What is a worldview? This is the first question we need to tackle before we proceed. Many people don’t have a clue what a worldview is. So let us spend some time to answer this question in the few moments ahead.
The meaning of worldview is simple actually, which is “the way someone thinks about the world” according to Webster dictionary. In other words it is a philosophy of the world, of life, of how we live. The American Scientific Affiliation explains worldview as “a mental model of reality – a framework of ideas and attitudes about the world, ourselves, and life, a comprehensive system of beliefs.” In such abstract conception of the world, we are urged to attempt to answer THE most important questions of life, such as: “What is man? Does God exist? Is there a heaven and a hell? What can we know? What must we do?” Ever since a human being is born into the world, the formation of worldview has started. All the information the person gathers through the senses or experiences begin piling up waiting to be understood. The human mind can’t rest well until understanding is reached.
The great debate between Rene Descartes and David Hume over reality is an appropriate illustration of the importance of worldview in human life. Descartes is well known as the father of modern philosophy. And modern philosophy is dominated by his branch of philosophy called Rationalism. Whereas Hume is very well known as one of the sharpest minds in the Empiricism front. For Descartes our understanding of reality is predetermined by all the categories in our mind that exist innately (a priori). Hume disagreed, he said that our perception of reality is dependent upon the information we receive (a posteriori). In other words, for Hume, the environment – more specifically the external environment – is the critical factor to shape our understanding. Descartes’ philosophy puts a heavy emphasis on the mind – that the human mind is the source of knowledge. Thinking alone may prove the existence of man – thus his maxim “cogito ergo sum=I think therefore I am.” Hume, on the other hand, argued that our knowledge is found as we experience the environment. Environment, therefore, according to Hume, is the source of knowledge. One can’t prove his existence by merely thinking about it but by testing it through the environment. Therefore Empiricism. These two opposite worldviews lead to a very different way of life. Cartesians rely on reason to make sense of the world. Humeans rely on experience to make sense of the world.
While the two philosophies run into opposite directions, Immanuel Kant attempted to bring the two together. So he proposed that both reason and environment form knowledge. Kant argued that there is indeed the framework of categories within our mind exists independently of one’s experience and interaction with the environment. He called the framework “Categorical Imperative.” Then he proceeded to argue that the information we received as we encounter the environment would be required to fill the box of the categories we already have innately. Now, this branch of philosophy is probably best known as realism. This too is a different way of seeing the world. Kant rejected the idea that human mind is born as a blank slate – Humean and also Lockeian (from John Locke). Kant also disagreed with Descartes who believed that our mind can exist independent of the world. For Kant, these two were not realistic.
Now, our mind is extremely complex. We have not yet discovered completely the mystery of the human mind. Our understanding of the world is formed in that complex nature and interaction with the world. Therefore, our worldview is so complex in nature. But this framework of worldview that exists in our mind governs our life into its minute details. It is necessary thus to understand what kind of worldview that governs our life. Is it the Cartesian Rationalism, or the Humean Empiricism, or Kantian Realism, or Confucianism, or Taoism, or Calvinism, etc.? Whatever kind of worldview we adopt, be it consciously or unconsciously, will for sure affect our way of life.
Let me give you an illustration of how a person puts relativism into life. Two persons, one is very old and the other is very young, go on a journey. They bring with them a donkey. They walk throughout their journey with their donkey following them. At the first leg of their journey they arrive at a village wanting to rest because they had been walking for a long time. Some people looking at them say: “You must be exhausted walking. Especially the little one. Why did you not put him on the donkey? Poor lad.” So after they rest, they set out to continue their journey. This time, after listening to the people in that village, the old man put the young lad on the donkey. And then they walk again. It’s still quite a long journey to cover. Halfway, they meet some people who make a comment: “Now, that is not right. How can you let the old man walk while the young ride on a donkey?! Very disrespectful!” Hearing such comment, they are uneasy. So right there and then they are switching place. Now, the old man rides the donkey, while the young lad walks. After sometime, they meet some other people. And this time these people comment: “Now that’s just not right, is it? How can you let the poor young lad suffer like that walking, while you old man ride on a donkey and enjoy all the comfort?” They are feeling very uneasy. So they decide to both ride the donkey. Young and old both ride the donkey. It’s quite a hike and the donkey is working very hard to carry both of them. Then as they near a bridge, they meet yet some other people who say to them: “Well well, aren’t you the cruelest people, you punish the poor donkey with your heavy weight, and force him to work so hard. Poor donkey.” They are surprised at the comment. And so they quickly go down. Still haunted by the last comment, they then think of caring for their donkey by carrying it. And so they continue their journey with the donkey on their back. Then approach the second village. Just as they enter the village, the people in the village laugh at them so loudly, and say: “What stupid sods are you? Aren’t you supposed to ride on the donkey instead of the donkey riding on you?” And they continue to laugh at them while shaking their head at their stupidity. The young lad and the old man look at each other and are so confused. They lower their donkey on the ground and begin to cry. That, my friends, is relativism at work.
In Romans 12:2 Paul exhorts: “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” With Paul’s exhortation we are now talking at a higher level. This is a level higher than that of the world. Descartes, Hume, and Kant spoke at the worldly level. But Paul speaks at the heavenly level. The difference between the worldly and the heavenly is clearly elaborated in the Scripture. Paul gives a lengthy teaching on this matter as recorded in Colossians 3:1-17:
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The mind of the Christians is redeemed in Christ. Now, the mind of Christ must become the mind of all Christians. In doing so, we can’t continue to live in our old ways of life. Consequently, our old worldview too can’t be employed. A new worldview must take place in order for the entire being be transformed. This new world view is the worldview of Christ. Now we have what is called as the “Christian Worldview.” It is necessary for the followers of Christ to shed their old self – their attachment to the world – and put on the new self – attachment to Christ. The adoption of Christ’s worldview is what we know very well as “Repentance.” This repentance is the total change of self. The way we view the world is drastically changed as we begin adopting Christ’s worldview. No worldly worldview no matter how good it may seem that we are to adopt. Not adopting the worldly worldview doesn’t mean that we seclude ourselves from the world. We do not adopt the asceticism view. We do not separate ourselves from the world. For we are sent into the world. As Jesus has said in His high priestly prayer: “18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). So, not adopting the worldly worldview means that we do not abide in the world. We only abide in Christ. All the practices of the things that are highly valued on earth are to be abandoned. Things like the achievement of power, of wealth, of fame, of pleasure, etc. are to be abandoned. If one is to abide by the world, he is to focus his life into all that worldly things. Now listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:5-8:
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
This flesh of ours tends to agree with the world. The worldly gain like power, fame, wealth, pleasure and the likes fit our flesh very well. The worldly worldview leads toward the things that fit our flesh, even if it is considered to be noble. Even if the worldview seemingly focuses on the punishing of the flesh, it would also for the purpose of self-gain. I will show you bits and pieces of worldly worldviews so you may know the danger and deception of some of them. Time won’t permit us to exhaust everything. If we force to do so we would stay here for the next 50 years just to discuss every single false worldviews. It would be enough for you to know a little bit so you may be aware of the dangers and then focus more on the right worldview. Even this we won’t be able to exhaust everything within the Christian worldview. It usually takes a long time to shape the mind to understand the Christian worldview. For to understand a worldview one must live in it intellectually, passionately, and behaviorally for a period of time. For example, the Jews require each child to be immersed in the Jewish belief intensively since birth. Then at the age of 12 the Jewish kids would go through the Bar Mitzvah ritual as the rite of passage ritual to mark the maturity of the mind of the Jewish kids. Passing through the Bar Mitzvah (also known as the Children of Torah) is the sign that these kids have adopted the Jewish belief to the fullest. Thus the Jewish worldview is internalized in the mind of these Bar Mitzvah kids.
Now, there are many dangerous worldviews out there that you need to be aware of. For example a philosophy called “Atheistic Existentialism” with Jean Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche as some of their prophets is a dangerous philosophy that has gained a lot of practical followers in the 20th and 21st centuries. Sartre for example taught that our value lies not in the traditional values as humans know it throughout the ages. What is good or wrong is not determined by the traditional values such as the Aristotle’s Summum Bonnum. For Sartre what is good is determined whether humans are free to make a choice. So he illustrated his view like this. A certain man is driving his car on the road. As he drove he saw from afar there was a man on the shoulder trying to fix whatever problem his car had. This certain man driving has some options, his value will be determined by his freedom to choose among those options. Say there are three options: 1) stop the car and help the man with the car problem, 2) pass him by, and 3) hit the man with the car problem. Then Sartre said that it doesn’t matter what he chooses, as long as he chooses. His value is not determined by the content of his choice, but by the fact that he is free to choose. And so even if he chooses to hit the man with the car problem and the man died, it is considered good because he makes a choice. Now, imagine the whole world adopting such worldview, what kind of chaos do you think the world would become? Terrorists can’t be judged according to the traditional meaning of good and evil, since they too make a choice. So whatever they do is good too as long as they choose.
Nietzsche taught that God is dead. He also taught that since God is dead, now then is the time of man. Man must find the “replacement” of God. And he called that replacement as the “ubermensch” or as the superman. The coming of the ubermensch must be from the superior people. Therefore the superior people and culture must rule and take charge of the world. Then ubermensch will be born to take the supreme command. Some historians said that Hitler picked up Nietzsche’s worldview and internalized it. Then Hitler moved on with his plan to destroy the Jews – the inferior people and culture – following Nietzsche’s book “On the Genealogy of Morals.” Hitler boasted that the German people – the Aryan – was the supreme people and culture. He believed that Germany must rule the world therefore. World War II broke out because of such worldview. And since God is dead, man is free to do whatever their hearts desire. In his book “The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky rightly spoke that: “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.” Well, we have seen what that worldview did to the world, haven’t we?
Now, the Hindu religion has a fascinating worldview. The world famous karma and reincarnation system within the Hindu belief is something that many people truly devote their lives in. The impact of this system is that Hindu people would think 1000 times before doing anything. Because they are afraid of the consequences of their actions. If they do evil, then the karma will return the evil to them with a vengeance, ten times or even a thousand times more severe. If they do good, then the karma will return the good to them ten times or even a thousand times better. With this system, they supposedly are choosing to do good rather than evil. They would not want to be reincarnated as a mouse, or as a cockroach, or as other insignificant insect. So they discipline their bodies in such a way so as to achieve the higher reincarnation form. To be a better person. To be in a better caste. To be a god. Or even to break the reincarnation cycle (samsara – the cycle of death and rebirth) through moksha. In order to achieve moksha one must go through some kind of bitter suffering through seclusion. So they would withdraw from the world, renounce their desire, and always do good. If we look at it carefully, this system, while works very well for the Hindu people for so many thousands of years, in the end doing good is for their self-gain. For their liberation. For their freedom from the pain of reincarnation. In this worldview, people do not do good for the sake of others or for the sake of good itself, but for the sake of their own life so that they would not receive bad karma but instead good karma. Any genuine good deeds you can find? I’m saying this not to mock them, but to show you that a worldview has its inevitable consequences in the life of man.
Deepak Chopra, the New Age Guru of the 20th and 21st century, teaches his followers that we are essentially god. That when god is born in us we will reach the highest state of our life. All we need to do is to channel that god within us. This god, according to Chopra, is waiting to be unfolded. Our attachment to this world is what hampers the birth of this god. Chopra also argues that if we are broken down into the atomic level, we are no different than all other objects in the world. As all things are broken down, we will find energy and information, and thus here we share our essential components with all the other objects in the world. Humans therefore are no different than cockroaches, for we share the same essential components. With these views Chopra proposes that in order to be successful we then must become one with the world. Among his seven laws of success, the first one is the foundation – which is the “Law of Pure Potentiality.” This law requires you to be in tune with the one spirit that unites everything. Meditation therefore is the key – to channel the one spirit. For Chopra, god or that one spirit is recognized in many different names. In Christianity we call him Elohim, in Islam he is Allah, in Buddhism he is Buddha, in Hinduism he is Brahma, and so on. And so, consequently, according to Chopra it doesn’t matter which religion you follow, you still channel the same uniting spirit. And therefore, for Chopra, if one is to be successful in the world one must eliminate differences and find only what is essentially the same. Now, this law is combined with what is called as the “Law of Least Effort” and you will find a view that proposes to embrace everything without discrimination. In his “Law of Least Effort” he says that love is the uniting principle of everything in the universe. And so for Chopra we are to do the least effort, which is to love, loving everything. The problem with his view is that then we are to embrace even evil, murder, disaster, terrorists. All that is needed to be done is to love and everything will unfold itself for our success. If he is right, Jesus did not have to die. He did not have to put in his best effort to save humanity. And we do not need to work with our best effort to bring peace into the world. For Chopra it will come by itself through the least effort. And so we all will have to become pacifists and do nothing. So, why go to school? Why study? Why work? Why evangelize? Why do we even eat? And so on and so forth. Hope you can see the danger of this New Age worldview through this short discussion.
There are many other worldviews in this world. There are pragmatism, communism, agnosticism, utilitarianism, Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, and so on and so forth. But since we are Christians, it is only fitting if we adopt Christian worldview. In a nutshell, it is the view of the world as Christ views the world. In which the end goal is to become like Christ, our older brother. In which its ethical principle is the golden rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). In which we are to love God more than anything and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In which when it is necessary for us to do so, we would sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our love to God or to others. In which we do good not for the sake of we are gaining heaven, but even if heaven is not bestowed upon us we still would do good. In which when we do good it is a reflection of who we really are as created in the image of God who have been redeemed in Christ Jesus. And in which we start from: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7a).”
My final word to you is that what worldview you are adopting will make you. Or in other words: “You are what your worldview is.” Therefore it is important that you know what your worldview is. For wanted or not, consciously or not, you have already had a worldview within your framework of being that governs how you view the world, how you live your life, or how you treat others, etc. For sure, if you are to live a Christian life, Christian worldview must be adopted, and not other worldviews.