Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Inter-faith Relations, One of Many Ways to God or an Abomination to God? (Part 2)

“I am convinced that for a person to be fully conscious intellectually he should not only be able to detect the world views of others but be aware of his own—why it is his and why in the light of so many options he thinks it is true.”
-James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 1976, preface of the book.

In his classic titled "The Universe Next Door", James Sire writes about world views. A person may be asking, “What is a world view?” or, “Why is it important for me to understand world views?” Sire argues that everyone has a world view and that world view is the lens through which they view everything in life. So, what is a world view? Sire defines a world view as, “…a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.” [Sire, page 17, parenthetical phrases are Sire’s and in the text of the quote.]

Words and phrases are important to many people. Some people insist that they are “spiritual” but that they have no “religion.” An atheist claims to have no “religion” but clings to that claim as firmly as another person clings to his/her religious belief. Rather than saying that the “religion” of a person who doesn’t believe in the existence of God is “atheism” (like a recent article in the Tacoma New Tribune when talking about China) it might be helpful to use a different phrase or term—like “world view.”

Sire says that a world view answers the questions of:
• “What is prime reality—the really real?”
• “Who is man?”
• “What happens to man at death?”
• “What is the basis of morality?”
• “What is the meaning of human history?”

Sire recognizes other issues that often arise. Some of these are:
• “What is the nature of the external world?”
• “Who is in charge of the world—God, or man, or man and God, or no one at all?”
• “Is man determined or is he free?”
• “How can we know and how can we know that we know?”
• “Is man alone the maker of values?”
• “Is God really good?”
• “Is God personal or impersonal?”
• Or does he exist at all?”

Every person has a belief system that answers the above questions—that belief system is his/her world view. An atheist has a belief system that answers these questions. A person who practices Mahayana Buddhism has a belief system that answers these questions. A person who practices Shintoism has a belief system that answers these questions. George W. Bush has a belief system that answers these questions. Clifton Kirkpatrick has a belief system that answers these questions. Madonna has a belief system that answers these questions. Every person has a world view!

Look once again to the quote at the beginning of this post. Sire argues that a person must be able to detect their world view and the world views of other people. True communication is only possible when we understand the world view of the person with whom we are seeking to communicate. This is true even within a particular “religious” system. Not every Christian has the same world view! The person who believes in the “health—wealth” gospel does not have the same set of beliefs as the Christian who believes in liberation theology. The Roman Catholic Church’s teachings are different from the teachings of the Church of the Nazarene. John Shuck (of the blog “Shuck and Jive”) has a very different world view than Toby Brown (of the blog “A Classical Presbyterian”). Using the idea of a world view it is possible for us to use a consistent set of questions to understand what a particular person believes (or what a particular “religion” teaches).

The Apostle Paul was an expert in distinguishing particular world views. Read through the Book of Acts. Notice the different ways in which he communicated to people. He would use his understanding of the other person’s world view to shape his presentation of gospel to that person (or group of people).

Interfaith relations have to be about discerning and understanding different world views. More on this topic tomorrow.


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