1.05. Theology and Worldview

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Several times in the last few posts, I referred to “What they think about God and how they understand themselves in the light of it.”

These are two questions that relate to “worldview.” A worldview is a mental framework, a set of attitudes and assumptions you make about how the world works, about what’s important and valuable (and what’s not) that tells you how to react to situations and events.

One way to think of worldviews is by listing the questions that worldviews try to answer. Different people have tried to define worldview with slightly different lists of questions. I think these six provide a good, thorough, basic picture.

1. What (who) is God? If you don’t believe in God as he is traditionally conceived of, “What is ultimate reality?” will do. If you believe “ultimate reality” is that the physical, observable universe is all that there is, and that nothing spiritual or beyond the physical universe exists, then you’ve answered the question.

2. What am I? Or “What does it mean to be human?” If I may oversimplify: Christians believe that human beings are special creations of a loving God. Atheists generally believe that we are the result of eons of evolution and chance. (I said it was oversimplified.)

3. Where am I? Or “How should I understand the world around me?” Is this world somehow under the control of a loving, powerful God, who for his own purposes is allowing things to happen that we don’t understand? Or is this world random and chaotic, with suffering one of the few constants?

4. What’s the problem? Most worldviews admit early on that the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be. For Christians, the Bible seems to teach that the world—which God made good and perfect—has been corrupted, warped by human rebellion against God. Other belief systems see other culprits: economic inequality, superstitious belief in and dependence on religion, violence and speciesism, etc.

5. What’s the solution? This goes along with #4. Is there a solution to the problem? If the problem is violence, then universal embrace of pacifism and non-violence is the answer. If the problem is economic inequality, then creating a society that has no classes, where all are equal and equally provided for, is the answer.

(Buddhism is interesting here, because it says that the idea that there’s something wrong is itself an illusion. The problem with the world isn’t that there’s a problem with the world, but rather that we THINK there’s a problem. If we’d get rid of the desire for things to be different, Buddhism says, then we could be happy.)

6. Where are we headed, and how fast? OK, that’s two questions, but they’re woven together. Is history progressing in a particular direction? Some worldviews are optimistic, and see the world rising toward greater sophistication and universal prosperity? Other worldviews are pessimistic, and believe history is cyclical; we’re headed for another dark ages, another time of chaos, after which the world will experience another time of progress, which will be followed by …

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