The fifth and deepest layer of any culture is its ‘worldview’. A worldview is a set of preconceptions and assumptions that explains what is real about the universe and our existence. One’s Worldview governs beliefs, values and behavior. It provides the perspective from which the world is seen and interpreted.
Worldview is real, but invisible. For the most part it is assumed. With the exception of philosophers, people rarely talk about it.
Admittedly, worldview is deeper and more philosophical than I like to get. However, even a basic awareness of worldview helps us to understand why cultures are the way they are. Its worth digging in.
James Sire asks the following questions to help us understand Worldview.
- What is prime reality – the really real?
- What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
- What is a human being?
- What happens to a person at death?
- Why is it possible to know anything at all?
- How do we know what is right and wrong?
- What is the meaning of human history?
(The Universe Next Door, by James Sire, p 20)
Examples of Worldviews
Below I describe three basic worldviews that I think help us understand the concept. There are other worldviews that are worth discussing – but these three are the easiest to get a handle on.
According to Naturalism, only the physical material world is real. The reality of the spiritual world is rejected. The impersonal laws of nature govern the world. The chaos and difficulties that we experience come from ignorant, irrational and superstitious thinking.
People are physical beings – complex machines. The idea that mankind possesses a soul, or a spirit is not taken into serious consideration. When a person dies they cease to exist. Their physical body stops working and begins to decay. There is no afterlife.
Science is the key to discovering truth. Only that which can be observed with the five senses is accepted as true. There is a natural explanation for everything. Morality is a matter of individual preference or socially useful behavior.
The origin of the world, is not really known except that we exist as products of the process of evolution. The future is not known, but through technology and reason, we can solve our problems and preserve our way of life forever.
According to Spiritualism, only the spiritual world is ultimately real. While material things are also real, they have spirits associated with them and therefore, should be understood spiritually. It is believed that Spirits/demons inhabit and control natural objects and beings. This means that events in the spiritual world impact the natural world and vice-versa.
Mankind is believed to be a creation of the gods like the rest of the creatures on earth. When a person dies they return to their ancestors in the spiritual world.
Truth is discovered through the shaman figure who has visions that reveal what the spirits/demons/gods are doing and how they feel. Life’s difficulties (misfortune, sickness) are the result of some activity that has angered the spirits/demons/gods. The future is an ongoing struggle to appease the spirits. Human history is entertainment for the spirit world.
Theism believes in the existence of a real, infinite, all powerful God. God created the world, people, and all that exists. The physical universe as we know it is real, but finite—it had a beginning and will have an end.
Humans are physical beings with souls, personalities and a moral sense. When a person dies, their physical body decays but their soul lives on spiritually.
Truth is known through revelation, science and rational thought.
God governs the world through laws he has established. Our moral sense is an expression of this. Problems in the world are the result of rebellion against God’s laws. God is active in human history in order to see His will accomplished.