Understanding Six Worldviews that Rule the World*
By Dr. David Noebel
President, Summit Ministries
Back in the early 1990s, Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer sought to identify what they saw happening to Christian young people in the United States. Their conclusion was that “nothing short of a great Civil War of Values rages today throughout North America. Two sides with vastly differing and incompatible worldviews are locked in a bitter conflict that permeates every level of society.”[i] The war, as Dobson and Bauer put it, is a struggle “for the hearts and minds of people. It is a war over ideas.”[ii]
On one side is the Christian worldview, the foundation of Western civilization. On the other side are five worldviews: Islam, Secular Humanism, Marxism, Cosmic Humanism, and Postmodernism. While these worldviews don’t agree in every detail, they unanimously concur on one point-their opposition to biblical Christianity.
As in any war, there are casualties, and anti-Christian ideas are taking their toll. Recent surveys indicate that up to 59 percent of “born again” college students drop out of that category by their senior year.[iii] According to George Barna’s research, nine out of ten “born again” adults do not have a biblical worldview. To effectively engage this battle of ideas, Christians must have an understanding of the times and “know what [they] ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
What is a Worldview?
Everyone bases his or her decisions and actions on a worldview. We may not be able to articulate our worldview, and our worldview may be inconsistent, but we all have one. So the question is; what is a worldview?
A worldview is “an interpretive framework”[iv]-much like a pair of glasses-through which you view everything. It refers to any set of ideas, beliefs, or values that provide a framework or map to help you understand God, the world, and your relationship to God and the world. Specifically, a worldview contains a particular perspective regarding at least each of the following ten disciplines: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.[v]
This article summarizes the six worldviews that currently exert the most influence over the whole world. Other worldviews exist, but they wield much less influence. For example, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, or Shintoism may profoundly influence some Eastern countries, but hardly sway the entire world. The major ideas and belief systems controlling the world, and especially the West, are contained in the following six worldviews.
The Christian Worldview
Many people, including many Christians, do not realize that the Bible addresses all ten disciplines of a worldview. Christianity is the embodiment of Christ’s claim that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). When we say, “This is the Christian way,” we mean this is the way Christ would have us approach life and the world. It is no small matter to think and act as Christ instructs.
America has been described as a Christian nation. However, America-along with the rest of Western Civilization-has turned away from its intellectual, cultural and religious heritage. Almost thirty years ago, Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer noted America’s drift toward secularism as a failure of Christians “to see that all of this [cultural and social breakdown] has come about due to a shift in world view-that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole.”[vi]
The study of worldviews in general, and the Christian worldview in particular, is a wake-up call for everyone. A country seeking to promote human rights (including the right to be born), liberty, and the common good must adhere to the only worldview that can account for our existence and dignity. We contend that human dignity comes from the fact that human beings are created in the image of God, a uniquely biblical perspective. Abandoning this perspective has dire consequences, considering the rise in abortions, homosexual practices, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and the move toward human cloning.
The Islamic Worldview
It is estimated there are 1.3 billion followers of Islam.[vii] In recent years, the Islamic worldview has been growing exponentially in numbers, power, and influence, and, therefore, is worthy of our study. As one article headlined, “The future belongs to Islam,”[viii] providing added incentive to understand its beliefs and goals.
Writing in The Sword of the Prophet, commentator and international political consultant, Serge Trifkovic, explains that “Islam is not a ‘mere’ religion; it is a complete way of life, an all-embracing social, political and legal system that breeds a worldview peculiar to itself.”[ix]
Christianity and Islam have some teachings in common, including belief in a personal God, creation of the material universe, angels, immortality of the soul, heaven, hell, and judgment of sin. Likewise, Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet (one of many), his virgin birth, physical ascension, second coming, miracles, and messiahship.[x]
The major differences between Christianity and Islam is Islam’s rejection of the biblical Trinitarian God and the death of Jesus for the sins of the world. Muslims likewise reject Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead and his claim to be the Son of God.
Another major difference between the founder of Christianity and the founder of Islam is that the Bible describes Jesus as living a sinless life while the traditions of Islam depict Muhammad having many flaws. “Muhammad’s practice and constant encouragement of bloodshed,” writes Trifkovic, “are unique in the history of religions. Murder, pillage, rape, and more murder are in the Koran and in the Traditions.”[xi] Furthermore, Muhammad’s life “seems to have impressed his followers with a profound belief in the value of bloodshed as opening the gates of Paradise.”[xii] Thus, the history of Islam from 622 A.D. to the present has been a history of violence, submission, and war toward infidels (non-Muslims).
For many Muslims, one of Mohammad’s most important legacies is to see the world as a conflict between the Land of Peace (Dar al-Islam) and the Land of War (Dar al-Harb). On the other hand, there are a number of Muslims, particularly those living in Western democracies, who do not believe the Koran’s violent passages regarding killing infidels and Islam’s violent history should be applied literally today.[xiii] Yet, in either case, Islam is a worldview with which Christians must contend.
The Secular Humanist Worldview
Secular Humanism refers primarily to the ideas and beliefs outlined in the Humanist Manifestoes of 1933, 1973, and 2000. Secular Humanism is the dominant worldview on the majority of colleges and universities throughout all Western nations. It has also made gains in many Christian colleges and universities, especially in the areas of biology, sociology, law, politics, and history.
Secular Humanists recognize the classroom as a powerful incubator for indoctrinating students into their worldview. Operating under the educational buzzword “liberalism,” a Secular Humanist agenda controls the curriculum in America’s public schools thanks to the National Education Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and a host of foundations, including the Ford Foundation.
Christians considering a college education must be well versed in the Secular Humanistic worldview or risk losing their own Christian perspective by default. In her book Walking Away From the Faith, Ruth Tucker, a professor at Calvin Seminary, makes it clear that Christian students are walking away from their faith because of Secular Humanist teaching.
The ideas of Humanism have gained prominent influence throughout modern society. B.F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm, all former “Humanists of the Year,” have powerfully affected the discipline of psychology. Scientists such as the late Carl Sagan, another “Humanist of the Year,” preached his Humanism on a widely heralded television and high school curriculum series. More recently, the outspoken atheist and Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins has gained much attention through a number of popular books on evolution and, of course, his 2006 best-seller, The God Delusion. Clearly, Humanists are willing to support their worldview-often more faithfully than Christians. For these and other reasons, we must give the Secular Humanist worldview close attention.
The Marxist Worldview
Marxism is a militantly atheistic, materialistic worldview. It has developed a perspective regarding each of the ten disciplines-usually in great detail. Based on the writings of Karl Marx in the late 1800s, Marxism has taken on some new looks in recent years-including debasing culture as a form of revolutionary activity.[xiv] The latest Communist Manifesto, titled Empire, was published in 2000 by Harvard University Press. Marx’s presence continues to be felt around the world.
Marxism predominates on many American university campuses. Recruited as college students in the 1950s and ’60s, many Marxist “radicals” earned PhDs and are now the tenured faculty on many campuses. “With a few notable exceptions,” says former Yale professor Roger Kimball, “our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate level.”[xv] U. S. News and World Report published a lengthy article in 2003 entitled “Where Marxism Lives Today,” which states, “Marxism is so entrenched in courses ranging from literature to anthropology… that today’s students are virtually bathed in Marx’s ideas.”[xvi]
The “radical menu” Kimball referred to includes a large serving of economic determinism. According to Karl Marx, the key problem with capitalism is that it breeds exploitation. Therefore, capitalism must be replaced with a more humane economic system, one that abolishes free markets (private property and the free and peaceful exchange of goods and services) and replaces it with a government-controlled economy.
Marx’s economic ideas and political policy go hand in hand. A Marxist style communism controls a large number of nations around the world, and traveling under the name of “social democracy,” a Marxist inspired political philosophy has engulfed Western European nations. Further, many South American countries have also taken a Marxist turn in recent years, and many think that the current administration and congress of the United States is quickly taking America down the same socialist road.[xvii]
In addition, some Christian groups have attempted to combine their Christianity with Marx’s ideas of social equality. Because of the prevalence and subversive nature of Marxism, Christians must be aware of the goals of Marxist-thinking professors, politicians, and theologians.
The Cosmic Humanist Worldview
The Cosmic Humanist worldview consists of two interrelated spiritual movements. One is known as the New Age Movement (NAM), and the other is neo-paganism, which includes occult practices, Native American spiritism, and Wicca.
The New Age Movement mixes ancient Eastern religions (especially Hinduism and Zen Buddhism) with a touch of other religious traditions, adds a smattering of scientific jargon, and imports the newly baked concoction into mainstream America. “The New Age,” explains researcher Johanna Michaelsen, “is the ultimate eclectic religion of self: Whatever you decide is right for you is what’s right, as long as you don’t get narrow-minded and exclusive about it.”[xviii]
The assumption that truth resides within each individual, however, becomes the cornerstone for a worldview. Granting oneself the power to discern all truth is a facet of theology, and this theology has ramifications that many members of the New Age movement have already discovered. Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy (a book referred to as “The New Age watershed classic”), says the movement ushers in a “new mind-the ascendance of a startling worldview.”[xix]
This worldview is summed up by Jonathan Adolph: “In its broadest sense, New Age thinking can be characterized as a form of utopianism, the desire to create a better society, a ‘New Age’ in which humanity lives in harmony with itself, nature, and the cosmos.”[xx]
While New Age believers make no serious distinctions between religions, considering that all are ultimately the same, John P. Newport explains that “neopagans generally believe that they are practicing an ancient folk religion, whether as a survival or a revival. Thus, being focused on the pagan religions of the past, they are not particularly interested in a New Age of the future.”[xxi]
Through best-selling books and popular television shows and movies,[xxii] the Cosmic Humanist worldview is gaining converts in the West and around the world. Malachi Martin lists dozens of organizations that are either New Age or sympathetic to Cosmic Humanist views. Clearly, Cosmic Humanism, a transplant from the East, is a growing presence throughout the Western hemisphere.
the Postmodern Worldview
Forced to face the inhumanity, destruction, and horror brought about by the Third Reich and the Soviet Gulag during the first half of the 20th century, a substantial group of Enlightenment humanists and neo-Marxists abandoned their worldview to create one they believed more fitting with reality, resulting in the Postmodern turn. By the 1980’s, Postmodern professors were making significant inroads in humanities and social science departments around the world.
Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland notes that Postmodernism refers to a philosophical approach primarily in the area of epistemology, or what counts as knowledge or truth. Broadly speaking, Moreland says “Postmodernism represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as truth, reality, reason, values, linguistic meaning, the ‘self’ and other notions.”[xxiii]
Though Postmodernism comes in many forms, there are three unifying values: (1) a commitment to relativism; (2) an opposition to metanarratives, or totalizing explanations of reality that are true for all people of all cultures; and (3) the idea of culturally created realities. Each of these commitments are designed to deny that there is a worldview or belief system that can be considered absolute Truth.
Postmodernism’s most effective methodological tool, one used extensively in university modern language departments, is known as Deconstruction, which means (1) that words do not represent reality, and (2) that concepts expressed in sentences in any language are arbitrary.
Some Postmodernists go so far as to deconstruct humanity itself. Thus, along with the death of God, truth, and reason, humanity is also obliterated. Paul Kugler notes the ironic twist: “Today, it is the speaking subject who declared God dead one hundred years ago whose very existence is now being called into question.”[xxiv]
To complicate matters even further, we must acknowledge that there even exists a variety of Postmodernism called “Christian Postmodernism.”[xxv] Such is the essence of mainstream Postmodernism-a worldview that claims there are no worldviews. This “anti-worldview” worldview is one that certainly demands the attention of thoughtful Christians.
We cannot overstate the significance of these five anti-Christian worldviews. The basis for much of what is taught in the public classroom today comes from Secular, Marxist, Cosmic Humanist, and Postmodern thinking and takes on a variety of labels: liberalism, multiculturalism, political correctness, deconstructionism, or self-esteem education. Or, as is often the case, the labels are dropped and courses are taught from anti-Christian assumptions without students being told which worldview is being expressed. Neutrality in education is a myth.
The first chapter of the Book of Daniel explains how Daniel and his friends prepared themselves to survive and flourish amid the clash of worldviews of their day. We believe that Christian young people equipped with a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the Christian worldview and its rivals can become “Daniels” who will not stand on the sidelines, but will participate in the great collision of worldviews in the twenty-first century.
Society will flourish in the light of truth only when the emphasis shifts back to a Christian perspective. This dramatic shift in emphasis can be brought about through the leadership of thousands of informed, confident Christian students who think deeply and broadly from a well-honed biblical worldview and emerge as leaders in education, business, science, and government.
Our desire to bring about this shift in emphasis is the fundamental reason Summit Ministries produces curricula and resources for Christian schools and homeschool families (primary, middle, and secondary), presents in-service worldview training for teachers across the U.S. and around the world, and provides worldview conferences for students and adults. Information is available at http://www.summit.org.
About the Author:
Dr. David A. Noebel is founder and president of Summit Ministries and edits and writes Summit’s monthly publication, The Journal. Dr. Noebel has been a college professor, college president, and candidate for the U.S. Congress. Dr. Noebel has a B.A. from Hope College in Holland, a M.A. from the University of Tulsa, and was a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. He is an Author, Editor, Public Speaker, and Ordained Minister. Dr. Noebel is recognized as an expert on worldview analysis and the decline of morality and spirituality in Western Civilization. His most popular works include Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Worldviews, which sold over 500,000 copies, and Clergy in the Classroom: the Religion of Secular Humanism (co-authored with Kevin Bywater and J.F. Baldwin). He and his wife Alice live in Manitou Springs, CO and have two children and five grandchildren.
*This article is taken from the introductory chapter of David A. Noebel, Understanding the Times, 2nd Ed., (Summit Press: Manitou Springs, CO, 2006). Understanding the Times is a landmark text that provides a comprehensive comparison of the six worldviews discussed in this article and can be purchased at www.summit.org. Portions of the original text has been edited and re-written by Chuck Edwards for the purposes of this article.
[i] James C. Dobson and Gary L. Bauer, Children at Risk: The Battle For the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), 19.
[ii] Ibid., 19–20.
[iv] Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, Worlds Apart (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 11.
[v] Other areas could be included in a definition of worldview, such as the arts, yet these ten disciplines contain the primary areas, acting as a web of interacting ideas, which contribute to a total world and life view.
[vi] Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1981), 17.
[viii] “The Future Belongs to Islam,” by Mark Steyn, October 20, 2006, accessed 5/4/2009, http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20061023_134898_134898.
[ix] Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet (Boston, MA: Regina Orthodox, 2002), 55.
[x] Ibid., 369.
[xi] Op cit., p. 51.
[xii] Ibn Warraq1 (Ed.), The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, New York, 2000, p. 349, quoted in Trafkovic, p. 51.
[xiv] Paul Edward Gottfried, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2005); David Horowitz, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance (Cambridge, NY: MIT, 1998); Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals (third printing; New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2003).
[xv] Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1990), xiii.
[xvi] U. S. News and World Report, Special Collection Edition, September 2, 2003, p. 86.
[xvii] See the online article, “The Socialization of America,” by David Noebel, accessed 5/4/2009, http://www.summit.org/blogs/pd/2009/03/the_socialization_of_america.php
[xviii] Johanna Michaelsen, Like Lambs to the Slaughter (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1989), 11.
[xix] Marilyn Ferguson, The Austrian Conspiracy (Los Angeles, CA: J.P. Tarcher, 1980), 23.
[xx] Adolph, 11.
[xxi] John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998) p. 214.
[xxii] Books by best-selling authors include The Celestine Prophecy and Conversations with God, while Cosmic Humanist themes are explicit in TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost, as well as through films such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Star Wars (directed toward children), and Sixth Sense, Gladiator, Dances with Wolves, and Hidalgo, (for adult viewing), just to name a few in each category.
[xxiii] See J.P. Moreland’s website for his article “Postmodernism and the Christian Life.” Also, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, The Philosophical Foundation of a Christian Worldview.
[xxiv] Walter Truett Anderson, The Future of the Self: Exploring the Post–Identity Society (New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam, 1997), 32.
[xxv] See D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996); Myron B. Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005); and D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).
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