Becoming Aware of Our Lenses
In their excellent book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien share the importance of recognizing the lens through which see the world:
We speak as insiders, and this has its own challenges. We speak as white, Western males. In fact, we always speak as white. Western males. Everything either of us has ever written has come from the perspective of middle-class, white males with a traditionally Western education. There’s really nothing we can do about that except be aware of and honest about it. That said, we write as white.
Western males who have been chastened to read the Bible through the eyes of our non-Western sisters and brothers in the Lord. For example, I (Randy) remember grading my first multiple choice exam in Indonesia. I was surprised by how many students left answers unmarked. So I asked the first student when handing back exams, “Why didn’t you select an answer on question number three?”
The student looked up and said, “I didn’t know the answer. “You should have at least guessed,” I replied. He looked at me, appalled. “What if I accidentally guessed the correct answer? I would be implying that I knew the answer when I didn’t. That would be lying!”
Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Defining and Describing a Worldview
Just as the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It’s not a physical view of the world, like the sight of planet Earth you might get from an orbiting space station. Rather, it’s a philosophical view of the world—and not just of our planet, but of all of reality.
A worldview is an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us. Your worldview represents your most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe you inhabit. It reflects how you would answer all the “big questions” of human existence, the fundamental questions we ask about life, the universe, and everything. Is there a God? If so, what is God like and how do I relate to God?
If there isn’t a God, does it matter? What is truth and can anyone really know the truth anyway? Where did the universe come from and where is it going—if anywhere? What’s the meaning of life? Does my life have a purpose—and, if so, what is it? What am I supposed to do with my life?
What does it mean to live a good life? Does it really matter in the end whether or not I live a good life? Is there life after death? Are humans basically just smart apes with superior hygiene and fashion sense—or is there more to us than that? You get the idea. Your worldview directly influences how you answer those kinds of big questions—or how you would answer them if you were asked and gave them some thought.
Worldviews are like belly buttons. Everyone has one, but we don’t talk about them very often. Or perhaps it would be better to say that worldviews are like cerebellums: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one. A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere.
Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted: you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. Much the same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.
On Changing your Mind
Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and the founder of anti-septic medicine. That may sound incredibly boring, but the effects of his discovery were profound. Prior to Lister, surgeons had virtually no awareness of the importance of their own hygiene around the body, with surgeons coming straight from the bathroom, or the lunch room right into surgery, no washing of hands, with utensils that were often not washed from previous surgeries.
The results of this were devastating…some 45% to 50% of surgical patients died from bacterial infection after the surgery…after Lister’s discovery, that percent fell to about 15%. Just think about how many lives were saved from that discovery alone. The problem for Lister, was this, almost no doctors believed him, not at first…many reveled in their lack of hygiene. The reason I know all this, is because of a wonderful book called “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” which chronicles the rise of two young men…one would become the president, James Garfield, and the other a madman, who would eventually shoot Garfield, which would ultimately lead to his death.
Now what is so interesting about this book, among other things, is the way in which Garfield was treated after the shooting. His doctor, like many American doctors at the time, had rejected Joseph Lister’s theory of sepsis and stuck his unclean fingers right into the wound in an attempt to locate the bullet.
Garfield cried out in terrible pain, with the doctor failing to find the bullet. After 3 months, Garfield died. What makes the story so heart wrenching is that the bullet itself was most likely not a fatal gunshot, but the constant poking and prodding by the doctors did him in as the bacterial infections worsened over the last few months of his life.
Over time of course, Lister’s theory of sepsis would become accepted in all countries where modern medicine was practiced, but if it had only been accepted sooner, if only doctors everywhere would change their minds on the issue of bacterial infection and the importance of sterilization…so many lives would have been saved, including the most important one, or at least the most powerful one in the United States.
By Stuart Strachan Jr.
Overwhelmed by Vision
On the effect of seeing for the first time after Cataract Surgery:
The mental effort involved in these reasonings proves overwhelming for many patients. It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. It oppresses them to realize that they have been visible to people all along, perhaps unattractively so, without their knowledge or consent. A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair….
A twenty-two-year-old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Oh God! How beautiful!’”
Story as Worldview and the Example of Passover
Stories, after all, are one of the most basic modes of human life and are a characteristic expression of worldview. Human life is constituted by a series of stories, implicit and explicit, that makes sense of experiences, and allows us to describe them in a coherent manner.
Consider the story recited at every Passover:
My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians ill-treated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . .
This story is a summation of the events and experiences that define the Jewish people, which speaks to their beliefs, identity, and hopes. As historians, then, we are principally storytellers, trying to get inside the storied lives of ancient peoples—filled with diverse and often competing stories—and constructing our own successful explanatory story to account for theirs.
The Utopian Dream
The myth of progress has deep roots in contemporary Western culture, and some of those roots are Christian…This utopian dream is in fact a parody of the Christian vision. The kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world come together to produce a vision of history moving forward toward its goal, a goal that will emerge from within rather than being a new gift from elsewhere. Humans can be made perfect and are indeed evolving inexorably toward that point.
The world is ours to discover, exploit, and enjoy. Instead of dependence on God’s grace, we will become what we have the potential to be by education and hard work. Instead of creation and new creation, science and technology will turn the raw material of this world into the stuff of utopia. Like the mythical Prometheus, defying the gods and trying to run the world his own way, liberal modernism supposes that the world can become everything we want it to be by working a bit harder and helping forward the great march into the glorious future.
What Are We Missing?
I once heard the missionary author Elisabeth Elliot tell of accompanying the Auca woman Dayuma from her jungle home in Ecuador to New York City. As they walked the streets, Elliot explained cars, fire hydrants, sidewalks, and red lights. Dayuma’s eyes took in the scene, but she said nothing. Elliot next led her to the observation platform atop the Empire State Building, where she pointed out the tiny taxi cabs and people on the streets below.
Again, Dayuma said nothing. Elliot could not help wondering what kind of impression modern civilization was making. Finally, Dayuma pointed to a large white spot on the concrete wall and asked, “What bird did that?” At last she had found something she could relate to. I have visited the tip of Argentina, the region named Tierra del Fuego (“land of fire”) by Magellan’s explorers, who noticed fires burning on shore.
The natives tending the fires, however, paid no attention to the great ships as they sailed through the straits. Later, they explained that they had considered the ships an apparition, so different were they from anything seen before. They lacked the experience, even the imagination, to decode evidence passing right before their eyes. And we who built the skyscrapers in New York, who build today not just galleons but space stations and Hubble telescopes that peer to the very edge of the universe, what about us? What are we missing? What do we not see, for lack of imagination or faith?
What the Internet Reveals about Us
People can say one thing and do something totally different. You see the darkness that is often hidden from polite society. The thing that you see is a widespread insecurity. I think people put on a front, whether it’s to friends or on social media, of having things together and being sure of themselves and confident and polished. But we’re all anxious. We’re all neurotic. I now assume that people are going through some sort of struggle, even if you wouldn’t know that from their Facebook posts
Olga Khazan, “Our Searches, Ourselves,” The Atlantic (6-9-17) quoted in Seth Stephens-Davidowitz Everybody Lies.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Worldview. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!