How to Understand Any Worldview Pt. 1

This book recently came out, and is an essential read for anyone interested in how to understand worldviews. It can often be daunting when you look at the sheer number of worldviews that exist. There’s no possible way that one person can be an expert in all the different worldviews, but Pearcey lays out a way we can analyze all worldviews without having to be experts in their intricacies. Drawing from Romans 1, we are going to cover each of her 5 principles in the coming weeks, so that you can feel more equipped to understand the world around you (and to whet your appetite to go buy the book!).

Principle #1: Identify the Idol

In Romans 1 we read about God’s wrath on ungodliness and unrighteousness. In it, Paul writes

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – 1:21-22

From this passage Pearcey notes that they have created an idol for themselves to worship instead of God. When it comes to worldviews, in the course of conversation with a person or the reading of some material, you’ll eventually notice something that the writer/speaker prizes above all else, or what they have as their foundation. This is their idol.

Secular people often accuse Christians of having “faith,” while claiming that they themselves base their convictions purely on facts and reason. Not so. If you press any set of ideas back far enough, eventually you reach an ultimate starting point–something that is taken as the self-existent reality on which everything depends.

In a way, this can be a more sophisticated way of questioning that is similar to the child always asking “why?” to everything. Essentially, what you will want to do is figure out where the person is starting from. How do you do this?

If starting premises do not rest on reasons, how can they be tested? Although you cannot argue backward to their prior reasons, you can argue forward by spelling out their implications, then testing those implications using both logic and experience.

By asking question about what is behind everything, you will get to know what the idol is. Taking the revival of the different versions of Paganism that we’re seeing in our day as an example, Pearcey writes:

Most revived versions of paganism involve some form of pantheism combined with polytheism, in which the gods are regarded as aspects or emanations of a universal earth spirit. Consult a typical Wiccan website, for example, and you will read texts like this: “Divinity manifests itself through all living beings. Nature itself is divine.” The idol in paganism is Nature itself, or a spiritual substance interconnecting all of nature.

So when you hear somebody talking about being out in nature as their church, or absorbing the free radicals of the earth by walking barefoot, you’re starting to hear clues about what their idol is. They have deified nature in some way, and while there may be a more religious or spiritual feel about Paganism, there is actually a similar thread found in Naturalism or Scientism.

The prevailing view among the New Atheists, along with much of the academic world, is scientific materialism. What is ultimately real is matter–molecules in motion. Materialism is committed to the dogma that physics explains all of chemistry, chemistry explains all of biology, and biology explains the human mind, with nothing left over. Therefore, physics alone explains the human mind. Physics is the ultimate explainer.

The materialist creed was captured nicely by the late philosopher Dallas Willard: “There is one reality, the natural world, and physics is its prophet.”

There is less of an overt religious or spiritual nature to people who hold to this worldview (whether you call it Naturalism, Scientism, Materialism, or even Atheism, as they’re often linked) but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t making divinity claims. When you hear people talking about how ultimately the only things we can know to be true are those things found be the sciences or from our senses, these are clues that are pointing to their idol.

Now that we’ve scratched the surface of identifying the idol of a worldview, what do we do with it once we’ve found it? We’ll start digging into that next week.

– Jesse