all quite different then they wouldn’t all be Muslims.

This initial Thought will begin the discussion of Worldview by setting forth both what a worldview is, and how we go about experiencing the world as it relates to our worldview. I hope that it will serve as a good basis for the concepts that I intend to discuss later on. In later writings I will also deal with the manner in which our worldview affects how we understand and interact with, not only the outside world around us, but also the inner realm. For now however, I will stick to concepts that are more easily accessible.

The term “worldview” comes to us from the German Weltanschauung. It refers to our perception or outlook on the world around us. Our worldview is the set of beliefs by which we see and acquire meaning in our lives, whatever that may look like. It is the filter through which our self understands and interacts with both the world “around” us. Our belief system and the experiences that lead us to construct those beliefs is the dynamic that is Worldview. In this Thought I will discuss two concepts which are dualistic in nature, in that one has no meaning without the other: The set of beliefs that make up a worldview, and the experience of worldviewing.

The Role of Beliefs

“Belief in our mortality, the sense that we are eventually going to crack up and be extinguished like the flame of a candle, I say, is a gloriously fine thing. It makes us sober; it makes us a little sad; and many of us it makes poetic. But above all, it makes it possible for us to make up our mind and arrange to live sensibly, truthfully and always with a sense of our own limitations.”

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

This element of Worldview is essentially your personal belief system, and I discuss it in terms of philosophy. We all have a philosophy, even if we are not attracted to the multi-syllabic terminology of the academy. We have opinions and beliefs about life. Our songs philosophize. Our movies philosophize. Our religions philosophize. Through mediums such as these, even those who are not intellectually inclined strive to tell us what life is all about. What it’s all about matters to us greatly. These beliefs and opinions we have contribute to our understanding and perception of the world around us. They affect how we categorize and integrate our experience of viewing the world.

A religious person will often have a personal philosophy that is informed by their religious beliefs, and they seek to keep whatever philosophical ideas that they hold in line with their religious beliefs. Even the irreligious have a belief however, and often the more intellectual person will rely heavily on his or her philosophy in their interactions with the world. An adherence to existentialism (which exists in many different forms) for example, will shape a worldview that is distinct from other philosophies in its dealings with ideas and people. The existentialist believes that any meaning in his or her life is not to be found without, but rather formed and fashioned from within. Adherence to this philosophy will shape a worldview that is relativistic in its view of life. Truth is subjective; and what is true for another may not be what is true for me. Ideas about such matters as good and evil are to be formed by the individual, and not imposed by some exterior religion or philosophy. The existentialist will often hold a disdain of organized religion, or any idea that seeks to say that “the meaning of life is this”. The existentialist’s life experiences are categorized accordingly; and the way that he or she interacts with the world around them is affected largely by an adherence to such a philosophical ideal.

Religions are a little different from movies, songs, and other philosophical statements, in that many people fashion their lives around a set of religious beliefs. Religious doctrines and ideas can provide us with aspects of a story that is often much bigger than ourselves, and our own story will often fit into this larger picture. A person who identifies with Christianity, for example, will presumably hold a worldview that espouses the story of Jesus (as set forth in the Gospels) as an important qualifier for their life’s experiences. His or her experiences are interpreted through this filter of Christianity, and events are given meaning and significance by this espousal. Notions such as the Doctrine of Salvation (in whatever form) play an important role in their life, and may even serve as a primary identifier for the Christian. The Gospels tell us that Jesus came to “save” after all, and the Christian will differentiate between the “saved” and the “unsaved” in their interactions with the people around them. The Christian’s life is often seen as a continuation of the story of Jesus as they seek fulfillment in the “New Birth” that is granted to them through the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Role of Experience

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”

-Albert Einstein

Worldviewing refers to the experiences that we have in our life. It is the process of viewing the world. What we experience through this process then gets translated into our worldview. It stands apart from the belief system that is our worldview by being something that we DO as opposed to beliefs that we HOLD. Experiences can be broken down into two types: Action and Occurrence. An action is something that we do. It is anything from waving to a neighbor, to taking a class at a university. An occurrence is something that happens to us, and may or may not be directly related to our action. An example would be getting caught outside in the rain (which is related to the series of actions that led us to the circumstance), or a loved one passing away. These experiences are all integrated into our worldview in various ways. The occurrence of always witnessing objects always falling toward the earth, leads us to an expectation that if we drop an object, it also will fall to the earth. This expectation that stems from the experience is part of our worldview because it is an aspect of the way that we understand and interact with the world. The action of placing our hand too close to a flame leads us to expect that placing our hand close to a flame will cause pain. Because we do not desire that pain, we allow the expectation of the pain to shape our decisions and most likely try to avoid the painful situation. When we wave to our neighbor and he never waves back, we may draw the conclusion that our neighbor is unfriendly. Our assumption that he is unfriendly is a belief. That assumption, in conjunction with the rest of our worldview, will shape our understanding of his character, and how we choose to interact with him. Ultimately our experiences lead us to form beliefs about ourselves and the world. This principle is true of every experience we can have, whether we induce it by our actions or it merely occurs to us. Experiences shape our worldview constantly, because we are constantly having experiences that lead to beliefs. Much more could be said of the role of worldviewing, but for now I will leave off with the basics of the matter.

In Conclusion

I hope I have succeeded in discussing some of the most basic ideas in Worldview. Beliefs and experiences are the two most basic divisions, yet because of the interrelatedness of everything it is sometimes difficult to distinguish where an experience ends or a belief begins. Much more could be said of these things, and they could be broken into many different categories. In the next Thought I intend to discuss Foundational Understanding. By this I mean some important considerations that need to be taken into account if we are to examine our own worldviews. Later on I will discuss coherence, relevance, and creativity as they relate to our views of the world.

G. Boyd

G. BoydI will open my mouth in a parable, and I will utter the dark sayings of old...

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