I have been thinking about personal worldviews. I began thinking about this at a recent conference workshop I attended where the facilitator asked as an icebreaker to mention what kind of animal we would be and why. I commented to the person next to me that I thought this was an odd question since humans were part of the animal kingdom. The person disagreed with me and stated something along the lines of god creating us above the animals.
Personal worldview. At the base of my comment is my acknowledgement of life on this planet occurring through evolutionary processes. I believe that humans, aka homo sapiens sapiens, have evolved from other species. And while we might not have found the link to our genetic ancestry there are very strong clues that one exists. This worldview alters the way I interact with my environment. How I view other animal and plant life is strongly interconnected in my worldview.
My fellow conference attendee has a different worldview. Now while I did not confirm this with him, his comment is consistent with those who believe in creationism. A belief that is rooted in a religious worldview of how the world came to be and the role that humans have on this planet. Now there are variations to this religious story of creation. There are, for example, two creation stories in the book of Genesis. But the belief places humanity as separate and in domination over the rest of creation. It is the dominant worldview today that has shaped most, if not all, of our interactions with the earth to date and one only has to look at our coal mining and oil drilling practices to see it in action.
I recognize that there are also hybrids of these two worldviews where individuals believe in evolution but still accept the domination over the world as part of the reward, so to speak, of being on top of the evolutionary chain. But the point I am moving towards is that it is our worldview that helps us interpret and make sense of our lives. It is our worldview that helps shape our behaviors in moving through the world.
A person who believes that they are the center of the universe acts very different from a person who believes that they are only in the universe because of gravitational pull. How a person acts will be different because of this difference in core beliefs.
Humanity has a long history of believing that we are the center of the universe. Remember the ancient belief that the sun, the stars, the planets, and the moon revolve around the earth? There were serious consequences for those who stated only the moon revolved around the earth. There are people who still cling fiercely to the notion that we are the only planet in all of the galaxies in the known universe that support life. It is a worldview that helps them maintain their sense of the world. Anything that might contradict that worldview is devastating and must be kept out of reach.
So what do we do when we are confronted with something that contradicts our worldview? We might not even be aware that we have a worldview regarding some of our behaviors. Our worldview is so ingrained in our psyches that we may be unaware of it being incomplete or inaccurate.
For example, the recent shooting in Aurora, CO confronted and in some cases may have totally contradicted our worldview. Many have a worldview of who terrorists should be. In this country, despite all evidence to the contrary, many people believe that all terrorists are non-educated, Muslim people of color, and citizens of third world countries with an axe to grind against the USA. James Holmes did not fit that description. So the press quickly put out a statement that James Holmes was not a terrorist. He did acts of profound terror but not a terrorist, why? Because he is a white, PhD student, US citizen, and presumably Christian and therefore does not fit our worldview of what terrorists look like. He even has a warm inviting smile in the photograph of him instead of the scowl we associate with terrorists. Some people still deny that Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma Bombing was a terrorist for the demographic reasons. Terrorist acts are only committed by people who do not look like us says this worldview. People who look like us and do acts of terror must have some sort of mental imbalance. Whether this person has a mental disability is still to be fully determined but this is where we go in order to protect our worldview of terrorists.
There were people who believed that because he used an assault weapon that he must be a veteran because the belief is only the military would know how to use such weapons. There was, you may recall, that horrible incident in Texas by a military person. The military in an attempt at preempting speculation of this sort announced within hours after the shooting, “James Holmes, is not a past or current member of any branch or component of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Again, what do we do when our Worldview is confronted? We attempt to place the contradiction into a category in order to make sense of it and restore our worldview. And this is what Pastor Rick Warren attempted to do when he sent out the following tweet: “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” His Worldview: Creationism. He is attempting to make sense of this tragedy based on how he thinks the world works.
We may scoff at Rick Warren’s statement just as we scoffed at previous religious leaders statements as to the cause for the 9/11 attack or Hurricane Katrina. But we are all attempting to make sense of this horrific tragedy based on our personal worldview.
But this is not just about tragedies that do not make sense. Worldviews are also about who we are as a people. There is a worldview that we are either male or female and straight, that is the ordained order of things. And then we get confronted with a person who is genetically intersex. The person looks female but was never born with fallopian tubes but rather testes that never descended. We try to place this person into our binary worldview. It does not work. And we have a crisis that we must sort out in order to make sense of the world. Some of us have sorted it out, some of us have not. The reality that there are people who are neither male nor female, who are neither straight nor gay, who are instead somewhere along the spectrum is still very much a confrontation to the worldview of a good percentage of Americans. The truth of it still threatens all of their foundational (worldview) beliefs.
There is a worldview that we as Americans are the best country in the world. It results in our being arrogant and presuming all sorts of privilege in the world that does not belong to us. It also is being confronted and contradicted. According to one set of metrics we are only the best in incarcerations. We are the best at food insecurity. We are not even the best at democracy. Another set of metrics indicated we are the the best in military spending. Our worldview of being number one does not match reality. Something will have to give.
When our explanations and categorizations are found wanting, perhaps it is time we look at our underlying assumptions about our life, our role and our location in it and change our worldview.