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The term “worldview” encompasses numerous complex ideas that are subject to an even greater number of controversies. However, it is undeniable that people’s accumulated knowledge, often referred to as a worldview, has a great impact on their actions and behaviors. This paper examines the definition of a ‘”worldview,” its core elements, and typology. In addition, the paper takes a closer look at Christian vs. non-Christian worldviews in order to identify the most prominent tendencies in both. The work concludes that international relations can be perceived through the lenses of an individual’s unique worldview, religious or not.
For some, the definition of “worldview” may seem self-evident although, in reality, it is much harder to describe what it refers to. Scholars agree that the term encompasses a variety of complex ideas that dive deep into the essential philosophical and moral arguments. It is crucial to recognize the impact one’s worldview has on their reasoning and actions. The knowledge and beliefs humans accumulate over the course of their lives affect the way they respond to external stimuli and interact with the outside world. Every person has their own unique worldview, which serves as a guide for them to explain the peculiarities of existence.
Despite that, people tend to form groups, which develop worldviews of their own projecting them onto the members. There are different types of worldviews, with the most common being naturalism, theism, and pantheism. Each of these frameworks blends epistemology, metaphysics, axiology, cosmology, teleology, anthropology, and theology as the core elements of any worldview. However, the most important aspect of the discussion about worldviews is the acknowledgement that every single individual has their own set of beliefs and opinions originated from existing knowledge (worldview) and shaped mostly by experiences one has had to go through. The purpose of this paper is to examine the effect a Christian perspective has on international relations.
Defining a Worldview
One’s worldview can be referred to as their philosophy, mindset, ideology, or even religion although the true meaning of the term “worldview” is much more complex and includes various nuances (Funk, 2001). Interestingly, worldviews are not exclusive to a singular individual since a group of people can share one comprehensive interpretation of the world (Christians, Buddhists, etc.) (Funk, 2001). Many interpret “worldview” quite literally and think of it as a view of life, where life is everything that surrounds humans (Sire, 2015). In short, having a certain worldview helps a person to make sense of their surroundings and uncover a central hypothesis, which answers all the questions they might have about existence. Dr. Kenneth Funk (2001), an Emeritus Associate Professor at Oregon State University, believes that the many definitions presented above are superficial.
In order to get a deeper understanding of the meaning of “worldview,” it is essential to examine the impact it has on the way people sense, think, and act (Funk, 2001). According to Dr. Funk (2001), a worldview is the entirety of accumulated knowledge, which affects human responses to the world. Dr. Funk (2001) elaborates that “sensed stimuli are first recognized and interpreted in light of existing knowledge (learned patterns) before they are committed to action” (para. 10).
The system of stimuli interpretation constitutes the human thought process. Therefore, a worldview directly impacts the way people think, including specialized forms of reason such as decision making, judging, and problem solving, which are supposed to be impartial. Even when people consciously try to remain objective, their actions and decisions are in control of particular beliefs and opinions formed by their overriding life hypothesis, better known as “worldview” (Sire, 2015). Moreover, people’s perceptions and existing knowledge about the world (which constitute a worldview) are the basis of new knowledge accumulated through a variety of actions, decisions, and experiences.
Dr. Funk (2001) defines a worldview as “the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of Reality that ground and influence all one’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing” (para. 12). These beliefs about Reality consist of a number of elements, including epistemology, metaphysics, axiology, cosmology, teleology, anthropology, and theology (Mead, 1964). Epistemology are one’s belief about the nature and of and basis for knowledge (Mead, 1964). It affects what one views as valid evidence and how certain they are about the facts presented to them. Metaphysics refer to the beliefs one has about the ultimate nature of Reality (Mead, 1964).
These beliefs help people answer important questions about the basis for truth and the ultimate test for it. Axiology affects all elements of one’s worldview since it is a set of “beliefs about the nature of value and what is valuable: what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong” (Funk, 2001, para. 58). Cosmology answers the questions about the nature of the universe and humans, in particular (Mead, 1964). Beliefs about the purpose behind the universe and its inhabitants comprise teleology, while theology includes beliefs about God, the relationship of God to Man, as well as the connection between God and the material universe (Mead, 1964). Lastly, anthropology refers to one’s beliefs about Man’s place in the universe, moral predisposition, and ultimate purpose (Mead, 1964).
Different Types of Worldviews
The complexity of the term “worldview” explains the variety of worldviews existing in today’s society. People combine their experiences, opinions, and beliefs together, which results in billions of unique personal worldviews woven into the world’s consciousness. Thus, it is extremely hard to categorize different worldviews although there are three major ones competing for allegiance globally.
The first worldview is naturalism, “with its ‘loose’ sub-groups of agnosticism, atheism, existentialism, Marxism, materialism and secular humanism” (Fisher, 2012, p. 51). Naturalism denies the existence of God and emphasizes the importance of understanding matter through science (Fisher, 2012). Prioritizing the scientific method of world exploration, naturalists use Darwin’s theory of evolution to explain how humans have evolved over the centuries.
Existentialists claim that life has no objective meaning, so it is important for people to create their own purpose (Bakewell, 2016). Existentialism functions on the basis of life’s meaninglessness and individual isolation, according to (Bakewell, 2016). Atheism is founded on the proposition that God does not exist (Fisher, 2012). Agnostics believe that the existence of God is neither true nor false (Wilczewska, 2020). Agnosticism supports the notion that it is crucial for people to suspend judgment on whether or not there is God because they do not possess enough evidence supporting either claim (Wilczewska, 2020).
Materialism argues that matter is the fundamental substance of the world, which is why everything (including feelings and mental states) is physical (Jaworski, 2016). Materialists believe that the laws of physics can exhaustively describe the entirety of human existence (Jaworski, 2016). Marxism is a form of philosophical materialism that expresses hostility towards bourgeois science (Neurath, 2020). Secular humanism rejects religious dogma and supports human reason and secular ethics (Cimino & Smith, 2007). As another form of philosophical materialism, secular humanism embraces human experiences in context of the metaphysical doctrine (Cimino & Smith, 2007).
The second worldview identified by Barbara Fisher (2012) is theism, which is based on the belief that God exists. Scholars divide theism into Christianity, Islam, Judaism, all of which are monotheistic. Theism proclaims that the acts of an infinite, personal God is the basis of the finite world people exist in. It is crucial to note that theism does not reject the idea that reality is material: it just combines spirituality with materialism to explain life.
Rebecca A. Clay (2010) notes that “while naturalistic psychologists deny the necessity of God in their interpretations, (…) theists view God as an essential element in their interpretation of the world” (p.16). Another important belief expressed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims is that the universe has a beginning and an end, which is the heavenly order of God. In addition, theism embraces the idea that humankind is the unique creation of God “in his image,” which means that people are eternal and spiritual.
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As for the metaphysical element of this worldview, theism emphasizes that the only way to find truth about both the material world and God is through revelation combined with rational thought (Clay, 2010). Thus, it is important for Christians, Muslims, and Jews to take into account reason, while listening to the voice of God. Theists believe that God controls people’s experiences outside the realm of human existence. Theists have a dualistic worldview that establishes incompatibility between heavenly and earthly matters (Clay, 2010). Therefore, God’s actions, according to theism, always meet the heavenly tier and cannot interact with the earthly tier.
The third worldview crucial to discuss is pantheism, which proclaims the idea that there is nothing that is not God (Fisher, 2012). Although the term “pantheism” is rather modern, the ideas behind it are ancient and the history knows numerous examples of pantheistically inclined thinkers. Pantheists believe that God is identical with the cosmos, which means that no realm of human existence is possible without God’s involvement. Fisher (2012) argues that Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and much New Age Consciousness are the examples of pantheism. Pantheism rejects the notion of anything beyond the spiritual dimension: all else is considered illusion.
Pantheists agree that everything in the universe is a part of God and that God inhabits everyone (McCallum, 2020). Thus, Man is spiritual and impersonal (egoless), which indicates that there are no individuals. The only way to find truth, according to pantheistic beliefs, is through unity with others experiencing “the oneness” of the universe (McCallum, 2020). Pantheism emphasizes the importance to understand that rational thought cannot reflect reality since the ultimate truth is beyond reasoning (McCallum, 2020). Moreover, pantheism supports the idea that there is no good and evil in the world, but rather acts rooted in the lack (or complete absence) of enlightenment, which refers to accepting essential unity (McCallum, 2020).
Christian vs. Non-Christian Worldviews
The foundation of a Christian worldview is not only Christian faith, but God’s revelations to Jews that occurred prior to Christianity (Taylor, 2010). A Christian worldview stands in opposition to the Haunted (Non-Christian) worldview, which urges people to get in touch with the spiritual (Taylor, 2010). The Biblical worldview is based on the belief that God is singular in nature and plural in person (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit).
This Trinitarian God is the creator of the universe, including humans made “in God’s image,” who are, therefore, unique beings possessing remarkable purposes in accordance to God’s plan. Supporters of a non-Christian view of reality (naturalists), on the other hand, argue that people have emerged from impersonal natural forces (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d.). Moreover, naturalists believe that the universe as a whole does not exist to serve a higher purpose, whereas Christians argue that the ex nihilo creation of the universe has happened according to God’s plan (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d.).
When it comes to the ultimate truth, a Christian worldview emphasizes the role of God’s revelation in people’s quest for authentic knowledge of the world (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d.). A non-Christian worldview (postmodernism, to be exact) argues that truth is a matter of perspective and context, which means that there is no objective and unbiased knowledge of the world (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d.). As for ethics, Christians view morality under the prism of God’s perfect moral character, whereas non-Christians tend to agree that “moral values are relative to their cultural context so moral absolutes are rejected (though pluralism, tolerance, relativism, and inclusivism are virtual absolutes)” (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d., p. 182).
Lastly, one of the most important aspects to compare Christian vs. non-Christian worldviews in the context of international relations is the beliefs of each of them regarding history. A Christian worldview establishes that God directs historical events, which unfold according to his will, with a few exceptions (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d.). Non-Christians, on the other hand, view history as a result of independent human thought. Postmodernists, in particular, claim that the “historical progress” is not real, but rather a concealing narrative with an oppressive agenda (Pinehurst Baptist Church, n.d.).
My Worldview: Approaching International Relations
As a devoted Christian, I am sure that my worldview is shaped by various religious beliefs instilled in me over the course of almost two decades. As a child, I used Christian dogma to de-code my surroundings and make sense of new experiences. Therefore, when it comes to international relations, my opinions and actions are largely determined by my Christian worldview. For instance, because of realism’s religious foundations and ethics, I often use realism to navigate the complexities of IR theory. I also believe that Westphalian principles of state sovereignty directly translate into the notion of human unity to accomplish God’s tasks.
Therefore, although states in the global IR arena are divided, they are ultimately bound together, in my opinion. Moreover, for the most part, I believe that good law should be rooted in Christian principles. However, despite being a Christian, my religion does not entirely define my view of reality. Personally, I think that personal experiences guide my ethical decision making and problem solving patterns. For example, growing up in a diverse environment, I understand the importance of difference, which is why I acknowledge the multiplicity of truths for every individual and support freedom of religion worldwide.
To sum it all up, a worldview is not just an outlook on life, but also a substantial mental baggage of knowledge that guides people through the complexities of life. Although there are different types of worldviews, including naturalism, theism, monotheism, and others, the core elements remain the same. A Christian worldview claims that God is the singular maker of the universe and all beings, which is the foundation of Christian faith. Although non-Christian worldviews are somewhat alien to me, the overall progress of humanity and my experiences, in particular, lead me to believe that the optimal worldview combines Christian beliefs with postmodernist ideas. In international relations, I support Christian principles as the roots of good law, while rejecting the idea of isolation and protectionism in the context of postmodernism.
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