I’ve noted James H. Olthuis before (many times now!). He isn’t the end-all, be-all of worldview—I think many others also unpack worldview very nicely, but he does provide a good working definition even if I think some things could be worded or explained differently. Again, his summation of worldview (narrative/faith) and similar extrapolations (postmodern) are critical for understanding what I mean when I talk about “faith” “narrative” and “belief.” The one area I want to pull out for this post is how we might think about the fact that worldviews are varied and even contradict each other. Well, if we understand how they are formed, we should expect this.
Now, one could press the claims of faith or thought or socioeconomic or passion as the prime determinant in worldview formation. But that route, I believe, leads unavoidably to reductionism and dogmatism. I suggest that no one factor can be said to be the maker of a worldview. All the factors of life – biophysical, emotional, rational, socioeconomic, ethical, and “religious” – affect worldview formation simultaneously and interdependently, one dominating the others at one time, another at another time. My claim is that such an integrated, multidimensional model of worldview formation is comprehensive and flexible enough to explain the existence and credibility of the many diametrically opposed worldviews with their competing claims.
We should be clear here that his noting of the “claims of faith” is meant to speak to, for instance, the claims of the Lutheran faith, or Catholic faith, or Mormon faith. In other words, a set of teachings or formal creeds within a religious tradition. He isn’t speaking of faith in the sense of that decision to believe and hold to one worldview over another, which is inherently a matter of faith in the sense of the risk we associate with loving another.
Once we understand this process of worldview formation it makes, in my view anyway, the objection that because narratives differ we must either hold them all equally false or we must withhold judgment- untenable. All it means (the fact that narratives differ/are contested) is that we must try and understand each other as we recognize the above noted dynamic. It calls for dialogue, not dismissal or some sort of withdrawal. Living in this world and with others makes this impossible anyway. What it also helps us to see is that worldviews differing and contradicting isn’t tied to the fact they make metaphysical claims, but rather that they do so with all these other factors in play. And making metaphysical claims, unless one were to never comment, never reflect, never theorize, never speculate, just simply note facts like reading from an encyclopedia, is something that everyone does anyway. The only person who does not do this is the person who takes a vow of silence (even then his lived life would betray him as our actions are always our true philosophy—so there is no escape!). And one can only critique one set of metaphysical presuppositions from another set. So thinking the problem lies there (inherent to metaphysical claims) is folly to say the least. Everyone is a philosopher, from the street person to the president of Harvard and “everyone” includes scientists—even empiricists. Whether arm-chair, professional, or somewhere in between- we all philosophize and, in fact, this is inherent to our humanity and what makes us, indeed, human. To object to any of this would only prove my point. The moment one started with his objection and began to articulate, he would be…philosophizing!
The further help is that understanding this dynamic should lead to a little more humility in the holding of our own worldviews and also tolerance, without losing the parallel claim that not all narratives are true or of equal stature (a completely different question). In other words, I need to know that many factors (most beyond my control) led me to have the worldview I currently hold. Part of the ongoing development of our worldviews is the process of peeling away those aspects that are purely cultural and tribal or at least recognize the fact that they are. And the cultural and tribal aspects are true of scientists, atheists, agnostics, and anyone else. No one is born and raised in a vacuum. Part of that same maturing process is learning to own what we feel is critical and what we are passionate about and what we need to let go of. That is the journey. Therefore, doubt should be our constant companion and our worldview should always be in process.
After I have discussed the formation and structure of a worldview in its many dimensions, I will turn to the question of its function. I believe that a worldview can be a medium of mediation and integration in a two-way movement between the commitment of faith and all the other modes of human experience. Certainty received in the surrender of faith leads to a way of living via a worldview. Concomitantly, a way of life, in all of its modes and moments, influences the commitment of faith via the mediation of a worldview. To my mind only a model which highlights such two-way reciprocity enables us to avoid canonizing worldviews (as if they were the pure expression of faith or the infallible bearers of truth) while it also keeps us from minimizing them (as if they were only the reflex and rationalization of socioeconomic interests, genetic predispositions, or emotional needs).
We all are tempted to fall into one of these ditches. The trick is to navigate such that we take both movements into account and hold them both in hand so as to keep balance. All fundamentalism, I believe, is a result of falling into one of these ditches.
Don’t end up in a ditch.