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 17: Worldviews as “Master Stories”?

James Sire comes from an Evangelical Christian point of view, so for him the miracle stories in the Gospels are crucial to the Christian worldview, especially the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus.  Belief in such miracles are indeed part of ancient Christian Creeds that are still used in most Protestant and Catholic worship services and are part of many catechisms, both Protestant and Catholic.
In Chapter 5 of Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE), Sire points to the Apostles’ Creed in order to argue for the importance of STORY in relation to the Christian worldview:
Perhaps the easiest way to see that this might be the case [that it is “better to consider a worldview as the story we live by”] is to examine the Christian worldview.  I have argued that the Christian worldview begins with ontology–an abstract concept, but soon ontology becomes lodged in story form.  The ancient Apostles’ Creed demonstrates this:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

Only the first line is utterly ontological.  The second line brings in action, and while it does not take a position on whether creation was in or out of time, it recognizes God as origin of the earth.  It is the fourth line that roots the Christian worldview in story:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

There is no need to quote further.  The remainder of the creed is steeped in story.  (NTE, p.101)
One of the earliest Christian creeds clearly summarizes the “story” of the life and death (and alleged resurrection) of Jesus.  But this is NOT being told as a fable or a myth or a legend or a tall tale.
The point of reciting this creed is, in large part, to declare that one BELIEVES that there was in fact a real historical Jesus and that the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as told in the canonical Gospels is true, at least concerning some key events that the Gospels present (the birth of Jesus, the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the crucifixion of Jesus, etc.).
Sire is confirming my point (made in Part 16 of this series) that the “story” at the heart of Christianity is, for the most part, a non-fiction story, a story about events that allegedly occured in reality.  But if this is the case, then it follows that at the heart of Christianity there is a set of related factual claims or BELIEFS (e.g. “Jesus was tried by Pilate”,  “Pilate condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion”,  “Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers”, “Jesus died on the cross”, etc.).  These beliefs about the life and death of Jesus might be false, or might be inaccurate, or some might be true and others false, some accurate and others inaccurate.
Because we are talking about a non-fiction story here, we are talking about BELIEFS or CLAIMS that could be either true or false.  If such beliefs or claims are at the heart of the Christian worldview, then the Christian worldview is fundamentally an INTELLECTUAL and COGNITIVE entity.  Once again, Sire provides evidence that supports a cognitivist view of worldviews, and that undermines his attempt to promote an alternative way of understanding the nature of worldviews.
On the next page after Sire quotes from the Apostles’ Creed, he makes a similar point about the Bible in general:
When one turns to the Bible itself, the ground of all Christian theologies–Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox–the element of story is even stronger.  Most of the Bible is story, and all of it is embedded in story–a history, a story of events that really happened (not just-so stories, or likely stories, or myths).  (NTE, p.102, emphasis added)
To the extent that Christian theology, and thus presumably the Christian worldview, is grounded in the Bible, and to the extent that the Bible mostly presents stories “of events that really happened”, at least according to Sire and other Christians, this is further evidence that the Christian worldview consists of BELIEFS and CLAIMS, namely BELIEFS and CLAIMS about events that (allegedly) happened.  Once again, Sire’s attempt to raise an objection to the cognitivist understanding of worldviews actaully provides support for the cognitivist view.
But, someone might object that a story is more than simply a list of events, even a list of related events.  The story of the life and death of Jesus, for example could be summarized like this:
Jesus was a Jewish male who was born in Palestine about 2,000 years ago.  He grew up to become a travelling preacher and faith healer, and he gathered some dedicated followers who would often travel with him around Palestine.  Jesus taught theological and eithical principles often using parables and memorable aphorisms.  In about 30 CE, Jesus was crucifed by Roman soldiers.   According to some of his followers, Jesus was then buried in a stone tomb, but came back to life just a couple of days later and met up with and spoke with some of his followers.
This is a very short story, and it is composed of various historical claims.  However, this short story has little meaning or significance on its own.  It has almost no religious or theological significance as stated above.  However, the whole point of the story, from a Christian viewpoint, is the religious or theological significance of this story.
We can asks a few obvious questions about this story, and the religious or theological significance will rise to the surface.  Why was Jesus crucified?  Did he commit some terrible crime?  No, according to Christian believers, Jesus was a very good person who never did anything bad or evil.  Well then, did Jesus protest against the proposal that he be executed?  No, according to the Gospels and Christian believers, Jesus fell silent and simply accepted the condemnation and his horrible execution.
If he was innocent, then why did Jesus not protest against being condemned to death?  Was Jesus suicidal?  Was Jesus a masochist?  Did he want to be crucified?  No, according to the Christian faith,  Jesus was sent by God with the primary purpose of suffering and dying as a sacrifice or atonement for the sins of all humankind.
Jesus was, supposedly, God in the flesh, the divine Son of God, and he had lived a life of perfect moral goodness, so because Jesus was a divine person and because Jesus was a perfectly good person, his death would have great power and value, and thus make it possible for God to forgive the sins of anyone who put their faith in Jesus as lord and savior of humankind.  Jesus submitted himself to be crucified, because this was a critical part of his mission from God.  God raised Jesus from the dead, not just as the granting of a wish to a swell guy, but as proof that Jesus had been sent by God to die as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind and to be the lord and savior of every human being.
OK, so now the “mere story” of the life of Jesus has been given a religous meaning or significance,  and it is this religious meaning that elevates the simple historical sequence of events  (summed up in the bold font above) to something of greater importance.  Note, however, that the religious meaning of the story of the life and death of Jesus is presented by means of various religous and theological BELIEFS or CLAIMS that concern the religious significance of the life and death of Jesus:

  •  Jesus was sent by God with the primary purpose of suffering and dying as a sacrifice or atonement for the sins of all humankind.
  • Jesus was God in the flesh, the divine Son of God.
  • Jesus was a good person who lived a life of perfect moral goodness.
  • The death of Jesus  made it possible for God to forgive the sins of anyone who put their faith in Jesus.
  • God raised Jesus from the dead as proof that Jesus had been sent by God.

So, it is the combination of the “mere story” of the life of Jesus (consisting of various ordinary historical claims) with other religious or theological claims concerning the religious significance of those (alleged) historical events, that constitutes the full story, from a Christian point of view.
While it is true that the “mere story” or sequence of ordinary historical events is not sufficient to constitute the heart of the Christian worldview,  the difference between the “mere story” and the “full story” is a matter of adding some religious or theological BELIEFS or CLAIMS to the ordinary historical claims in order to spell out the religious significance of the events in question.
Thus, to the extent that the “full story” of the life and death of Jesus constitutes the core of the Christian worldview,  the Christian worldview must be made up of BELIEFS and CLAIMS and thus it is fundamentally a COGNITIVE and INTELLECTUAL entity.
Sire has again failed to show that there is any significant problem with his older cognitivist conception of a worldview (see his book The Universe Next Door, pages 16 & 17) as a set or system of beliefs.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 15

In his book Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE), the Christian apologist James Sire raises various objections against his analysis of the concept of a “worldview” that he had presented in his earlier book The Universe Next Door (hereafter: TUND).
I have reviewed three of Sire’s objections to his earlier cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview” and argued that those objections were unsuccessful (see previous posts 10, 11, 12, and 13).
I plan to review more of Sire’s objections from NTE, but for this post I will simply re-iterate and reinforce a basic argument against Sire’s proposal in NTE that we take a worldview to be “a way of life”:

  1. Sire (and nearly all Christian apologists) believes that “The Christian worldview is true.”
  2. The belief that “The Christian worldview is true.” makes sense ONLY IF a worldview is something that can be true or false.
  3. But, if a worldview is “a way of life”, then a worldview is NOT something that can be true or false.

THEREFORE:

4. Sire (and nearly all Christian apologists) must either give up the belief that “The Christian worldview is true.”  or else he must reject the belief that a worldview is “a way of life”.

It is clear in TUND that Sire believes that a worldview is something that can be true or false.  In the “Preface to the Third Edition” he speaks of worldviews as being “true” and as needing “justification”:
…I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own–why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.  I can only hope that this book becomes a stepping stone for others toward their own self-conscious development and justification of their own worldview.  (TUND, p.10, emphasis added)
Furthermore, his very definition of “worldview” in TUND includes a clear reference to the idea of truth:
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)
But it is not just in the earlier book TUND where Sire speaks of worldviews in terms of truth and falsehood.  In the very first paragraph of the Preface of NTE, we find Sire still talking about worldviews being true or false:
Moreover, developing a cognizance of my own worldview has provided a way of orienting not just my own thoughts but my whole take on life itself.  I have, in short, long been interested in detecting the basic intellectual commitments we make as human beings, reveling in their variety, delighting in the depth of their insight when they have grasped the truth and despairing over their disastrous consequences when they have proven false.  (NTE, p.11, emphasis added)
And, at least initially, Sire more or less repeats the definition of “worldview” from his previous book, including the reference to truth:
A worldview is composed of a number of basic presuppositions, more or less consistent with each other, more or less consciously held, more or less true.  (NTE, p.20, emphasis added)
But in later chapters of NTE, Sire raises objections to his previous cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview” and rejects that previous analysis:
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)
Despite rejecting his previous cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview”, Sire persists in speaking about worldviews in terms of truth and falsehood.  At the end of Chapter 6, for example, Sire speaks of a worldview being “objectively true”:
Traditional Christians in general are not about to give up the idea of objective truth.  I do not think I speak only for myself when I say that every fiber in my being cries out for a worldview that is not just my own story, my own set of propositions, my own interpretation of life, but one that is universally, objectively true (NTE, p.118, emphasis added)
In Chapter 7 of NTE, Sire uses the words “true” and “false” and “accurate” of worldview “assumptions”:
The presuppositions that express one’s commitments, may be true, partially true or entirely false.  Since there is a way things are, the assumptions one makes about this may be more or less accurate.   (NTE, p.129, emphasis in original)
Sire illustrates this point with the important example of the Christian-worldview belief that “there is a God”:
If there is a God, and we believe in God, our belief is a true belief.  (NTE, p.129, emphasis added)
Later in Chapter 7, Sire speaks about the possibility of having “contradictions in our worldview” and the need to “eliminate” such contradictions:
One inconsistency is quite common.  Some self-confessed Christians believe in reincarnation.  I am convinced that those who do this have not understood very well what Christianity teaches.  For if it is true that each person is made in the image of God, then each person is unique.  The doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the end of human history assures that each person is that same person and that person alone.  But reincarnation involves the notion that one individual at death reverts to a state in which he or she can return as another individual in another body.  This happens not just once but over and over.  The two concepts of what happens at death–resurrection and multiple, perhaps eternal, reincarnations–cannot both be the way things are.   One precludes the other.
If we are to have a Christian worldview, we will want to eliminate the contradictions in our worldview.  (NTE, p.131, emphasis added)
Concern about contradictions in a worldview implies a concern about TRUTH of the beliefs or assumptions that constitute the worldview.  Note that Sire explains the problem or contradiction here by using the concept of truth: “For if it is true that each person is made in the image of God, then each person is unique.”  Worldviews can contain contradictions, because worldviews are composed of beliefs or assumptions which can be true or false.
Near the end of Chapter 7, Sire speaks about “errors” in worldviews:
Some errors in worldview will become apparent and be eliminated only with much prayer and supplication.  That will be true of our own errors as much as those of others whose views we try to change. (NTE, p.135, emphasis added)
The idea that a worldview can contain “errors” supports the previous statements by Sire where he speaks of worlview “assumptions” being “true, partially true or entirely false.” (NTE, p.129).
At the end of Chapter 7, Sire re-iterates his view that ontological assumptions, such as belief in the existence of Godare the most basic and important aspect of a worldview:
…because the mainstay of one’s worldview is ontological, a commitment to a specific notion of fundamental reality, we will take a person’s notion of God or nature or themselves to be the most important aspect of their character.  Their support or rejection of any ethical principle–say prochoice or prolife–is less fundamental than the notion of what is ultimately real.  Christians proclaiming either ethical principle will do so primarily from an understanding of who God is… A change of position on this issue [i.e. on their understanding of who God is] will mean worldview change at a deep level. (NTE, p.135-136, emphasis added)
The primary ontological belief in the Christian worldview is that God exists.  As we saw earlier, this belief or assumption is one that Sire thinks can be true or false:
If there is a God, and we believe in God, our belief is a true belief.  (NTE, p.129, emphasis added)
Although Sire raises many objections against his earlier cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview”, and although he rejects this cognitivist analysis, he continues to speak of worldviews in terms of “assumptions” and “presuppositions” and “beliefs” which are to be evaluated as  “true, partially true or entirely false.”  (NTE, p.129).  And since Sire also continues to speak of worldviews as potentially being “objectively true” (NTE, p.118), Sire is caught in a significant self-contradition: he must either give up his claim that a worldview is “a way of life”, or else he must give up his view that a worldview is something that can be true or false.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 13

Worldview as a Way of Life?
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).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100).  The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior.   (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions” and “assumptions”.  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.”  In the previous post, we examined a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
I argued that worldview-related beliefs and assumptions, especially ethical beliefs, can be directly “tied to lived experience and behavior”, and thus that (MEC) is clearly false.
Another attempt to support the view that a worldview is “a way of life” is based on comments from the theologians Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton:
Worldviews are best understood as we see them incarnated, fleshed out in actual ways of life.  They are not systems of thought, like theologies or philosophies.  Rather worldviews are perceptual frameworks. (from Transforming Vision, quoted by Sire in NTE, p.98)
These comments, however, actually provide evidence against the view that a worldview is a way of life, and they provide evidence that supports my view that a worldview is a system of thought or a system of beliefs.
These comments by Walsh and Middleton presuppose the following claim about the incarnation of worldviews:
(WIC) A worldview can be incarnated in a way of life.
The first thing to note is that it is clear that a set or system of beliefs “can be incarnated in a way of life.”  Thus, my cognitivist view of worldviews is fully compatible with (WIC).
The second thing to note is that it is clear that it makes no sense to say that a way of life “can be incarnated in a way of life.”  Thus, Sire’s view that a worldview IS a way of life is NOT compatible with (WIC).  Therefore, the comment by Walsh and Middleton about worldview incarnation supports my cognitivist view but is contrary to Sire’s claim that a worldview is a way of life.
The word “incarnated” is a metaphor.  What does it mean?  God is invisible and intangible.  To say that God became “incarnated” in Jesus, is to say that Jesus is God in a visible and tangible form.  Similarly, (WIC) implies that a worldview is something that is ordinarily invisible and intangible, but that becomes visible and tangible when the worldview is “incarnated” in a way of life.
We can see and observe the behavior and habits of a person and of a group of people.  Thus, we can see and observe a way of life.  But, (WIC) implies that a worldview is not ordinarily something that we can see and observe.  This makes perfect sense if a worldview is a system of thought or system of beliefs.   We cannot see or observe thoughts or beliefs in the way that we can see or observe actions and habits and practices.
So, if we understand the meaning of “incarnated” in (WIC), then it is clear that it makes perfect sense to think about a worldview as being a system of thought or system of beliefs that can be incarnated in a way of life, and it is clear that it makes no sense to think about a way of life being incarnated in a way of life, because a way of life is already something that we can see and observe, and thus there is no need for a way of life to be “incarnated” at all.
The next comments by Walsh and Middleton also support my cognitivist view of worldviews, and do not support Sire’s view that worldviews are ways of life.  Walsh and Middleton argue that worldviews are “not systems of thought” but rather are “perceptual frameworks”.  This is basically a self-undermining argument.
First of all “perceptual frameworks” is an unclear metaphor, and thus it has an immediate disadvantage relative to the clearer and more common-sense view that a worldview is a system of beliefs.  But, if we unpack the meaning of this metaphor, it becomes fairly clear that this is just a confused way of referring to a system of beliefs.
The phrase “perceptual frameworks” is not only a metaphor, it is a mixed metaphor.  The primary literal meaning of “perceive” is to have a SENSORY experience: especially “to see or hear” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition).  Walsh and Middleton actually use the word “seeing” in this context:
Worldviews are “ways of seeing,” Walsh and Middleton say, and add, “If we want to understand what people see, or how well people see, we need to watch how they walk…”  (NTE, p.98)
The problem here is that a blind person has a worldview, and deaf people also have worldviews.  So, a worldview is NOT about literal seeing or literal hearing or about sensory experiences.  Thus, the word “perceptual” must be taken non-literally, or at least not in terms of the primary meaning of the word.  A secondary meaning of “perceive” is: “to become aware of in one’s mind; acheive understanding of” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition).  In other words, the non-literal meaning of “perception” is about: cognition, thinking, knowing, and believing.  A blind person can think.   A blind person can have beliefs.  A blind person can know things.  That is the sort of “perception” that we are talking about, when we use the phrase “perceptual framework”.
What about the word “framework”?  What does this word mean?  The framework of a building is the physical part of the building that provides structure and stability to the building.  That is the literal sense of the word.  But we aren’t talking about buildings.  We are talking about cognition, thinking, knowing, and believing.
What is it that provides structure and stability to thinking and cognition?  We have basic assumptions or beliefs that provide stability and structure to our thinking.  Our thinking and cognition and believing has a logical structure.  Some beliefs are more basic, more fundamental to our thinking and believing, than other beliefs.  So, we can reasonably infer that the non-literal meaning of “framework” is: beliefs that are basic or fundamental to our thinking and believing.  Such basic beliefs provide structure and stability to our thinking and believing.
So, “perceptual framework” does NOT refer to a literal physical framework that provides structure and stability to our vision or hearing (whatever that might mean); rather, this phrase refers to a set of basic beliefs that provide structure and stability to our thinking and believing in general.  In other words, when you get past the unclear metaphor and down to the literal meaning of it, the phrase “perceptual framework” actually refers to a system of thought or a system of beliefs.  So, Walsh and Middleton are arguing that we should set aside the clear literal phrase “a system of beliefs” and replace this phrase with an unclear metaphor “a perceptual framework”, a metaphor that when analyzed turns out to be a reference to a system of beliefs.
Therefore, Walsh and Middleton 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 are contrary to Sire’s claim that a worldview is “a way of life.”

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 12

Sire’s First Two Objections
Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist 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.  In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE:
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)
In a previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The second objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview (covered in the previous post), is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE:
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Based on the comparisons Sire makes between his seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, 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 this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.  Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so:
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  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?)
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.  Thus, the second objection represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.
Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that 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).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100).  The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior.   (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Recall a key conclusion of Chapter 5, which Sire states in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions of a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
So, clearly Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions”.  This is a mistake, according to Sire, because worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
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.”  Let’s consider a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
It seems fairly obvious that (MEC) is false.  Consider the following belief:
(AIM)  Having an abortion is an instance of murdering an innocent child.
Some people hold this belief.  If someone holds this belief, they are likely to be reluctant to have an abortion, and are unlikely to encourage someone else to have an abortion, and will be reluctant to vote for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice.
If someone frequently has abortions (and has no regrets about having them) or frequently encourages others to have abortions (and has no regrets about doing this) and has no reluctance about voting for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice, then we would rightly doubt the claim that this person believed (AIM) to be true.  That is because beliefs have implications for choices and actions, and beliefs have an influence on a person’s choices and actions.
This is especially the case with ethical beliefs, and it is clearly the case with beliefs that people have concerning the most basic questions of ethics:
(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?)
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a sane adult person to have no beliefs about these questions. If a person has some beliefs about these basic questions of ethics, then those beliefs will influence the choices that person makes and the behavior of that person.
In Sire’s older book The Universe Next Door, he describes the view of morality that is part of the worldview of Christian Theism:
7. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving).
This proposition has already been considered as an implication of proposition 1 [i.e. 1. God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.] .  God is the source of the moral world as well as the physical world.  God is the good and expresses this in the laws and moral principles he has revealed in Scripture.  (TUND, p.35)
Theism…teaches that not only is there a moral universe, but there is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured.  God himself–his character of goodness (holiness and love)–is the standard.  Furthermore, Christians and Jews hold that God has revealed his standard in the various laws and principles expressed in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the apostle Paul’s ethical teaching–in these and many other ways God has expressed his character to us.  There is thus a standard of right and wrong, and people who want to know it can know it.  (TUND, p. 36)
If someone holds these various beliefs about right and wrong, then such a person is likely to consult the Bible when they are struggling with a moral issue or question, and such a person is likely to take seriously arguments based on the Bible concerning that and other moral issues.  If some person has no interest or concern about what the Bible teaches about various moral issues, and if that person never takes seriously any arguments about moral issues that are based on the Bible, then it would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the claim that this person holds the above beliefs about right and wrong.
Furthermore, if a person is firmly convinced that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X, and if that person holds the above BELIEFS about right and wrong, then we would expect that person to be reluctant to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing X), and we would expect that person to be reluctant to encourage others to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing so).
If some person has no reluctance about doing X and never appears to feel bad about doing X, and if that person often encourages others to do X and never appears to feel bad about encouraging others to do X, then it is quite reasonable to doubt the claim that this person firmly BELIEVES that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X and that this person holds the worldview-related BELIEFS about right and wrong found in Sire’s description of Christian theism.
Beliefs have implications, and a person’s beliefs influence how that person thinks and how that person feels, and how that person acts.  That is why worldview-related beliefs are important and significant, because they influence our thinking, our feelings, the choices we make, and the actions we take.
Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian faith, argues that there is a logical or conceptual tie between beliefs and actions:
Belief has consequences for action, for it is in part a matter of the way in which one seeks to achieve one’s purposes, the goals or ends one seeks to achieve.
Suppose that I seek to get to London, and I come to a junction in the road.  Then clearly if I believe that it is more probable that the road on my right leads to London than that the road on the left does, I shall take the road on the right.  (Faith and Reason, 2nd edition, p.9)
Clearly, the choices and actions that a person makes or takes are indications of the beliefs held by that person, and Sire appears to acknowledge this point:
…we can assess whether we ourselves (or anyone else) hold a particular worldview by observing how we or others act.  (NTE, p.98)
How we view life affects the life we live; it governs both the unconscious actions we engage in and the actions we ponder before acting.  (NTE, p.99)
In Chapter 6 of NTE, Sire explicitly ties worldview-related assumptions to actions and behavior:
Everyone has a worldview.  Whether we know it or not, we all operate from a set of assumptions about the world that remain to a large measure hidden in the unconscious recesses of our mind. …
I wake up in the morning, not asking myself who I am or where I am.  I am immediately aware of a whole host of perceptions that my mind orders into the recognition that it’s morning:  I’m home, I’m crawling out of bed.  In this immediate awareness I do not consciously ask or answer, What is the really real?  How do I know I am home?  or, How can I tell the difference between right and wrong?  Rather, my unconscious mind is using a network of presumptions about how to interpret for the conscious mind what is going on.  In some way all of the basic worldview questions are being answered by the way I am acting and behaving.  (NTE, p.107-108)
The “assumptions about the world”  and the “network of presumptions” that Sire speaks of here are BELIEFS held by the person in question.  So, in this passage Sire clearly implies that a person’s worldview-related BELIEFS guide their choices and actions.  Therefore, Sire agrees with Swinburne’s view that our beliefs are closely connected to, and influence, our choices and actions.
Therefore, since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–clearly impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that (MEC) is false.  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”.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 11

Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist 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 revised understaning of the nature of worldviews is wrong.   So, I am attempting 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”.
In the previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The next objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview, is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE.  Sire compares his seven basic questions (see the previous post for his list of questions) to questions proposed by others (mostly Christian theologians) who have attempted to analyze worldviews by means of a small set of such questions.  After briefly comparing his questions with the questions proposed by a few other key thinkers, Sire draws this conlcusion:
It appears, therefore, that my seven questions are in fact fairly comprehensive.  They include in some way the essence of all the questions others have formulated.  This should not be surprising, since the questions address ontology, epistemology, and ethics.  What else besides aesthetics is left?  
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  True, the fourth question (“What happens to persons at death?”) is existential, but the others are not. …  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Is there a problem with a lack of “existential relevance” in Sire’s previous account of worldviews?  Before we can answer this question, we first need to understand what “existential relevance” means.  The meaning of this phrase is best understood in terms of this specific context, namely in relationship to the contrast that Sire makes between his conception of “worldview” and that of others in this particular subsection of Chapter 5.
In the subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” Sire begins by comparing his questions with a similar series of questions in a quote from Wilhelm Dilthey (emphasis added by me):
The riddle of existence . . . is always bound up organically with that of the world itself and with the question of what I am supposed to do in this world, why I am in it, and how my life in it will end.  Where did I come from?  Why do I exist?  What will become of me?  This is the most general question of all questions and the one that most concerns me. (NTE, p.95; quoted by David Naugle in Worldview: The History of a Concept, p.83)
I take it that the question “Why do I exist?” is NOT a scientific question.  This question would not be answered by explaining the biology of sexual reproduction and the historical circumstances that led to one’s parents having sexual intercourse, which then resulted in one’s conception and birth.  Such a scientific or causal explanation is not what is desired here.
Rather, this question is about the purpose or meaning of one’s life.  A clearer expression of the intended question would be “Why should I continue to exist, as opposed to killing myself?”  That is a question with “existential relevance”.  I have also emphasized the phrase  “the question of what I am supposed to do in this world” because, as we shall soon see, this is at least an important part of what Sire means by “existential relevance”, namely relevance to practical decisions concerning what actions one should take or what choices one should make.
Sire also considers another list of questions that James Orr asks in relation to the analysis of a worldview, and Sire makes a general comment about those questions:
James Orr notes that two types of causes–speculative and practical–are involved in the formation of worldviews.  Both “lie deep in the constitution of human nature.”  On the one hand, we want a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the “origin, purpose, and destiny” of the universe and our lives.  But we also want a practical understanding of these issues so that we can properly order our lives. …  (NTE, p.95, emphasis added by me)
Sire notes that Orr views the basic questions that define a worldview as encompassing both theoretical and practical issues.  This is another indication that “existential relevance” is closely related to practical issues and concerns.  (The first indication was the phrase quoted from Dilthey “…the question of what I am supposed to do in this world…”).  Also, among the list of questions from Orr quoted by Sire is this one: “By what ultimate principles ought man to be guided in the framing and ordering of his life?”  (NTE, p. 96)
I find the worldview questions that Sire quotes from the theologians Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton very appealing.  Walsh and Middleton ask only four basic questions, and two of them are, in my view, of particular importance:
(3) What’s wrong?  Or, what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from fulfillment? …
(4) What is the remedy?  Or, how is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfillment? …  (NTE, p.96)
Like me, Walsh and Middleton conceive of worldviews in terms of problem-solving.  The basic problems being practical in nature: How should I live my life?  What do I need to do to live a good life or to live my life well?  These are basic questions in the sub-discipline of philosophy called ethics.
When Sire sums up the comparisons of his seven questions with the questions put forward by Dilthey, Orr, and Walsh & Middleton, he closely associates “existential concerns” with questions that have a “practical” focus:
With Dilthey, Orr, and to some extent, Walsh and Middleton, the questions focus on existential concerns.  They are all about us.  While the answers will involve God and nature, the emphasis is practical.  What are the implications for us as human beings looking for a satisfying life?  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added by me)
Based on the particular context of the comparisons made between Sire’s seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, we can clarify this objection to Sire’s seven worldview questions:
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 this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.
Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  To the extent that Sire succeeded in this intention, his seven questions would include one or more basic questions of ethics, and in doing so he would have provided a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.  I believe that some minor changes to Sire’s seven worldview questions would be sufficient to resolve this issue.
Three of Sire’s seven questions appear to be related to ethics (from NTE, p.94):
3. What is a human being?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
Question (3) relates to metaphysics (e.g. Do human beings have souls or spirits?  What is the relationship between a human mind and a human brain?).  But question (3) is also related to ethics: Do human beings have free will?  Are human beings moral agents who can be worthy of moral praise or moral blame?  Do human beings have a right to life?  Is the life of a human being of more value than the life of a non-human animal, like a dog or a deer?
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so.  This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  The basic question of ethics is “How should I live my life?”.
One partial response to this question could be “You should live your life in a way that is morally good and morally responsible.”  But morality, even if it is an important aim for life, is not the ONLY thing that can make a life a good life or a bad one.  What about pleasure and creativity and obtaining knowledge?  In addition to being a fair person, and being a considerate person, and being an honest person, isn’t it also good to enjoy life? to make use of one’s imagination and creative abilities?  to learn about history and science and art?  Perhaps being morally good is more important than enjoying life or being creative or learning new things, but to live a life that is focused exclusively on morality seems like it would make a person rather narrow and uptight and unhappy and difficult to live around.  In any case, it begs important questions to simply assume that the only goal that one ought to aim at in life is to be a morally good person.
Question (6) is Sire’s attempt to get at the heart of ethics, and his intention was a good and proper one, but question (6) does not fully capture the heart of ethics because it is a bit too narrow.  If we broaden (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?)
Questions of morality and right vs. wrong actions are obviously relevant to this general question, but so are other important values and considerations, such as pleasure, creativity, and knowledge.
Question (7) asks about the “meaning” of human history.  This question relates to ethics in that the goodness of a person’s life can be judged, in part, in relation to their contributions or impacts on human progress or on the acheivement of valueable goals that occur after the death of the person in question.
A military officer’s actions in a battle might help his country to win a war, but the winning of the war might happen years after that officer’s death.  The discoveries of a scientist might help other scientists to find a cure for cancer, but the cure might not be found until decades after the death of that scientist.  In such cases, we often think that there was some good or value in that person’s life because of the positive impact their actions had on the lives of others long after that person had died.
We want our lives to be meaningful and significant, and part of that desire involves a desire to have a significant impact on people and events beyond the limited scope of the people we meet and the events we experience in the limited time that we are alive.  These sorts of concerns and desires are all relevant to the basic question of ethics that I spelled out in question (6A).
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.  Thus, the objection that we were considering, represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.  There is no need for a major revision to Sire’s seven questions.

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.