Sunday, April 1, 2012

National worldviews in the US

The modern concept of worldview goes back to Kant in 1790. Later the concept was elaborated by other thinkers such as Fichte, Schleiermacher, Hegel, and Dilthey, in terms of weltanschaung–a global outlook on life and the world that characterizes a people or a culture.
Langdon Gilkey, a U.S. theologian, connects the concept of worldview with "a shared system of meanings."James Olthuis, in a perceptive article, describes worldview as "a framework or set of fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling and future in it." He adds: "It is the integrative and interpretive framework by which order and disorder are judged, the standard by which reality is managed and pursued."
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)–a noted Dutch Reformed theologian, statesman and journalist–was one of the first to apply the concept of worldview to a Christian analysis of culture. Carl Henry and Frances Schaeffer, American evangelical writers of our time, followed Kuyper's lead in critiquing cultural trends from a worldview perspective.
As Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton suggest in their book The Transforming Vision, a worldview answers four fundamental questions:
• Who am I? The nature, meaning and purpose of human beings. What am I here for?
How do I compare with and relate to other human beings, objects, God?
•Where am I? The nature of the universe in which we live. What is the reality that I perceive? How much does it encompass?
•What is wrong? The obstacles that prevent me from attaining fulfillment. How do I understand the disorder, pain, and evil that I observe and experience? How can I explain it?
•What is the solution? Ways of overcoming the obstacles to fulfillment. How do I solve the enigma of evil and find personal satisfaction? The question suggests that, ultimately, a worldview implies a soteriology and an eschatology.
A worldview has certain characteristics:
1. It is pre-philosophical. Men and women, regardless of their educational attainments or their ability for abstract thought, have basic assumptions, convictions, and commitments with respect to the nature of human beings, reality, evil, and the good life. Nicholas Wolterstorff calls these convictions "control beliefs." A worldview, then, is a pre-philosophical and pre-scientific perspective that comes suggestively close to the concept of faith.
2. It may be expressed through a story. A worldview is usually presented as a narrative that ties together concepts of origin, meaning, purpose and destiny for individuals, social groups, and entire cultures. On the basis of this metanarrative we understand the role we play in human history and in the conflict between the forces of good and evil. As examples of this, we can cite the Great Controversy theme elaborated by Ellen White and–from an opposite perspective–the evolutionary narrative proposed by Charles Darwin and his followers. As we enter the 21st century, many observers believe that the secular worldview that has shaped Western culture since the Enlightenment is in crisis. The idea of permanent material progress and the boundless human improvement through secular scientific means now seem a chimera. Hence the increasing spiritualization of contemporary Western culture.
3. It is normative. As Walsh and Middleton note, a worldview is not only a perspective of life, but also a vision for life. While it describes reality from a specific point of view, it also proposes norms for the conduct of individuals and social groups. It distinguishes between the real and the ideal, between what is and what ought to be. It proposes ethical priorities and patterns for education. The worldview we embrace determines our attitude toward work, life in the community, politics, economy, science and technology, etc.
What we have discussed to this point may be summarized in the following chart:
The decisive battles that God's followers have fought through the centuries have always been, in essence, battles for the mind and will of men and women. Jesus was aware of the dynamic power beliefs and ideas to transform and inspire: "You will know the truth, and truth will set you free". And in two strong passages, the apostle Paul warned Christians: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" .
Thus it is our duty, as thoughtful Christians and educators, to be critically aware of the underlying assumptions that inform contemporary thought and educational philosophies. These will shape the mind of the students that attend our institutions of learning, influence their choices, and determine a considerable degree, their eternal destiny.
Three major worldviews compete for allegiance in our culture:
1. Theism posits the existence of a personal God who is Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign of the universe, and who is the source of justice and love. Theism has been nurtured by Judaism, Christianity and Islam.. Christianity, in turn, has played an important role in shaping the philosophy, art, science, and social institutions of the modern world.
2. Pantheism identifies the Deity with the forces and workings of nature. From this perspective, everything that exists partakes of the divine essence. Pantheism blurs the distinction between Creator and creation, between good and evil, and between the various world religions. It emphasizes the divine in all of us and the sacredness of all things. Pantheism in the West has been nurtured by Neo-Platonic influences and lately by Eastern religions.
3. Naturalism explains everything that exists in terms of physical elements, forces, and processes. This worldview was already known at the time of the Greek philosophers. It re-emerged during Enlightenment and gained momentum in the context of the Scientific Revolution. Naturalism received new impetus during the last 150 years with the emergence of our scientific and technological culture. Several ideological currents derive from it: Materialism, Empiricism, Positivism, Atheism, and Marxism. A secular view of life has pervaded modern Western culture through science, education, the arts, and the media.
(Khatidzhe Baitullaieva)

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