What is a Worldview?

Have you ever talked to someone about a current event, and, before they even responded, you knew what their stance was on that issue? For instance, if you know someone is a committed Democrat, most of the time, you know what they think about abortion, homosexuality, global warming, and a number of other issues. (Of course, this is only typically true, not always true.)

That’s because people who are committed Democrats are usually strongly connected with the beliefs of that political party. We know what their views are because they are the same views that political party has held for awhile. The same could be said of dedicated Republicans.

Many people have beliefs that fall within a predictable template. That template may be a religious group, a philosophy, an ethnic group, or a cultural genre. There are many of these template, perhaps a limitless number, but most people fall within a small number of such templates.

These templates are called “worldviews”. A worldview may be defined as

A commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, expressed as a story or set of presuppositions we hold consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently, that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. 

Let’s unpack that definition. What do each of those phrases mean?

  • “A commitment” – I believe in my worldview
  • “A fundamental orientation of the heart” – It’s how I approach everything
  • “Expressed as a story or set of presuppositions” – I can describe my worldview with examples that explain it
  • “We hold consciously or unconsciously” – I may or may not know where it came from, but I can explain it
  • “We hold consistently or inconsistently” – It makes sense to me, but it might not stand up to debate

There are many ways we can describe our worldview, but one of the simplest ways is to answer the 7 following questions:

  1. What is prime reality – the really real?
    • That may mean the physical world, the spiritual world, our minds, the univeral consciousness, or something else
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
    • This may mean that it’s orderly, chaotic, spiritual, physical, whatever we experience, or something that exists objectively apart from our experience
  3. What is a human being?
    • Answers include a highly evolved organism, the offspring of aliens, a person created in God’s image, an organic machine, or others
  4. What happens to a person at death?
    • This could be nothing, judgment, heaven and hell, soul sleep, reincarnation, and more
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
    • Answers include whatever chemical and physical stimuli our brain responds to, that nothing is knowable, that God reveals the world to those who seek, that whatever reality we seek is ultimate reality, and more
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
    • This may be whatever is legal, divine revelation, what is revealed in nature, whatever feels good, etc.
  7. What is the meaning of human history?
    • That may mean to glorify God, to glorify the gods, to create an earthly utopia, to perpetuate our species for as long as possible until we evolve, etc.

From the answers to those 7 questions, you can distinguish between worldviews. And those answers would be woven together by a “story or a set of suppositions”.

The most well-known worldviews described in the Catalog of Worldviews