Worldviews: What They Are and Why They Matter

by Robert B. Stewart

Worldviews are like navels.  We all have one, but we don’t often think about it.  There is no shortage of talk or books these days about “worldviews,” whether the worldview in question is the Christian worldview, the naturalist worldview, the enlightenment worldview, the Muslim worldview, the New Age worldview or whatever the worldview flavor of the month is.

But what exactly do we mean when we use the term worldview?  To a degree that depends on who is speaking (just as what is understood depends on who is listening).  Apparently worldviews are also like pornography—we all think we know a worldview when we see one but nobody can produce a definition that satisfies everyone.  Simply put, there doesn’t appear to be much agreement on the answer to this question.  For this reason, it seems best to me to begin by laying out what I mean when I talk about worldviews, especially what I mean when I talk about the Christian worldview.

A worldview is a set of basic beliefs through which we view reality.  Simple enough; but what does this mean?  Among other things it means that a worldview is not simply a single belief but a group of beliefs that shape and influence how we look at life and the world, not only about how the world is but also about how the world should be—and particularly how we should be in the world.

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It also means that one must understand that worldviews begin at a precognitive level—they are reasoned from not reasoned to.  In other words they function as fundamental truths upon which we base secondary beliefs.  “A worldview is a set of basic beliefs through which we view reality…”Think of the relationship between worldviews and beliefs like you would that of a computer operating system to a software program.  A software program will not run without an operating system.  This is because an operating system is more fundamental than a software program.  In the same way a worldview is more fundamental than an individual belief or doctrine, even a very important single belief.

Worldviews function as statements of faith, ethical guides, and linguistic referees.  As statements of faith, worldviews are inherently religious.  For this reason even an atheist’s denial of God’s existence is itself a religious assertion.  As religious statements they are inherently biased, they conflict and compete with other worldviews.  A worldview tells one how the world really is, not simply how one might wish it to be.  It is for this reason that postmodern pluralism is not—and cannot be—the neutral sort of non-worldview position that it makes itself out to be.  Two examples will serve to illustrate what I am getting at here…

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