A Divided People – The Role of Worldviews

Series: Visions, Worldview & Divisions

I have often wondered why people from relatively similar backgrounds reach such diametrically opposed opinions about the critical issues in life and society. More to the point, it seems that people can’t even communicate with each other effectively about such important matters.

I’ve come to the conclusion that one important reason for the disconnect is that people approach such issues having very different underlying presuppositions which support their thinking. The most important set of these presuppositions are those that comprise a person’s worldview.

Worldview – a Platform for Thinking and Deciding

A worldview consists of one’s most basic and foundational beliefs about the nature of reality and human life. Our worldview is important because it informs all the opinions we form, beliefs we hold, and decisions we make about politics, religion, interpersonal relationships, personal goals and behaviors, science, societal reform, and more.

Everybody has a worldview. However some people have intentionally developed their worldview over time and as a result of study, reflection, discussion, and observation. Others, have, more or less, absorbed their worldview as they have been influenced by family, friends, media, teachers, faith leaders, and pop culture. Upbringing is a key influence for nearly everyone as early life absorbers. Some of these may never grow their worldview beyond their initially absorbed worldview. However, for many of other “absorbers,” political correctness largely shapes, or reshapes, their underlying worldview, as well as conditions the morphing of their worldview over time.

To be sure, there is some degree of absorption and some intentional development for everyone, but the relative proportion of the two vary greatly between people.

Futhermore, given any major worldview, people holding it will be represented by those who primarily absorbed it and those who primarily developed it intentionally over time. For instance, someone who holds to a worldview that is essentially materialistic may have primarily absorbed that view or may have intentionally developed that view.

Additionally, it is almost certain that everybody has started out with a worldview which is primarily absorbed. and of which they are probably unaware. However, many people will, at some point in life, begin to study and reflect about worldview matters. Their efforts will result in a more developed worldview that may or may not be largely consistent with the one which they had originally absorbed. On the other hand, some people will go move from one absorbed worldview to a different absorbed worldview as the primary influencers in their lives change over time.

The Worldview of Those Who’ve Never Thought About It

I believe that there are many people who haven’t given much attention the concept of a worldview. Even so, that doesn’t mean they don’t operate in life on the basis of a worldview. It’s just that for those folks, their underlying presuppositions in life aren’t clear, even to themselves. These are people who may research and ponder important specific issues they face in our world, but those results are neither intentionally built on a foundational set of beliefs, nor are they organically integrated into their overall view of life. This often results in blatent contractions that are not easily understood or explained.

So for instance, a person who has looked into current knowledge about abortion may have researched information about such thinks as when life begins, the social and economic demographic data regarding the impact of unwanted pregnancies on women as well as the emotional impact of having gone through an abortion, the various abortion procedures available, the differing circumstances and results of abortions at different terms in the life of the fetus in the womb, and the alternatives to abortion. But when it comes to that individual making a decision concerning the rightness or wrongness of any abortion related issue, such as whether abortion should be legal, whether it should be government funded in some circumstances, or whether there should be limits regarding the time at which a fetus can no longer be aborted, whether that person realizes it our not, there are underlying “beliefs,” for lack of a better word, which guides their decision after their specific abortion related research is done. However, not being aware of how those underlying beliefs and assumptions have influenced this person put him/her at a distinct disadvantage.

Some of underlying beliefs that may influence final decision concerning abortion may include the individual’s answers to such questions as:

    1. does my religious view, if any, inform this issue?
    2. what is the nature of fetal “life?”
    3. is human life merely biological or is there another dimension to it that we must regard?
    4. what is freedom and how does it relate to a women’s right to choose?
    5. what is the he role of government in a society?
    6. is there anything that can be categorically identified as moral or immoral?
    7. how vital is the family in society?
    8. it is possible to know truth in any authoritative way? and
    9. what takes precedence in decision making, the emotions or the mind?

Virtually every person has some subterranean view on the kind of issues represented by the above questions whether they know it or not. They may have never thought much about these kinds of questions, but they probably do have some vague notions, intuitions, or impulses which animates them when thinking about such an important issue as abortion.

Still others may have thoughtfully and intentionally developed a worldview, and those folks are at distinct advantage in the day-to-day decision making about the things that matter most in our world today.

Worldview Basics

One last point; a worldview normally includes basic beliefs and understanding about the following mega topics (among others):

    1. Epistemology – deals with the idea of knowledge; what we can know and how we can come to know that which is knowable
    2. Ethics – deals with the ideas of right and wrong human behavior; including 1) determining if any catagories that can be correctly called right and wrong actually exist, 2) how we can discover what belongs in each catagory, and 3) how human behaviour should conform to the right and wrong we discover.
    3. Theology – deals with the idea of God; is there a Supreme Being, what is that being like if there is one, how does that being relate to humankind and the universe?
    4. Metaphysics – deals with the idea of reality and being; what is being, and what is its nature; what constitutes reality

      (Metaphysics is said to be the most difficult, complex, and misunderstood discipline in philosophy. My personal metaphysical reality is that I barely comprehend anything about metaphysics… but I’m willing to keep learning)

    5. Humanity – what does it mean to be human? Does humaness carry with it unique responsibilities, advantages, or disadvantages as compared to other life forms with whom we’re share the planet and universe? Are humans basically good or basically bad?

Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps part of our examination should include the matters which comprise a cogent worldview.


Next Post In Series: Having begun this series with some thinking about worldviews, we will turn to Thomas Sowell’s discussion the differnce of visions in society today from his book, “A Conflict of Visions” for a somewhat more accessible way to understand the radically divergent ways of thinking about the issues that divide our nation.

Author: greg g bruce

Former pastor of a baptist church in a small town. Wonderful wife and four kids, 1 of the male persuasion and 3 of the female, aged 19 - 27.

5 thoughts on “A Divided People – The Role of Worldviews”

  1. I think everything you envision can be accomplished – in theory – without exposure to philosophy proper. I think the biggest hurdles are cultural values about intellectual discourse, which of course arise from human preferences for certainty and safety.

    YouTube algorithms that ensure you see similar content to what you’ve always seen, Late Night and Cable News pundits (is there really any difference anymore?) ranting to get a cheap, emotional rise from their audience, political discourse that is becoming increasingly hyper-partisan – all of this cements the absorption of a worldview. How can anyone think critically about issues that matter when all but a fraction of the media claiming to cover said issues absolutely rejects  the slightest appearance of intellectual honesty, uncertainty, or complexity? No one likes an “expert” who says “I was wrong about this.”

    My friend, Ben, is an example of the solution here, I think. It’s probably important for my point to mention that he’s a conservative and a voracious reader. The topic of the CRT controversy came up in one of our recent conversations and he told me that – after becoming aware of it – he picked up a copy of Richard Delgado’s book, read it cover to cover, and annotated it. He told me he didn’t have an opinion  on CRT yet.

    I think Ben points to the way forward here. There’s a lot our schools need to do to build real, critical reading/listening skills so that individuals have the intellectual ability to read and understand first instead of read and react (I’m not sure most people are capable of reading theory – and I don’t think they need to). I think the real hurdle though is creating intellectual cultures that elevate understanding over having an opinion, disincentivize (and even punish?) intellectually dishonest caricatures of opposing arguments, and value uncertainty and tension. I can think of other spaces that could allow for the construction of a worldview, but they wouldn’t be rigorous or robust. Like you’ve pointed out here, they’d be most of what we already have: absorbed.

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    1. Perhaps you’re correct. We are, in a sense, talking about critical thinking skills with an acknowledged need for people to expose themselves to a wider range of thinking on important subject than they which they currently avail themselves. However, I’m concerned that without some significantly intentional worldview “lens,” the thinking of people will lack a consistency that ultimately gives their thinking individual meaning.

      That’s not to say, that having a certain worldview will, or should, lock people in to a specific solution to every major issue, but it does mean that critical thinking away from the most philosophical considerations will lack internal authority and perhaps even contribute to the absorption / adoption of a popular worldview without due consideration to basic options.

      But I take your point. As things exist, announcing a course on “Philosophy for Everyone” won’t attract much interest, except from folks who already know more philosophy than we would ever intend to present; and in my case they would know more than I understand myself.

      But no matter what can be done toward attacking this goal, it wouldn’t have extremely wide interest if it were done outside of the existing education establishment. And, I think the challenge would be, at least, threefold: 1) package it in an attractive format, 2) minimize the philosophical jargon as much as possible and give clear accessible explanations of whatever jargon, and concepts, are utilized, and 3) concentrate on the basics, with worldview implications, of the concepts presented.

      At this point, this is just an intellectual activity but I can’t help but wonder, what if?

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      1. As a parent of high school graduates, you would know better than I to what extent the model you lay out in paragraph 4 is or is not happening in public school liberal arts classes. The high school teachers I know seem to be very frustrated by the intellectual apathy and prevalence of absorbed worldviews among their students. Again, I’d link this back to the hyper-partisan media culture in which the students find themselves.

        I’ll leave this thread here as we’ll probably circle back here as the series progresses.

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  2. I wonder what your thoughts are regarding the percentage of people who have less intentional, more absorbed worldview v. those with more “educated” ones. Is it a bell curve? Are the hoi polloi 95% of the population?

    I’d like to think I have a rather sophisticated worldview, but – lately – I’ve begun to see how most of my actions are driven by impulses that are (absorbed? unaccessible? outside the scope of my rational, intentional decision-making?).

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    1. Interesting. My comments are more anecdotal based on general observation. I couldn’t find any research reported demographically, or otherwise for that matter. In my experience I have come to take the view that most people are far more influenced by others rather than studied and intentional. And I believe even those who have been intentional are more impacted by their influencers than they may realize. My concern here is that we begin to examine our own worldviews, apprehended or not, in total or in part.

      I would agree that you have a more sophisticated worldview, but I love that you realize that, like me and most everyone else, you have influences that impact your ideas and thinking that you may not take into consideration in the moment.

      While I will eventually be more clear about my own worldview, and even advocate for it, hopefully respectfully, at this point I just want to stoke thinking about the issue for the handful of people who love me enough to read my blog.

      Autobiographically, over the last two years of being sick and largely homebound, I’ve read more than any other period in my life. While I’ve long had a worldview that I could articulate, I been struck by my considerable ignorance about philosophy. Now it’s overwhelming to try to make up what should have been 50 years of study and reflection.

      I hope to encourage a few folks, my kids primarily, to think and study more deeply about these things.

      Naturally, I hope that they come out close to where I am because naturally I think I’m more correct than incorrect. If I didn’t think I was mostly correct, I would change what I think and believe because I don’t want to be wrong, about anything, especially my worldview.

      But there’s something I’d like you to think about with me.

      I believe that nearly everyone can think philosophically and apply that thinking meaningfully in life. I think it is as true of blue collar workers as post grads, of small town dwellers as big city residents, of Midwesterners as Californians. But it isn’t realistic that everyone will avail themselves of an education rich in the classical languages, imbibing deeply of the original works of the leaders in each school of philosophy, and become trained in classical and logical thinking.

      So how can average folks who have a life, get enough exposure to the core concepts and disciplines to be able to move beyond absorption to a greater degree of intention in their worldview thinking with some degree confidence and without being led to a certain position as we would in a small group at church.

      You won’t be surprised that I have a special, though not exclusive, interest in followers of Christ working through these things. But I think we are better off if everyone develops in this area. If nothing else, it may open avenues of communication, which of course, is where my blog post started.

      I value your input and ideas.

      Aside: when I got back on WordPress I noticed a couple comments that I didn’t reply to back in May ‘20, yours being one. I’m sorry and hope to respond sooner rather than later.

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