Even though we all live in the same world and time, our varying worldviews can profoundly change the way we interpret who we are and what we are doing here. The windows through which we look at our world and one another can give us radically different answers to the same basic questions:
WHAT IS REAL?
Often when sorting out a problem we might say, “Let’s do a reality check.” Interestingly, this is the starting point for each worldview.
Monotheism And Reality. All three monotheistic faiths— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—see reality in terms of a sovereign Creator who is involved with His world. Each assumes the existence of God, an eternal Spirit being, who has created both a material and a spiritual reality. The objective world of matter is there to be observed. God’s special revelation, however, is required to know about the spiritual realities of heaven, angels, the devil, and the afterlife. Monotheists regard as real what they observe in nature and understand from their religious writings.
Deism And Reality. Deists proceed from the assumption that an orderly universe exists. They see its First Cause as a Creator who does not guide its movements, intervene in human affairs, or answer prayers. Their pursuit of what is real comes through reason and sound inquiry. They do not take seriously any revelation that portrays the miraculous. Their reality is limited to nature.
Naturalism And Reality. The naturalist assumes that matter is all that exists and is best investigated through the scientific method. Unlike deism, it does not hold to God as a First Cause for the universe. Because matter is the only thing that can be measured under repeatable laboratory conditions, it is the only thing we can be sure of. Naturalists believe that matter is real and that spirit is not.
Nihilism And Reality. The nihilist believes that we cannot know objective truth or moral values with any certainty. Adopting a strong skepticism, the nihilist rejects what are traditionally held truth-claims about reality. At best, even scientific experiments and the records of history are inaccurate and irrelevant distortions of what is claimed to be “real.”
Existentialism And Reality. Atheistic existentialists view the external cosmos as real. Their problem, however, is that they find it to be ultimately absurd and meaningless. Subjective experience is the only way to arrive at meaning that is relevant to the individual. Although the existentialist believes the objective world exists, he sees no objective reason for existing.
Pantheism And Reality. The term pantheism comes from the Greek words pan for “all or everything” and theos for God. In other words, “everything is God.” Eastern pantheism, popularized by the New Age Movement, assumes that one impersonal spiritual force constitutes reality. Pantheists believe that Spirit is the ultimate reality and that matter is an illusion.
New Consciousness And Reality. Central to New Consciousness is the assumption that self is the prime reality. This view assumes that we experience reality in two different ways: the visible through the senses, and the invisible through altered states of consciousness. New Consciousness believes that ultimate reality is suprarational and can only be understood through altered states of mind. The view of reality may vary from one worldview to the next. But what can they tell us about personal identity?
WHO AM I?
Identity theft has become a real concern for our generation. The threat of someone stealing our name, social security number, date of birth, and citizenship is a serious misuse of who we are. Yet a worldview seeks to answer the question of “Who am I?” on a much deeper level.
Monotheism And Identity. Monotheists are in agreement that human beings are made in the image of God but are morally flawed and in need of redemption. For the Jew, this means keeping the law and its traditions. The Christian believes in redemption through faith in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. The Muslim advocates submitting to the will of Allah and obeying the Koran.
Deism And Identity. Deists believe that man is a personal being who is part of the “clockwork universe.” He is not abnormal or fallen but is as he is supposed to be. Freedom to explore nature will lead to self-knowledge and understanding of the impersonal God who set up the universe.
Naturalism And Identity. Naturalists view humans as a highly developed animal who possesses self-consciousness, reason, and conscience. They believe that humans are highly complex biological “machines” who have physical and mental capabilities not yet fully known.
Nihilism And Identity. Awash in a sea of uncertainty, nihilists have no clear, lasting identity. Their own understanding is biased and limited. But they do assume that an identity applied to them by traditional institutions and religious values is bogus and to be rejected.
Existentialism And Identity. Existentialists believe that because humans have self-consciousness and reason, we must define who and what we are. With no credible external source to give identity, we must subjectively invent who we are. No one else can do this for us.
Pantheism And Identity. The pantheistic view of identity is holistic. My little soul is part of the big Soul of the universe. Through meditation, each of us can experience becoming one with the cosmos. When we achieve this state of enlightenment, our personality and the external world of matter will disappear.
New Consciousness And Identity. New Consciousness teaches that the ultimate center of our personhood is within our mind. We are what our altered state of consciousness shows us. To facilitate this discovery, some use psychedelic drugs. Worldviews establish identity through various means: God, evolution, our own search for meaning, or other sources. But how do these different windows on the world explain where we come from?
WHERE DID I COME FROM?
When getting to know someone, we often ask the question, “Where are you from?” What usually follows is a brief description of our hometown and the family in which we grew up. But sometimes, in our private moments, we may ask ourselves the ultimate question of origin, “Did I have a Creator, was I the result of evolution, or did I have some other origin?”
Monotheism And Origins. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would all agree that our universe was created by a personal God. Our original ancestors were created to be in relationship with God, but they and their offspring chose to go their own independent way. Being reconciled to our Creator requires faith and obedience to His revealed truth to us.
Deism And Origins. The orderliness of the known universe argues in favor of an intelligent designer as First Cause. This God has set up the laws of motion in the cosmos like an intelligent clockmaker who winds up a clock and leaves it to run on its own. The deist believes that our origin is traceable back through the generations to an impersonal God.
Naturalism And Origins. Many naturalists believe that the known universe likely exploded into existence over 15 billion years ago. They believe that the process of evolution began about 5 billion years ago with the formation of amino acids, the first cell, and then lower species adapting into more complex ones. Naturalists believe that humans are the closest kin to the monkey, and just one of many primates.
Nihilism And Origins. Nihilists believe that history has been shown to be unreliable. Even if the scientific theory of evolution were true, they assume that all it would mean is that human beings have a highly developed monkey brain that is, at best, unreliable. The nihilist holds the view that origins are under “a great cloud of unknowing.”
Existentialism And Origins. If we assume there is no God, we most likely have appeared on the scene as conscious b eings from evolution. But unlike lower life-forms, we cry out for a meaning that does not exist. If we believe in some kind of Creator, the past is still irrelevant to our perv onal significa nce. Even the texts of religion are filled with “paradoxes” that can complicate our current life experience.
Pantheism And Origins. Pantheism teaches that the soul that dwells within our human body has come from numerous reincarnations. Reincarnation (literally “to be made flesh again”) means that some essential part of a living being (soul or spirit) survives death to be reborn in a new body.
New Consciousness And Origins. Through the past process of evolution, our former primitive monkey brain has now developed to the point where we are at the threshold of “cosmic consciousness” (seeing the big picture through an altered state of mind). Worldviews offer a variety of explanations for our ultimate origin. But when it comes to the meaning of life, there is even more diversity of opinion.
WHY AM I HERE?
The title of Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning hits on an important aspect of life for all of us. “Why am I here and what difference does it make?” A worldview has a way of probing this question within the human heart.
Monotheism And Meaning. The monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would all agree that we derive meaning from our Creator. Having been made for a relationship with God, we can only find lasting purpose in honoring Him and finding joy in His presence.
Deism And Meaning. Deists do not believe we derive our meaning from a personal Creator. Instead, they believe we make use of our intelligence, conscience, community, and creativity to find meaning in nature.
Naturalism And Meaning. Many naturalists find meaning in “progress.” They believe that the human race developed into a modern society from its primitive beginnings. This leads them to believe that we are capable of improving our behavior and living conditions. We therefore should skillfully use science and technology to benefit mankind.
Nihilism And Meaning. The nihilist feels that traditional theories of meaning may satisfy the masses but are all built on foundations of sand. Because the nihilist sees the flaws in existing institutions, he often views himself as an activist who must challenge the superficial meanings provided by tradition.
Existentialism And Meaning. Existentialists believe that the cruel joke of our world is that each of us comes into the world without any overarching purpose. No objective meaning exists in the external cosmos. The existentialist must subjectively invent his own “reason for being” through the exercise of free will.
Pantheism And Meaning. As the pantheist cooperates with good moral choices of “karma,” he will later be reincarnated into a higher station. His ultimate meaning will be realized when he becomes one with the universe.
New Consciousness And Meaning. Those who embrace New Consciousness discover meaning through those experiences provided in an altered state of consciousness. The spread of “cosmic consciousness” to others will initiate more individuals into being lords of their own universe. People find significance for their lives in a variety of ways. But meaning is often connected in some way with moral guidelines of “being a good person.” But where do the values to be good come from?
WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR MY VALUES?
It can be enlightening to listen to the moral judgments we make. Regardless of our worldview, and despite how inconsistent we might sound, we all are inclined to say things like,“This isn’t right.” “That wasn’t fair.” “I want to do the right thing.” It seems the sense of “oughtness” is an indelible part of our human nature. But where does each worldview get its guidelines for moral decisions?
Monotheism And Ethics. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all agree that God has placed a conscience in human personality. They are divided, however, on what specific special revelation informs that conscience. The Jews derive their moral code from the Torah and the Jewish commentaries on it. The Christians go to the Old and New Testaments for ethical guidance. Muslims build their ethical systems on select parts of the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, and teachings of their respective Islamic sects.
Deism And Ethics. Since God does not tamper with His universe, “special revelation” should not be the basis of moral values. Instead, the deist believes that we should pursue general revelation (nature) because it is there that we will find the self-evident moral values to inform our conscience by reason and free inquiry.
Naturalism And Ethics. According to naturalists, social groups are the sole source of ethical systems. Because of this, we must realize that there are no ethical absolutes from one culture to another. The moral consensus of a group, however, can provide helpful guidelines for ethical decisions. Most often it is easier to live in conformity with the laws and moral guidelines of the culture in which one lives.
Nihilism And Ethics. Those with this worldview have no binding moral values to judge behavior. Nihilists believe that values promoted by traditional institutions coerce and confine human potential. Because of this, these institutions must be challenged and in some cases even destroyed.
Existentialism And Ethics. Those looking through this window believe that human societies not only provide superficial consolation for meaning but also artificial moral guidance. Existentialists think that most of us fail to see that “morally good behavior” is a simplistic kind of cultural conformity. The existentialist believes that the highest value is for the individual to choose an act that makes his subjective existence meaningful.
Pantheism And Ethics. According to pantheism, building up the merit of “good karma” is best guided by dharma. This term refers to the unchanging universal law of order, which decrees that every entity should behave according to its own particular nature. Pantheism is found in many Eastern religious writings.
New Consciousness And Ethics. People with this view believe that because of our animal origin, we are prone toward destructive behavior. Through the expansion of “cosmic consciousness,” however, the mind can be transformed to greater love and peace. Being the lord of one’s own universe can lead to creating one’s own values.
These windows on the world draw their moral codes from personal invention, sacred texts, and social norms. Yet the final question facing each worldview is related directly to the future.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Each of us knows that some day we will die. Along with this is the realization that the universe itself won’t last forever. So how do the different worldviews answer questions related to personal mortality and the future of the world?
Monotheism And The Future. The major monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe that human consciousness survives physical death either to be welcomed into God’s eternal presence or to be turned away from Him. But the means of attaining eternal life differs in each belief system. Judaism looks to faith and obedience to the Torah. Christianity teaches that faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ provides salvation. Muslims believe that submitting to Allah may merit a paradise of sensual delight.
Deism And The Future. The deist does not know if the soul survives death. Although it seems the universe functions like a wind-up clock that will eventually wind down, we should concern ourselves only with the present and the foreseeable future in improving the human condition.
Naturalism And The Future. The naturalist believes that the consciousness and personality of the individual is forever terminated at physical death. The future of the known universe will be the extinction of all the stars and the end of all life.
Nihilism And The Future. In this view, the positive ideal of human “progress” and the belief in an afterlife have no credibility. The nihilist is also pessimistic about what is to come. We rea lly can’t postulate what the future holds for us or our universe.
Existentialism And The Future. For the existentialist, there is no purpose to existence. One’s ultimate destiny is to die and never be remembered. The future of the universe is doomed to death and extinction.
Pantheism And The Future. Pantheism teaches that the ultimate destiny of “enlightened ones” is to leave the world of material illusion and transcend to become one with the universe. In the meantime, we must experience numerous reincarnations in this universe, which is eternal.
New Consciousness And The Future. This worldview tries to explore the human brain’s unlimited capacities for perception. Those who hold this view believe that through altered states of mind we can transcend ourselves and even possibly contact entities in other dimensions. Personal death or even the death of the universe may be a way to a different reality.
It’s apparent that all these windows on the world differ in their views of personal mortality and even where the universe is headed. Indeed, every question asked has a surprising variety of responses. Are we to conclude, then, that each view is equally valid among this diversity of opinion? Or might there be a single view that most consistently contains the truth?