Posted by: gcarkner | January 27, 2015

Building Bridges…3

Dialogue Concerning One’s Worldview

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The ability to think, dialogue and examine arguments and evidence within the context of worldview gives a tremendous edge, latitude and creativity to any discussion, academic or personal. It liberates and opens up the field of discussion rather than getting it trapped in a corner or dead end. What’s the value of an intellectual tug-of-war between your opinion and mine? Contextualizing a friend’s various convictions can really help focus your discussion, and move it in a fruitful direction of mutual understanding. It is key that we be patient and listen to each other. We begin from a platform of agape: listen, show respect, try to understand, take responsibly for good discussion. Ask some important, provocative or tough questions as well. Analysis can lead to curiosity and pushing out the envelope of the typical campus dialogue.

Three Major Worldview Categories

Naturalism  Matter alone exists; no God exists; the belief in spiritual entities is superstition or myth, to be replaced by scientific knowledge. Examples of this ideology/religious view is Western secular humanism, Marxism, various forms of materialism. Science is the key source of knowledge. It can lead to Nihilism.

Pantheism  Spirit exists; all is God and God is all; Atman is Brahman (the individual soul longs to be united with the world soul); the material world is maya or illusion). Such views are now global but tend to emerge from India, China and Southeast Asia (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism) 

Theism   Matter and spirit  co-exist; God is transcendent Creator of all that exists: God is separate from the world, but regularly engages with it; God communicates to the world and his supreme goodness grounds human morality. Theism includes Judaism, Christianity and Islam

While these descriptions are radical oversimplifications, they provide a helpful starting point for dialogue and growth in understanding other views. Naturalism believes the least about the world–most minimalist and mechanistic; Christian Theism believes in the most complexity to reality. See James Sire, The Universe Next Door: a worldview catalogue; Arthur Holmes, Contours of a Christian Worldview; Walsh & Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed. In our world, a whole gamut of positions, from the most militant atheism to the most orthodox traditional theisms are represented and defended somewhere in our society. We often move in and out of various worldviews carried by different groups and institutions all the time in the pluralistic West. Learning worldview language is an essential coping skill and can promote peace and mutual respect.

Dr. Dan Osmond, University of Toronto, School of Medicine: “Whether we realize it or not, all university people have some sort of a view according to which they select, organize and interpret knowledge. Similarly, their behaviour is governed by a moral code [or style] of their choosing. Such views and codes differ widely in their validity and content as well as the quality of the behaviour that they engender.”

 Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus Philosophy at McGill University (paraphrased): A worldview is a picture that holds us captive; it involves our overall take on human life and its cosmic surroundings. It is the background to our thinking, within whose terms it is carried on, but which is often largely unformulated, and to which we can frequently imagine no alternative. It includes aspects or features of the way experience and thought are shaped and cohere. It is something invisible which people inhabit and it gives shape to what they experience, feel, opine, and see. It is like a set of philosophical glasses. Depending on what worldview has taken us captive, we can either see the transcendent as a threat, a dangerous temptation, a distraction, or as an obstacle to our greatest good. Or we can read it as answering to our deepest craving, need, fulfillment of the good life.


Tests for a Good Worldview

a. Coherence: justified by internal coherence and coherence with one’s other knowledge and beliefs.

b. Empirical Openness: it is a conviction which maintains openness to new information rather than being based on a limited data base. It is self-critical and open to thoughtful questions from outside.

c. Personal Relevance: must be livable and fruitful sociologically, i.e. to promote the personal and common good.

d. Explains the Existence of other Worldviews: understands them and how they relate to one’s convictions rather than just being rejected out of hand as a system of thought without any truth-value. Other views are respected and not superficially written off or explained away. Each one has some insights into human nature or the world at large.

Important Note: Key books to assist in dialogue: E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed. (reductionism) James Sire, Why Believe Anything at All? (epistemology); John Stackhouse Jr., Need to Know (epistemology); the literature of Dostoyevski, such as The Brothers Karamozov as a point of entry to one’s worldview; Walker Percy (Lost in the Cosmos); Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning); or Charles Taylor, (The Malaise of Modernity). Glenn Tinder The Political Meaning of Christianity. The movies Eat, Pray, Love and  The Life of Pi are worldview journeys which reached cult status for awhile.

     Some Questions to Explore a Person’s Worldview

 Could you identify, diagram and define for me the framework of your present philosophical stance? What are your working assumptions? Who is your favourite thinker? Where do you position or locate yourself in the current plural world of convictions? What resonates with you? What influences have shaped this conviction?

Questions regarding its coherence, unity or consistency as a view of reality as per above.

Is your view open to the data of other people’s experience or do you have your mind made up? Do you maintain a closed or open stance? Agnostics are generally more open and less dogmatic than atheists.

Look for the person’s interpretive paradigm, the intellectual grid through which they sift ideas and issues (philosophical glasses). E.g. Marxism, feminism, scientific materialism, environmentalism, Nihilism, New Age, or some form of liberation. This reveals what Charles Taylor calls the hypergood or dominant value. It is vital for you to understand this core dominating and controlling good in colleagues. When you discover this, handle it with appropriate care.

Ask the questions of the livability and relevance of their view: use the Pragmatic Life Test. How does it improve human life or solve human problems, promote more justice or hope, feed the poor, heal racial relations, help with global warming? Does it have power to promote the common good? How far can the assumptions be taken without promoting evil or destructive consequences?

Are you happy with your present views or are you shopping around for something new, more substantial or a better fit? People have emotions around their cherished beliefs, so tread carefully.

Is your worldview naive or deeply examined? (e.g. Is Richard Dawkins your expert source on religion?)

On what grounds have you ruled out the possibility of the supernatural or transcendent? Do you sense any conflict between Naturalism and science as such? (Alvin Plantinga)

Where do you see yourself moving philosophically at the moment? Are you sensing some doubts about your worldview?

One might even explore the need for a whole new human narrative (Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization) beyond greed, violence, individualism, aggressive behaviour, biosphere devastation.

What is the explanatory power of your materialistic Naturalism?: David Bentley Hart The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos; Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.

What gives your life hope, meaning, strength and direction? Does the cynicism of many people bother you?

  •  Spark Curoiosity
  • Build Relationship
  • Leverage of Language
  • Show Patience
  • Provocative Questions
  • Build a Connection–Common Good
  • Creativity of Approaches
  • Investigation
  • Intellectual Hospitality
  • Poetics to Help Fresh Thinking
  • Tell Your Story
  • Rebuild Plausibility Conditions
  • Tell the Jesus Story
  • Develop a Platform

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