bookmark_borderIs Christianity True? – Part 1: What is Christianity?

I have been producing a series of podcasts on the question “Is Christianity true?”.  So far, four podcasts have been published, and I’m currently working on podcast # 5:
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/
The first four podcasts are introductory in nature, but in podcast #5,  I will be shifting gears and will start working on an evaluation of Christianity.  The first four podcasts are introductory, because I was working on the questions “Why think critically about whether Christianity is true?” and “What is Christianity?”.  These are questions that help to clarify the main question at issue, because clarity is of fundamental importance:
Clarity is a gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant.  In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying.  (The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder,  p.7)
In podcast #5,  I will briefly review my thinking about the question “What is Christianity?”.  This post will cover similar ground.
1. Christianity is a RELIGION, not a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.
Dictionaries define “Christianity” as a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.  Sociologists, religious studies experts, and philosophers of religion consider “Christianity” to be a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.  Intellectual defenders of Christianity (Christian apologists) assert that “Christianity is true”, but a relationship with a person is NOT something that can be true (or false).  So, those who defend Christianity logically imply that Christianity is NOT a relationship.
A religion, however, is something that could be true (or false), so the common-sense view that Christianity is a religion supports the assumption that Christianity is something that could be true (or false).
2. Christianity is a MULTI-FACETED historical phenomenon.
I agree with the religious studies expert Ninian Smart that religions, such as Christianity, have multiple aspects or dimensions.  Here is Ninian Smart’s list of six key dimensions of a religion (Worldviews, 3rd edition, pages: 8-10):

1. Doctrinal and Philosophical

2. Mythic and Narrative

3. Ethical or Legal

4. Ritual or Practical

5. Experiential or Emotional

6. Social or Institutional

3.  RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (the “Doctrinal and Philosophical” dimension) are the MOST BASIC Aspect of a Religion.
I defend a cognitivist view of religion.  Although my cognitivist view is consistent with and is supported by most of what Ninian Smart says about religions, I don’t think Ninian Smart sees the cognitivist implications of his own views about religion, so I doubt that he would agree with me on this point.
Although we must acknowledge that religions have several dimensions, including religious experiences, religious stories (or “narratives”), and religious rituals, we can identify religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals, and distinguish them from secular experiences, secular stories, and secular rituals only by determining whether the experience, story, or ritual has religious significance, and we can determine that something has religious significance only if we can identify and recognize religious beliefs.
Religious significance or religious meaning is grounded in religious beliefs.  The identification of religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals depends upon the identification of religious beliefs.  Therefore, religious beliefs are more basic logically and conceptually than the other dimensions of religion.
4. The WORLDVIEW Associated with a Religion is the HEART (the Most Basic Aspect) of the Religious Beliefs Associated with that Religion.
A religion is fundamentally a system of religious beliefs.  What makes a collection of religious beliefs a “system” is that they are built up around a set of core beliefs called a “worldview”.  There are different ways of conceptualizing worldviews; I favor conceiving of worldviews as problem-solving schemas, on analogy with medical problem solving, involving four basic questions/concepts:

1. SYMPTOMS: What are the most important problems of human life? 

2. DIAGNOSIS: What is the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

3. CURE: What is the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

4. TREATMENT PLAN:  What is the best way to implement what is (allegedly) the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism have this logical structure, and I believe The Four Noble Truths provide a clear analysis and explication of the Buddhist worldview, and this logical structure should be used as a model for the analysis of any religious worldview or secular worldview.
5. Although there are MANY VERSIONS of Christianity, there is just ONE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW.
There are three main branches of Christianity:  Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  Catholics and Protestants disagree about several religious beliefs and practices.  Orthodox Christians disagree with Catholics about various religious beliefs and practices, and different Protestant denominations disagree with each other about various religious beliefs and practices.  It is clear that there are many different versions of Christianity.  Christians do NOT all accept the same collection or system of religious beliefs.
However, the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many Protestant denominations do share a number of core religious beliefs, and I have argued that among the shared religious beliefs are beliefs that constitute a Christian worldview (i.e. Christian answers to the above four worldview questions).  Because the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many major Protestant denominations teach beliefs that constitute the same Christian worldview, we can reasonably conclude that there is just ONE Christian worldview (that is taught by Christian churches and denominations that include at least 80% of the population of Christian believers).
6. To Evaluate the Truth of a RELIGION, One must Evaluate the Truth of the WORLDVIEW associated with that Religion.
More specifically, to answer the question “Is Christianity true?”, one must answer the question “Is the Christian worldview true?” If the Christian worldview is false, then we can rightly conclude that Christianity is false.  If the Christian worldview is true, then we can rightly conclude that the most basic beliefs of Christianity are true, and we can also rightly conclude that the worldviews associated with other religions and secular worldviews are false (or are mostly false), making the Christian worldview the best available worldview, and also making Christian systems of religious beliefs superior to other systems of belief (that were based on false worldviews).
If the Christian worldview is true, that would NOT imply that Catholicism is completely true, nor that Orthodox Christianity is completely true, nor that any Protestant denomination’s teachings are completely true, but it would mean that these various Christian belief systems are built on a solid foundation; they would be based on a true worldview.  So if the Christian worldview were true, that would make those Christian systems of belief superior to other religious or secular systems of belief (that are built upon false worldviews).
7.  To Evaluate the truth of the CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, One Must Evaluate the Christian Answers to the FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS.
The Christian worldview is composed of four main parts, so it makes sense to evaluate the truth or correctness of each of these parts of the Christian worldview in order to arrive at a full and complete evaluation of that worldview:
1. Are the SYMPTOMS/PROBLEMS presented by the Christian worldview correct?
2. Is the DIAGNOSIS/ROOT-CAUSE PROBLEM presented by the Christian worldview correct?
3. Is the CURE/BEST SOLUTION presented by the Christian worldview correct?
4. Is the TREATMENT PLAN/IMPLEMENTATION PLAN presented by the Christian worldview correct?
 
8. Because there are FOUR BASIC PARTS to the Christian Worldview, there are (potentially) SIXTEEN different possible EVALUATIONS of the Christian Worldview.
It is probably an oversimplification to think strictly in terms of only two evaluative options, namely “true” or “false”, so we might want to keep in mind other categories (e.g. “partially true and partially false”  and “mostly true” or “mostly false”); however, what we are shooting for ideally is a decision to accept or reject specific aspects of the Christian worldview, so ideally we will arrive at determinations of “true” or “false” for each of the four parts, to the extent that this is humanly possible to do.
Click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart:
Christian Worldview Evaluation Chart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“TCW” means: “The Christian Worldview”.
“ATQ1” means: “Answer To Question One” (of the Four Basic Worldview Questions).
Note that to the extent that ALL WORLDVIEWS can be analyzed in terms of the four basic worldview questions, this same chart can be used in the analysis and evaluation of any worldview.
Obviously, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are correct, then the Christian worldview is true. Similarly, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are wrong, then the Christian worldview is false.
But it is possible that some parts of the Christian worldview are correct and that other parts are wrong, and it is not immediately clear how we should evaluate the Christian worldview in those cases.  In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly true”.  In other such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly false”.  In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “roughly half-true and half-false”.
But we have to consider each of the various possible scenarios or permutations of truth and falsehood in order to determine (a) whether the possible permutation is a coherent possibility (some permutations might contain a contradiction and thus be ruled out), and (b) to what extent the specified false parts (of a given permutation) diminish the overall correctness of the Christian worldview, and (c) to what extent the specified true parts (of a given permutation) enhance the overall correctness of the Christian worldview.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 10

As Ninian Smart points out, there are secular worldviews as well as religious worldviews.   According to Smart, a religion is a religious worldview as opposed to a secular worldview.  Marxism and Secular Humanism are examples of secular worldviews.  Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are examples of religions or religious worldviews.
Smart, however, asserts that worldviews (both religious and secular) encompass six dimensions:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.
Smart uses the word “worldview” in order to emphasize the fact that there are secular analogues to religions (e.g. Marxism and Secular Humanism).  Given the way that Smart uses the word “worldview”, a religion IS a worldview, namely a religious worldview, as opposed to a secular worldview.  I have no objection to this use of the word “worldview” by Smart.  I think he is right that there are secular analogues to religions and it makes sense to have a word to refer to a general category that includes both religions (like Christianity and Buddhism) as well as secular analogues to religions (like Marxism and Secular Humanism).
However, I intend to use the word in a narrower sense than this.  I intend to use the word “worldview” to refer to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a secular analogue to a religion.  I take it that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension includes the ethical or legal dimension of a religion or of a secular analogue to a religion, since ethics is a major sub-discipline of philosophy.
I will use the word “worldview” in keeping with the definition proposed by the Christian apologist James Sire in his book The Universe Next Door (3rd edition; hereafter: TUND):
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world.  (TUND, p.16)
Given this narrower understanding of the word “worldview”, and given Smart’s plausible view that a religion has at least six dimensions, including the narrative or mythic dimension, the ritual or practical dimension, and the experiential or emotional dimension,  a religion is NOT a worldview.  Rather, a religion includes or encompasses a worldview (i.e. a doctrinal or philosophical dimension), but it also includes or encompasses other dimensions as well.  So, a religion is more than just a worldview.  Christianity is a religion; thus, Christianity is more than just a worldview, more than just the Christian worldview (in my narrower sense of the word “worldview”).
However, when a Christian apologist or Christian believer asserts that “Christianity is true”, what that person is saying is that “The Christian worldview is true.”   They are NOT saying that “Christian rituals are true.”, nor are they saying that “Christian religious experiences are true.”, nor are they saying that “Christian organizations are true.”  It is the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of Christianity that can be evaluated as true (or false).  Rituals, experiences, and organizations cannot be evaluated as true (or false), so those aspects of Christianity are necessarily out of scope, when someone makes the claim “Christianity is true.”
It is less obvious whether religious narratives or myths can be true (or false).  I’m going to temporarily set that question aside for now, and return to it later.
Although I recognize Smart’s point that a religion is more than just a philosophy or system of beliefs, I still maintain a cognitivist view of religion, because in my view the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more basic and fundamental than the other aspects of a religion.
As I have argued in previous posts, a ritual is a religious ritual only if it has a religious meaning or significance, and an experience is a religious experience only if it has a religious meaning or significance.   Religious meaning is grounded in the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion, so what makes a ritual or experience a religious ritual or a religious experience is the relationship of that ritual or experience to some religious beliefs.  Thus, the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more basic and fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension and more basic and fundamental than the  experiential or emotional dimension.
At the turn of the century, James Sire revised his understanding of the concept of a “worldview” and wrote a book advocating this revised understanding: Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE).  Some of the the key changes that Sire makes to his conception of a “worldview” are defended in Chapter 5 of NTE:
…the discussion so far has proceeded as if a worldview were a set of propositions or beliefs that serve as answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.  This certainly is how I understood the notion of worldview as I wrote The Universe Next Door.  I still believe that this is a useful way to define the concept, but I have become aware that it both overemphasizes the systematic nature of worldviews and misses some other important aspects.  So what is inadequate?  And what is missing?  Those are the subjects of this chapter [i.e. Chapter 5].   (NTE, p.91)
In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE this way:
Is a worldview primarily an intellectual system, a way of life, or a story? (NTE, p.22)
One of his key conclusions from Chapter 5 is clearly stated in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions or a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
If Sire is correct, then my cognitivist view of religion is wrong, and if my cognitivist view of religion is correct, then Sire’s view about the nature of worldviews is wrong.   So, I am going to attempt to defend Sire’s earlier conception of worldviews against his own objections, the objections that led him to revise his understanding and definition of the word “worldview”.
Question 1: Must a Worldview Contain “a complete system” of Beliefs?
Sire describes Freud’s understanding of worldviews this way:
One clear expression of the notion of a worldview is Sigmund Freud’s equation of worldview with a complete, tacked-down, systematic, virtually certain philosophy of life… (NTE, p.92)
In TUND, Sire did point to seven basic philosophical questions to clarify what sort of “propositions or beliefs” are included in a worldview:

  1. What is prime reality–the really real? …
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
  3. What is a human being?
  4. What happens to a person at death?
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
  7. What is the meaning of human history?(TUND, p.17-18)

However, it is not stated that clear and consistent answers to ALL seven questions were required in order for “a set of propositions or beliefs” to count as a “worldview”.
The definitional phrase “a set of propositions or beliefs” does NOT imply that a worldview must contain “answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.”  But even if we require that a worldview contain SOME “answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions” it does not follow that the answers will themselves be “systematic”.  While it is plausible to say that everybody has a philosophy of life, this does not mean that everybody has a carefully thought out, complete and systematic philosophy of life.
Sire made this point clear in TUND, even in the wording of his definition of “worldview”:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world.  (TUND, p.16, emphasis added)
If one can hold a worldview “subconsciously”, this implies that the worldview need not be a carefully worked out system of beliefs.  If one can hold worldview beliefs “inconsistently”, this also implies that a worldview need not be a carefully worked out system of beliefs.
A person can be all about love, peace, and brotherhood on Sunday morning at church, and then on Monday morning at work embrace the view that it’s a hard-cruel world, and that it is every man for himself, and that what life is all about is looking out for number one.  Such logical inconsistency is common, and maintaining such logically inconsistent views generally requires that one NOT carefully and systematically work out one’s philosophy of life or worldview.
In any case, Sire’s clarification on this point seems reasonable:
A worldview needs to be neither conscious nor basically consistent.  It need not answer every question that can be raised, only those relevant to each person’s life situation.  In The Universe Next Door, I do identify a series of somewhat consistent worldviews–Christian theism, naturalism, pantheism, for example–but these are ideal types outlined for heuristic purposes, not because anyone, including myself, holds precisely the worldview as described.  Everyone’s worldview is a bit different from that of everyone else… (NTE, p.93)
Sire does not provide an argument for the claim that something can be a worldview even if it does not provide clear and consistent “answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.”  However, it does seem reasonable and plausible to say that although every adult of normal intelligence has a worldview, most adults of normal intelligence do not have a clear and consistent system of beliefs that provide answers to a systematic set of basic philosophical questions.
In other words, one can have a philosophy of life, without that philosophy being clearly and logically and systematically developed.  Similarly, every religious adult of normal intelligence has a theology, or a set of theological beliefs, but not every religious adult of normal intelligence has a clear and consistent systematic theology.
A theologian will try to develop a clear and consistent systematic theology, but we don’t expect that sort of thinking from the average religious believer.   Since Sire’s point here seems reasonable and plausible,  the fact that he fails to provide an argument for this point is not sufficient reason to reject it.
However, this does not constitute a good objection to his earlier concept and definition of “worldview”.  The fact that a worldview must contain SOME answers to a systematic set of basic philosophical questions, does NOT imply that a worldview must contain a clear and logically consistent system of beliefs that answers ALL of the basic philosophical questions outlined by Sire in TUND.  The actual worldview of a human person can be partly subconscious, can contain logically contradictory beliefs, and can be somewhat unclear and incomplete in relation to providing answers to a systematic set of basic philosophical questions.
But that much was already clear in the conception of a worldview presented by Sire in TUND. Sire has failed to show that his earlier concept of a worldview  “overemphasizes the systematic nature of worldviews” (NTE, p.91)
Other key questions raised by Sire in Chapter 5 of NTE:
Question 2: Was the practical “lived reality” aspect of worldviews “missing from the definition given” in TUND? (see NTE pages 97-100)
Question 3: Was the central role of stories and myths in worldviews “missing from the definition given” in TUND? (see NTE pages 100-105)
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? INDEX

The primary goal of my Ten Year Plan is to evaluate Christianity, to answer the question “Is Christianity true or is it false?”
I have started a couple of series of posts related to this project. One series related to the project is called “What is Christianity?”.  Here is a list of the posts in that series (so far), with brief  quotes from each post, to provide an idea of the content of that post:
What is Christianity? – Part 1
I am a cognitivist when it comes to the concept of a “religion”.  To me, a religion is fundamentally a point of view, a philosophy of life, a worldview.  I focus in on the intellectual or cognitive aspect of religion.  …
If religion is fundamentally about ideas, claims, and beliefs, and if Christianity is a religion, then it would make sense to ask the question “Is Christianity true or false?”  Ideas, claims, and beliefs are the sorts of things that can be evaluated as true or false, so if religions are fundamentally sets of ideas, claims, or beliefs, then we can evaluate the ideas, claims, or beliefs that constitute a particular religion, and make an overall evaluation of the truth of the whole religion that way.
What is Christianity? Part 2
One objection to my cognitivist view of religion and Christianity is this popular little bit of stupidity:
“Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I have three initial responses to this statement: (1) read your freaking bible, (2) read your freaking dictionary, and (3) use your freaking brain. [I cover points (1) and (2) in this post.]
What is Christianity? Part 3
I have a third initial point to make in support of the view that CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION:
3. USE YOUR BRAIN
Of course, we need to use our brains when reading the Bible and use our brains when reading a dictionary, so what I have in mind here is using our brains to understand a specific simple bit of logic:
1. If Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP, then Christianity is NOT the sort of thing that can be TRUE.
2. If Christianity is NOT the sort of thing that can be TRUE, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is TRUE.
Therefore:
3. If Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is TRUE.
On the other hand, if Christianity is a religion, then Christianity IS the sort of thing that can be true (or false), so the claim that “Christianity is true” at least makes sense, if we assume that CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION.  As I explained previously, a cognitivist view of Christianity is one that sees Christianity primarily as a system of beliefs, as a philosophy of life, as a worldview.
What is Christianity? Part 4
Ninian Smart is a religious studies expert from UC Santa Barbara … . Smart’s conception of a worldview includes philosophical beliefs or doctrines but also includes other “dimensions”:
1. Doctrinal and philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
(Worldviews, p.8-10)
So, Smart’s conception of a worldview represents a challenge to my congitivist view of religion, which focuses on beliefs or doctrines.
James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door treats worldviews as systems of beliefs, in keeping with my cognitivist view of religions:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the makeup of our world. (The Universe Next Door, p.16)
However, after reviewing a number of different thinkers who have discussed the concept of a worldview, Sire made some significant revisions to his conception of a world view. …
What is Christianity? Part 5
But in a more recent book called Naming the Elephant (IVP, 2004; hereafter: NTE),  Sire takes a closer look at the concept of “a worldview”, and he changes his mind about the kind of thing that a worldview is, and he no longer considers a worldview to be “a set of presuppositions”.  His new definition goes like this:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides a foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (NTE, p.122, emphasis added)
I don’t think this is an improvement over Sire’s original definition.  There are a number of problems with this new defintion, but the most basic problem is that Sire now defines “a worldview” as a kind of commitment, not as a set of presuppositions.  The problem I have with this is that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that can be true:
1.  If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment.
2. If the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
Therefore:
3. If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
What is Christianity? Part 6
Religious experience is another thing that some Christians would like to identify with Christianity or the Christian worldview, but this is just another example of the sort of category mistake made by moronic T-shirt buyers and by James Sire:
1B.  If Christianity is an experience, then Christianity is true only if an experience is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2B.  An experience is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
Therefore:
3B. If Christianity is an experience, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is true.
If someone wants to claim that “Christianity is an experience”, then he/she will have to give up the widely held belief (among Christians) that “Christianity is true”.
People are free to define “Christianity” or “the Christian worldview” however they wish, but people are not free to define “Christianity” and “the Christian worldview” in a way that contradicts some other statement that they wish to proclaim to the world.  So, if Christians want to stop proclaiming that “Christianity is true”, then I have no problem with them re-defining “Christianity” to mean whatever they want it to mean.
What is Christianity? Part 7
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
[…]
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
[…]
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.
[…]
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
What is Christianity? Part 8
A religion is a point of view.  A religion is a worldview.  Christianity is a religion, thus Christianity is a worldview…
Let’s consider the second dimension: the narrative or mythic dimension.  Clearly, religions involve myths and narratives:
Religions set great store by stories–stories of God and gods or of the founder, of the organization, and so on.  (Worldviews, p.9)
But not all stories are religious stories.  Classical fairy tales, for example, are not religious stories.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood are not religious stories.  What is the difference between a religious story and a non-religious story?  The primary difference is that a religious story has religious significance, religious meaning.
But identification of religious significance or religious meaning requires that one be able to distinguish between religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.  Thus, one must have awareness of the doctrines or philosophy of a religion in order to identify religious stories, and to identify religious stories that relate to a particular religion.
[…]
Thus, in order to recognize that a story is a religious story, and that a story has religious significance, we must first be able to distinguish between religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.  In order to recognize a story to be a religious story for a particular religion, we need to know something about the religious beliefs of that religion.  Similarly, in order to recognize that a story is associated with a particular worldview, we must first have some familiarity with the beliefs (i.e. the doctrines or philosophy) of that worldview.
Therefore, the doctrines or philosophy of a religion/worldview are more central, and more fundamental than the stories involved in that religion/worldview.  This is because in order to recognize that a story belongs to, or is part of, a religion/worldview, one must first have some familiarity with the doctrines or philosophy of that religion/worldview.  It is awareness of the doctines or philosophy of a religion/worldview that allows one to recognize or identify when a story has significance or meaning in relation to that religion/worldview.
What is Christianity? Part 9
In this post I’m going to argue that the same holds true of the ritual or practical dimension.   In other words, the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion is more basic and more fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension of that religion.
Consider baptism, for example.  People take baths and showers and go swimming all the time, without there being any religious meaning or significance to these activities.   But sometimes, when a person is sprinkled with water or when a person is submerged into water, this activity has a religious meaning or significance.   In order to recognize the difference between the Christian religious ritual of baptism and other non-religious activities like swimming or taking a shower, we need to understand that the use of water in baptism has a religious meaning.   Baptism is a religious ritual because it has a religious meaning or significance, and the religious meaning or significance of Baptism is necessarily and unavoidably connected to religious beliefs.  Christian baptism is connected to Christian beliefs.
[…]
We recognize that baptism is a religious ritual, that baptism is something more than just taking a quick dip or swim, more than just taking a bath to get dirt off one’s body, because we understand that baptism has a religious meaning or significance.   The religious meaning or significance of baptism for Christians is necessarily and unavoidably connected to religious beliefs, to Christian beliefs.  Thus, we recognize and understand baptism to be a religious ritual only because we recognize that it is closely connected with religious beliefs, with the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of the Christian religion.
Therefore, it is clear that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of Christianity is more basic and more fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension of Christianity, because what makes something a religous ritual or a Christian religous ritual as opposed to being a non-religious ritual, is that the ritual has a religious meaning or significance and such a meaning or significance is necessarily and unavoidably tied to religious beliefs or doctrines.
What is Christianity? Part 10
Ninian Smart uses the word “worldview” in order to emphasize the fact that there are secular analogues to religions (e.g. Marxism and Secular Humanism). Given the way that Smart uses the word “worldview”, a religion IS a worldview, namely a religious worldview, as opposed to a secular worldview.  However, I intend to use the word in a narrower sense than this. I intend to use the word “worldview” to refer to the doctrinal or philosophicaldimension of a religion or of a secular analogue to a religion.
One can have a philosophy of life, without that philosophy being clearly and logically and systematically developed.  James Sire’s point here seems reasonable and plausible; however, this does not constitute a good objection to his earlier concept and definition of “worldview”.
What is Christianity?  Part 11
“What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.” (NTE, p.97).  This objection can be re-stated in terms of practical concerns: Sire’s seven worldview questions lack a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.  If we broaden Sire’s question (6) just a bit, then that would help Sire’s seven questions to have a proper emphasis on practical or ethical concerns. Here is my suggested alternative:  (6A) How should I live my life? (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?).    Although Sire’s seven questions might not have done a great job in capturing the heart of ethics, I think if we revise his question (6) to (6A), and if we understand that there are ethical aspects to questions (3) and (7), then Sire’s set of worldview questions would provide a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
What is Christianity?  Part 12
The third objection that James Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).  Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
Since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that Sire’s third objection fails. Worldviews can be understood in terms of “intellectual categories” such as beliefs and assumptions and propositions and presuppositions, and this does NOT imply that worldviews are disconnected from “lived experience and behavior”.
What is Christianity?  Part 13
Walsh and Middleton (Christian theologians quoted by James Sire in NTE) put forward two different metaphorical expressions (“incarnated in a way of life” and “a perceptual framework”) as challenges to the clear and common-sense concept of a worldview as “a system of beliefs”.   However, both metaphors, when examined more closely, support my cognitivist view of worldviews and disconfirm Sire’s claim that a worldview is “a way of life.”
What is Christianity?  Part 14
This post provides a brief summary of conclusions and claims from the previous posts in this series.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 9

As Ninian Smart points out, there are secular worldviews as well as religious worldviews.   A religion is a religious worldview as opposed to a secular worldview.  Marxism and Secular Humanism are examples of secular worldviews.  Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are examples of religions or religious worldviews.
Smart, however, asserts that worldviews (both religious and secular) encompass six dimensions:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.
In part 8 of this series, I argued that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more basic and more fundamental than the narrative or mythic dimension of a religion or worldview.  My argument was basically that some narratives or stories are religious and others are not, and that what makes a story a religious story is that it has a religious meaning or significance, and that religious meaning is grounded in the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion.  We recognize, for example, that a story is a religious story because we understand how the story teaches or reinforces various religious beliefs that constitute the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a particular religion.
In this post I’m going to argue that the same holds true of the ritual or practical dimension.   In other words, the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion is more basic and more fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension of that religion.
Consider baptism, for example.  People take baths and showers and go swimming all the time, without there being any religious meaning or significance to these activities.   But sometimes, when a person is sprinkled with water or when a person is submerged into water, this activity has a religious meaning or significance.   In order to recognize the difference between the Christian religious ritual of baptism and other non-religious activities like swimming or taking a shower, we need to understand that the use of water in baptism has a religious meaning.   Baptism is a religious ritual because it has a religious meaning or significance, and the religious meaning or significance of Baptism is necessarily and unavoidably connected to religious beliefs.  Christian baptism is connected to Christian beliefs.
If a person is planning to be baptized, to be submerged in water as a Christian ritual, we can ask that person, “Why be baptized?”  If the person replied, “I haven’t had a shower in four days, and I figured that I could get cleaned up by being dunked into the water in this river today.”, we would think this to be a very odd reply.  If that was the primary motivation for being baptized, then why not just go home and take a shower or bath?  This activity involving submersion in water appears to have no religious significance or meaning for this person, so it seems misleading or wrong to think of this person as engaging in a religious ritual, since it apparently has no religious meaning or significance for this person.  This person does NOT really want to be baptized, to participate in a Christian religious ritual; this person just wants to get cleaned up, to take a quick bath.
If a person is planning to be baptized, to be submerged in water as a Christian ritual, and if I asked that person “Why be baptized?”  I would expect them to answer something like this:
I am going to be baptized in part to make a public profession of my faith in Jesus, of my belief that Jesus is the Son of God and savior of mankind, and that I want to live the rest of my life trusting in Jesus and following the teachings of Jesus.   Also, Jesus commanded that his followers preach the Good News about salvation through faith in Christ and about forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, and Jesus commanded that his followers baptize those who accept this message of salvation.   So, in submitting to baptism,  I’m submitting to Jesus’ authority by obeying his command and wish that those who accept his offer of salvation be baptized.   Finally, baptism symbolizes death and resurrection.  Jesus died and rose again for the salvation of humankind, and in being baptized I identify myself with Jesus, and this symbolizes the fact that I am leaving behind my old way of life and starting life over again, and that my new life as a follower of Jesus is powered by, and made possible by, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Of course, not every Christian believer would be this clear and articulate in responding to this question, but some answer roughly along these lines is expected because we expect that the ritual of baptism would have some religious meaning or significance to the person who is planning to be baptized, and that religious meaning or significance would, for a Christian believer, presumably involve some Christian beliefs, such as:

  • Jesus is the savior of humankind.
  • Jesus is the divine Son of God.
  • We ought to follow the teachings of Jesus and obey the commands of Jesus.
  • Faith in Jesus is essential to obtaining salvation and forgiveness of one’s sins.
  • One of the commands of Jesus is to spread the Good News that salvation and forgiveness of sins is possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We recognize that baptism is a religious ritual, that baptism is something more than just taking a quick dip or swim, more than just taking a bath to get dirt off one’s body, because we understand that baptism has a religious meaning or significance.   The religious meaning or significance of baptism for Christians is necessarily and unavoidably connected to religious beliefs, to Christian beliefs.  Thus, we recognize and understand baptism to be a religious ritual only because we recognize that it is closely connected with religious beliefs, with the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of the Christian religion.
Therefore, it is clear that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of Christianity is more basic and more fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension of Christianity, because what makes something a religous ritual or a Christian religous ritual as opposed to being a non-religious ritual, is that the ritual has a religious meaning or significance and such a meaning or significance is necessarily and unavoidably tied to religious beliefs or doctrines.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 8

I have a cognitivist view of religions, and of Christianity in particular.
1.  Christianity is something that can be true (or false).
2. An experience is NOT something that can be true (or false).
3. A feeling is NOT something that can be true (or false).
4. A commitment is NOT something that can be true (or false).
5. A relationship is NOT something that can be true (or false).
Therefore:
6.  Christianity is NOT an experience, or a feeling, or a commitment, or a relationship.
A religion is a point of view.  A religion is a worldview.  Christianity is a religion, thus Christianity is a worldview (click on image below for a clearer look at the chart):
 
Religions as Points of View 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The analysis of thinking into eight “elements of thought” on the left side of the diagram is taken from the Center for Critical Thinking (Richard Paul and Linda Elder):
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-analysis-amp-assessment-of-thinking/497
The rest of the diagram is my own creation.
As Ninian Smart points out, there are secular worldviews as well as religious worldviews.   A religion is a religious worldview as opposed to a secular worldview.  Marxism and Secular Humanism are examples of secular worldviews.  Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are examples of religions or religious worldviews.
Smart, however, asserts that worldviews (both religious and secular) encompass six dimensions:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.
Of course religions and ideologies involve narratives/myths.  Of course religions and ideologies involve ethics or laws.  Of course religions and ideologies involve rituals or practices.  It seems undeniable that religions and ideologies generally manifest all six of these dimensions; nevertheless, I will argue that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more central, more fundamental, than the other dimensions.
Let’s consider the second dimension: the narrative or mythic dimension.  Clearly, religions involve myths and narratives:
Religions set great store by stories–stories of God and gods or of the founder, of the organization, and so on.  (Worldviews, p.9)
But not all stories are religious stories.  Classical fairy tales, for example, are not religious stories.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood are not religious stories.  What is the difference between a religious story and a non-religious story?  The primary difference is that a religious story has religious significance, religious meaning.
But identification of religious significance or religious meaning requires that one be able to distinguish between religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.  Thus, one must have awareness of the doctrines or philosophy of a religion in order to identify religious stories, and to identify religious stories that relate to a particular religion.
A clear example of a religious story is the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery and out of Egypt, especialy the story of the parting of the Red Sea.  Why is this a religious story?  Why do we associate this story with Judaism and Christianity?
Moses was believed to be a prophet, a messenger of God.   Moses was believed to have been contacted directly by God and directed by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage and out of Egypt (see Exodus chapters 3-14).  Various miracles occur in the story of the Exodus of the Israelites.  A miracle is an event where God intervenes and causes something to happen that is contrary to the laws, or the normal operation, of nature to accomplish some divine purpose.
As Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he initiated the parting of the Red Sea.  God made the water of the Red Sea separate so that a wide dry path appeared allowing the Israelites to walk on dry land across the Red Sea.  Then as the Egyptian army attempted to chase down the Israelites, God released the water of the Red Sea on the advancing Egyptian soldiers, drowning them, and saving the Israelites from being killed or forcibly retured to slavery in Egypt.
Why is this a religious story?  Why is this story asscociated with Judaism and Christianity?  This story has religious significance, religious meaning.  We can identify the religious significance of this story because we know some of the religious beliefs or doctrines that this story involves and promotes:

  • God exists.
  • Moses was a prophet, a person with whom God communicated in a clear and direct way.
  • God cares about people and sometimes does things to help people.
  • God is very powerful and sometimes God performs miracles–causing things to happen that are contrary to the laws, or the ordinary operation, of nature.
  • God cared about the Israelites, and had a plan or purpose for the nation of Israel.

These are some of the religious beliefs involved in and promoted by the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and of the parting of the Red Sea.  Because we recognize these beliefs to be religious beliefs, and recognize them specifically to be Jewish and Christian beliefs, we can determine that this story has religious significance or religious meaning.
Thus, in order to recognize that a story is a religious story, and that a story has religious significance, we must first be able to distinguish between religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.  In order to recognize a story to be a religious story for a particular religion, we need to know something about the religious beliefs of that religion.  Similarly, in order to recognize that a story is associated with a particular worldview, we must first have some familiarity with the beliefs (i.e. the doctrines or philosophy) of that worldview.
Therefore, the doctrines or philosophy of a religion/worldview are more central, and more fundamental than the stories involved in that religion/worldview.  This is because in order to recognize that a story belongs to, or is part of, a religion/worldview, one must first have some familiarity with the doctrines or philosophy of that religion/worldview.  It is awareness of the doctines or philosophy of a religion/worldview that allows one to recognize or identify when a story has significance or meaning in relation to that religion/worldview.
The basic function of a religious story is to teach, communicate, or reinforce the beliefs of a religion.  The basic function of a story associated with a worldview is to teach, communicate, or reinforce the beliefs of that worldview.  So, the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more central and more fundamental than the narrative dimension.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 7

In the previous post in this series,  I argued that the Christian apologist James Sire makes a fundamental mistake in his book Naming the Elephant, by defining “a worldview” as being a kind of commitment.  A worldview is something that can be true (or false), but a commitment is NOT something that can be true (or false); therefore, a worldview is NOT a commitment.
One can have a strong belief or “intellectual commitment” towards a worldview, but in that case the worldview is the OBJECT of the commitment, not the commitment itself.  Although there are some other interesting points made by Sire in this book that are worth considering,  because Sire’s concept of  “a worldview” is fundamentally flawed, I’m going to set that book aside for now, and move on to consider another book by a different author who has also done much thinking about the concept of “a worldview”.
Ninian Smart is a recognized expert on religions, and in his book Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (3rd edition, 2000; hereafter: Worldviews), he advocates that the scholarly study of religion be conceived of, and engaged in, as “worldview analysis”.  An important part of “worldview analysis” is that it encompasses the examination of both traditional religions (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and secular ideologies (Marxism, Secular Humanism, etc.).  In terms of my purposes here, concerning clarification of the concept of “a worldview”, Smart makes the interesting and plausible claim that a worldview involves six “dimensions”:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.  However, Smart’s six-dimensional approach seems quite sensible and plausible.  Of course religions and ideologies involve narratives/myths.  Of course religions and ideologies involve ethics or laws.  Of course religions and ideologies involve rituals or practices.  It seems undeniable that religions and ideologies generally manifest all six of these dimensions, and thus that beliefs and claims are only one small aspect of religions, ideologies, and worldviews.
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
The doctrines of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  The philosophical beliefs/claims of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  Since my concern is with the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of beliefs/claims that are “contained” in a religion or worldview,  I could just focus on the first dimension, and do so while acknowledging that there are other aspects of religions and worldviews that I am setting aside and ignoring.
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Note that Smart did NOT use any of the following alternative titles:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Myths
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Laws
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Rituals
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Experiences
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Emotions
 Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Organizations
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Institutions  
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.  Here is a comment from the very first paragraph of the Introduction:
…at the level of everyday life, a knowledge of worldviews is increasingly significant.  First, civilizations are importantly interwoven with them.  Whether you believe them or not is beside the point.  (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Smart immediately characterizes a worldview as something that can be believed (or not believed).   Smart does not speak here of rituals, experiences, or institutions; rather, he speaks of belief, which suggests he is focused on beliefs or claims involved in a religion or worldview, and thus is focused on the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
Another comment from the very first paragraph also supports the centrality of beliefs/claims to religions and worldviews:
Second, religious values and more broadly those of worldviews are in debate among the humanities.  Anyone who reflects about human values has to take into some account the values of the religions. (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Although “religious values” could be taken to include the “ethical or legal dimension”, the word “values” encompasses more than just moral values; it encompasses any sort of norms and any sort of evaluation.  Also philosophy encompasses ethics, so the “ethical or legal dimension” clearly has significant overlap with the “doctrinal and philosophical dimension”.  (Perhaps “ethical” refers to fairly specific rules and norms of behavior while the “philosophical” dimension includes more general ideas and principles regarding morality and behavior.)
In any case, if “religious values” and “worldview values” are “in debate among the humanities”, then Smart is clearly talking about something that is intellectual or cognitive in nature.  He is presumably talking about claims or beliefs concerning how people ought to behave or what people ought to care about.  Once again, this is an indication of the importance or centrality of the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
Here Smart mentions “feelings and ideas” in summing up what is studied when one studies a worldview.  The study of “ideas” clearly relates to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension of a worldview.  It could also relate to  the mythical and ethical dimensions, but the ethical dimension, as I have previously mentioned, can be encompassed by the philosophical dimension.
The word “feelings” points to the experiential or emotional dimension.  However, in the very next sentence, Smart talks about “What people believe” and “whether or not what they believe is true”.  This language again points towards the doctrinal or philosophical dimension.  Experiences and emotions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Rituals are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Organizations and institutions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).    While myths and stories can be thought of as being true (or false),  myths and religious stories are often believed to have significance apart from whether they are literally true (or false).
When Smart talks about “what exists inside the heads of people” this relates most directly to beliefs and feelings and experiences, but not directly to rituals, practices, organizations, or institutions.
The focus on “beliefs” continues at the end of the second paragraph:
To some extent anthropology tried to give objective accounts of foreign beliefs, but often the other cultures were treated as uncivilized or inferior.  To some extent there were attempts through comparative religion to describe foreign beliefs, and sometimes Christian missionaries managed warm accounts of other faiths.  (Worldviews, p.2)
In these sentences Smart equates other “worldviews” and “other faiths” with “foreign beliefs,”  not with “foreign rituals” , not with “foreign practices”, not with “foreign experiences”,  not with “foreign organizations”, not with “foreign institutions.”  So, at both the beginning and the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction, Smart focuses on beliefs/claims, and this suggests that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a worldview is more important, more central, than the other dimensions.
In paragraph three of the Introduction, Smart discusses the importance of “epoche” or suspension of judgment when one is studying the worldview of another people or culture.  One should, Smart says, “suspend your own beliefs about the other (whether that be culture, or group, or individual)”(Worldviews, p. 2, emphasis added).  So, the modern study of religions and worlviews attempts to acheive objectivity by setting aside one’s own “point of view”.  Thus, one’s own beliefs and point of view can bias one’s understanding of other religions and other worldviews.  Presumably, this is because the beliefs one has as, say a Christian, may conflict with the beliefs held by people who have a different religion or worldview (say Islam or Buddhism or Marxism).  So, it apears that paragraph three of the Introduction also suggests that beliefs are central to religions and worldviews.
Paragraph four provides a brief characterization of “worldview analysis” and once again focuses on “beliefs”:
The study of religions and ideologies can be called “worldview analysis.”  In this we try to depict the history and nature of the symbols and beliefs that have helped form the structure of human consciousness and society.  This is the heart of the modern study of religion.  (Worldviews, p.2, emphasis added)
Note that Smart does NOT say that “worldview analysis” depicts the history and nature of “rituals” or “experiences” or “feelings” or “organizations” or “institutions”.  I will argue later that “symbols” have a very close connection with the beliefs and claims of a religion or worldview.
At the beginning of paragraph six, Smart talks about our understanding of “others’ beliefs and values”, and about exploring the “thoughts and values of others” in characterizing efforts to “explore other people’s religions”.  At the end of paragraph six, Smart talks about bias that existed in the early history of “the comparative study of religion”:
But such explorations were often somewhat supercilious in regard to alien faiths.  Westerners were often inclined to dub other beliefs as primitive.  (Worldviews, p.3, emphasis added)
He does not say that there was an inclination to dub “other experiences” as primitive, or “other rituals” as primitive, or “other institutions” as primitive.  Once again, Smart’s focus is on “beliefs”, thus suggesting that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a worldview is more important, more central than the other dimensions.
In short, in the opening paragraphs of the Introduction to Worldviews, Ninian Smart repeatedly talks about worldviews in terms of “beliefs”, “ideas”, “thoughts”, and, perhaps most importantly in terms of truth (or falsehood):
What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true (Worldviews, p.1-2)
This emphais on “beliefs” is also present in the very title of the book:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Therefore, although Smart argues that the modern study of religion should touch on at least six different dimensions, it also seems to be the case that he recognizes that “beliefs” or the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is of greater importance (or is more central) than the other dimensions or aspects of a religion or a worldview.
In the next post, I will start walking though the other five dimensions of worldviews, and examining how they relate to “beliefs” or to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of worldviews.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 4

I think of Christianity as being a worldview. But what is a worldview? How should we analyze and compare and evaluate worldviews?
There are different ways of understanding and analyzing worldviews, so before I defend my cognitivist view of religions, I should make an attempt to clarify the concept of “a worldview” that I plan to use in my evaluation of Christianity.
Here are some books that analyze worldviews and/or discuss the concept of a worldview:
CHRISTIAN APOLOGISTS
Worldviews In Conflict by Ronald Nash
The Universe Next Door by James Sire
Naming the Elephant by James Sire
OTHER PHILOSOPHERS/SCHOLARS
The Religions of Man by Huston Smith
Seven Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs by Ninian Smart
Leslie Stevenson and Ronald Nash both treat worldviews as philosophies or systems of beliefs, so their understanding of the concept of a worldview is closest to mine. Nash does, however, briefly mention the idea that there are “Nontheoretical foundations of theoretical thought” (Worldviews in Conflict, p.23-26).
Huston Smith analyzes Buddhism in a way that is very similar to the way that Stevenson analyzes worldviews (compare The Religions of Man, pages 102-103, with Seven Theories of Human Nature, pages 5-9).
Ninian Smart is a religious studies expert from UC Santa Barbara (he was commencement speaker at my wife’s graduation from UCSB, and my plan was to ask him to be part of the comittee for my dissertation on the resurrection of Jesus). Smart’s conception of a worldview includes philosophical beliefs or doctrines but also includes other “dimensions”:
1. Doctrinal and philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
(Worldviews, p.8-10)
So, Smart’s conception of a worldview represents a challenge to my congitivist view of religion, which focuses on beliefs or doctrines.
James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door treats worldviews as systems of beliefs, in keeping with my cognitivist view of religions:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the makeup of our world. (The Universe Next Door, p.16)
However, after reviewing a number of different thinkers who have discussed the concept of a worldview, Sire made some significant revisions to his conception of a world view. He develops and explains his new conception in his book Naming the Elephant:
The time for rethinking the concept of worldview has come. If the analysis that follows is correct, four important revisions to my own earlier definition of worldview are in order. First is a recognition that a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Second is an explicit insistence that at the deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the “really real”. Third is a consideration of behavior in the determination of what one’s own or another’s worldview really is. Fourth is a broader understanding of how worldviews are grasped as story, not just as abstract propositions. (Naming the Elephant, p.13)
Near the end of the book (see Chapter 7), Sire puts forward his new definition of a worldview:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (Naming the Elephant, p.122)
This revised definition of “a worldview” by Sire appears to depart from the purely cognitivist view of religion and worldviews that he had in his earlier book The Universe Next Door. So, his more recent concept of “a worldview” represents a challenge to my cognitivist view of religions and of Christianity.