What is a Worldview?
Shafer Parker, apologist with Faith Beyond Belief, presents “What is a WorldVIew.”
Many people think holding the right worldview is of little importance. But I beg to differ. Let me tell you a story to explain why.
In the summer of 2010 Aesha Mohammadzai appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. There is nothing unusual about a beautiful young woman appearing on a magazine cover, but Aesha stood out because of the torture she suffered after she fled her abusive Taliban fighter husband (it was a forced marriage). She was caught and returned to her spouse, whereupon he and members of his family took her into the mountains, cut off her nose and ears, and left her to die.
In the worldview of Aesha’s family, she deserved what happened to her, but if you think Canadians would universally condemn such grotesque brutality, you would be sadly mistaken. When Canadian teacher Stephen Anderson presented Aesha’s story to his Grade 12 students many insisted they could not say that what she suffered was wrong. “We may not agree with such things here in Canada,” some said, “but maybe over there it’s okay.” Others said it was “just wrong to judge other cultures.” It soon became obvious to Anderson that his students, like many Canadians, had embraced moral relativism, a worldview that says there is no objective right and wrong, that each individual, each society must choose what is right or wrong for themselves.
Now before we go any further, let me define this word that we’ve been using—worldview. A worldview is a way of understanding what the world is and how it works. And I hope you can see from my opening illustration, what you believe about the way the world works has a huge impact on you and everyone else. Both Aesha and the students who accepted her treatment in the name of diversity were victims of sub-optimal worldviews. So I say again, having the right worldview matters. The question is, how do you know if your worldview is right?
Here are some principles to help answer that question. First, consider that everyone has a worldview, and no view is neutral. Some try to argue that all worldviews have equal merit and that no worldview should be considered better than another. But that argument can’t stand up to scrutiny. Is the racist worldview of the Ku Klux Klan equal to the generous equality fought for by Martin Luther King, Jr.? Surely your answer would be, “No,” thus demonstrating that you don’t think all views are equal.
Here’s a second principle to guide your search for a truly accurate worldview. We live in a nation where, within certain restraints, you have a Charter right to believe what you want. But just because you have a right to your view, that does not make your view right. It’s very possible that what you believe doesn’t correspond with reality, or at least is mistaken on a few significant points.
The third and last principle to keep in mind is the need for a worldview to comprehensively grasp all of reality. You probably know the story of the blind men and the elephant. Because each man touched only a small part of the elephant (the trunk, the ear, the leg, the tail), each came away with a distorted view of what an elephant truly is. The same is true in the quest for a worldview. We are all limited in our comprehension of the world around us. How, then, can we know when we’ve got hold of an all-encompassing world view that truly understands everything about how the world works?
Well, what if human beings could see the world from God’s perspective? That’s exactly what Christianity claims. Because our worldview is based upon God’s revealed truth found in the Bible, ours is the only view that is truly comprehensive and fundamentally correct. That’s why, for instance, Jesus could say to his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Did you catch what just happened? Jesus is telling us two things: first, that a correct worldview must be based upon all that Jesus taught, and second, that God, and truth can only be known through faith in him.
In the words of Christian apologist Douglas Groothuis, “Christianity [is] an integrated worldview that is objectively, universally, and absolutely true, reasonable, knowable, and existentially pertinent to both individuals and entire cultures.” We know this is true because Jesus said so. Groothuis then reminds Christians that because our worldview is true and comprehensive, we need to listen to the apostle Peter when he exhorts us to “be ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that we have (in this context it’s important to note that our hope is built upon a Biblical worldview), and that we should do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).
Sources & Resources
- Discussion Guide PDF
- Stephen L. Anderson, “Moments of Startling Clarity: Moral Education Programming in Ontario Today,” Ontario Education Forum Magazine, Fall 2011
- Faith Beyond Belief’s Worldview Course