DEFINING REALITY: PART 2


Worldviews are what humans use to define reality, words are the vehicles used to describe worldviews, and coming to terms with what one says and means about their worldview is the key to understanding each other.

WORLDVIEWS— THEIR IMPORTANCE and THEIR ESSENCE

There’s a wife of a man who thought he was dead and she was trying to convince her husband that he was actually alive.  Regardless of her many persuasions, the man would not be convinced otherwise.  She eventually took him to the doctor who assured him that he was alive.  Nothing worked.  It occurred to the doctor to get the man to agree that dead men don’t bleed, so he pricked his finger with a needle and there was the “evidence.”  The man was certain that he was dead, but the fact was that his finger was bleeding, it was obvious.  For many days after this doctor’s visit, the man was saddened because his “certainty” of the “fact he was dead” was not in touch with reality. He returns to the doctor and exclaims, “Good Lord, dead men do bleed after all!”  At the end of the day, this man’s view of life was so dear to him that the facts did not matter. [1]

The Importance of Worldviews Matter

When our outlook on life—worldview is immune to being revised—as is the case with the, “dead man bleeding” we fail to live a life of integrity, a life where the truth matters even if it hurts.  And as disciples of Christ, this must not be the case.  For if we are honest with ourselves, at times we also don’t want our view to be shown lacking when confronted with the facts.  Herein the “dead man’s” challenge is ours.  Receiving counsel that requires us to adjust our positions in life and the resulting changes that are demanded of us are frankly difficult to hear. 

Still worse, when we hear counsel that we’ve heard before and find it annoying, hostile, dull, silly or something even worse.  Too often, familiarity does breed contempt. 

The Essence of a Worldview 

For centuries mankind has considered the meaning of life and how we came to be.  There’s really nothing new under the sun as Solomon writes.[2]  All people derive meaning from life based on their worldview.  Whether someone is aware of it, or not, they have a worldview.  Now a worldview is[3] a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life, it’s a conceptual scheme by which we either, consciously or unconsciously interpret and judge all of reality.

A worldview is “forged out of beliefs that have the most consequence for a comprehensive vision of reality.  It is an overall conception of reality that touches on the key areas that philosophy and religion have always addressed”[4] The correct worldview is like eyeglasses, which helps us focus more clearly on reality.

That is why putting on the right conceptual scheme can have important repercussions in understanding significant events and ideas.

Worldview and Disagreements

When disagreementsexist between people and societies it’s because there’s a clash between competing worldviews.  These clashes occur between individual people but can also be between nations. 

There are similarities that certain worldviews share on most issues (e.g., Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are monotheistic i.e., the belief in one supreme God)

By contrast other worldviews obtain more dissimilarities than commonalities (e.g., Christians believe in resurrection, Hindus believe in re-incarnation). 

There are still other worldviews where no agreement at all is shared. That is, there’s no overlap in their respective worldview (e.g., Christians believe God exists and has revealed himself to mankind in the person of Christ Jesus, but classic Atheists deny God’s existence). 

Aspects of a Worldview

All worldviews have aspects or characteristics that are foundational to the structure of their existence.  All worldviews minimally have; a theological, metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and anthropological basis for making sense out of life.    

            First there’s the theological aspect or the view of who or what God is. This is the “ultimate reference point” from where everything else flows.  Thus, the most important aspect of a worldview is to determine if God is actually personal (e.g. Christian position) or impersonal (e.g., Hindu view).  While there are conflicting views about God, it’s interesting to note that even the staunches professing atheist under moments of distress will exclaim “Oh my God! Help!”   

Second, there’s the metaphysical aspect where the issue of ultimate reality comes to play.  Here we consider what the “nature/essence” of a thing is.  This where our beliefs[5] about the nature of a thing is considered and distinctions are made.  For example, we may ask “what is it that categorizes Joe as a human being and Tango as a dog?” 

Third, there’s the epistemological aspect of a worldview (i.e., how we know what we know). Here’s where we consider, for example, the difference between knowing that I love my wife, as opposed to knowing that 2+2=4? Again, here’s where we consider how can we know that this life is an illusion, as opposed to it actually being real.

Fourth, there’s the ethical aspect where moral deliberation takes place.  Here is where the ought-ness of our conduct (morals) is emphasized. This is very practical and considers questions of how we deal with other human beings often in their most vulnerable moments (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc.)

Lastly, there’s the anthropological aspect of how we come to view other human beings.  These issues concern peoples, civilizations, cultures, classifications, etc.  Today, the unrest in our nation is intrinsically tied to our view of people and how as a result is the best way to deal with the plights before them.

Thus, everyone has a view of who or what God is, what the nature of reality is, how we can or cannot know anything, how we ought or ought not treat people and what it actually means to be human.

Everyone has a worldview, it’s the big ideas that we hold to both judge and make sense out of reality, and if our worldview is not in touch with reality (like the man who believed that “Dead men do bleed!”), then we need to revise it if we care about living authentic lives where the truth matters.   


[1] This section is borrowed from pages 9-10 of, THE GOD QUESTION: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning, ©2009 by J.P. Moreland, (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, Oregon).

[2] Ecclesiastes 1:9 

[3] The following discussion on worldviews is taken from chapter 1 of Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas, Zondervan Publishing House, © 1992 by Ronald H. Nash

[4] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, pg.74

[5] A belief is the conviction that something is real and true, and thus we should give intellectual and practical assent to that idea.

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