Worldviews

James E. Brock of St. Augustine, Florida, a retired U.S. Navy veteran and deacon at the Ancient City Baptist Church, owned the local Monson Motor Lodge. In June 1964, after five young black men jumped into the “whites-only” swimming pool, Brock poured hydrochloric acid into the pool in order to get them out. A defender of absolute segregation, he repeatedly cried, “I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it!”

Why did Brock do what he did? What is the WHYbehind the WHAT?

He did it because of his worldview. His perception about race was shaped by the cultural norms of the day. What is a worldview? It is “a present tense story-grid through which one sees and interprets all aspects of life.” A worldview is not what you see. It is not merely an opinion on some matter (“My view is…”). It is not simply an academic term. What is it? It is what you see through…a story-grid.

A story-grid may tell women to cover themselves. In Latin America, it says relationships are important. In India the guru/shishya model is valued. Outward behavior does not just take place. There are factors below the visible surface that shape what we think and feel about reality and relationships. Anthropologist Paul G. Hiebert predicted that the 21st century would be the century of worldview.

Beginning as a child, amidst informal relationships of endearment, we begin to form an overall story-grid by putting smaller stories together. In other words, worldview is learned. Although incredibly powerful, a worldview is implicit, tacitly assumed and generally outside of our awareness. Rarely do we examine our worldview. While outside of our conscious awareness, core worldview assumptions are emotionally embraced and deeply held, restraining and constraining behavior.

Worldview is an unseen force so powerful that it shapes what we “know” is and is not real, who we think we are and are not, and what we feel ought and ought not to be. It defines the indicative and the imperative.

It is often helpful to place worldview into a comprehensive model of culture. All aspects of culture are derived from metanarrative, a tenaciously held big picture story of reality developed across time, from which core worldview assumptions are derived. Going further, a worldview consists of a network of interconnected core assumptions about reality at any moment of timethat forms a grid through which one interprets and interacts with all aspects of life. Values are our perceptions of the way things ought and ought not to be. Identity is based upon presumed markers (gender, age, marital status, family name, race/ethnicity, class, language, education, occupation, and wealth) that depict status and role in society. Socio-cultural institutions are formalized ways of thinking and behaving according to community-derived categories and codes.

A Model of Culture

Michael Kearney (1984) from the University of California, Riverside, sees six classifications in worldview: self, Other, relationships, causality, time, and space. Thereby, a worldview tells me who I am, what my purpose is, as well as when and where I live out my life.

How are worldviews formed? They are basically formed by the telling of a story (and stories within a story) and drawing inferences from it. All people have their story and draw upon it to sustain their values, institutions, and behavioral patterns (adapted from David J. Hesselgrave). The stories within a story are controlling narratives that are transhistorical and deeply embedded in a particular culture. These controlling master narratives that comport with reality are shared widely and repeated across time. They are resistant to change. What do they accomplish? They…

  • Shape the self-concept
  • Configure life events into a coherent theme
  • Make sense of everyday life
  • Connect the present with the past
  • Justify current behavior
  • Project the future
  • Provide trajectory

Clustered together, controlling narratives form a metanarrative that is an ultimate authority for people. It is the source of core worldview assumptions.

Kevin M. Bradt, from Berkeley, California, writes, “Story then, is not just a frill, an illustration, a diversion, or an entertainment. Instead, story is much more basic. It is a way by which and through which we come to know and understand ourselves, others, and the world around us” (1997, p. viii).

How easy is it to change a worldview? Any attempt to do so threatens the very foundations of a person’s world. Therefore, people resist such challenges with deep emotion. People are even willing to die for beliefs that make their lives and deaths meaningful.

What is required to impact the worldview of another person? The first and foremost requirement is an authentic respectful relationship. In relationships over time, trust bonds can be formed, language and culture can be acquired, and communication can be exchanged using mutually familiar forms and functions. There is an ancient proverb that says, “A messenger you can trust is just as refreshing as cool water in summer.”

At this point a logical question may be, “Why would I want to impact the worldview of another person?”

Leave a Comment