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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

Understanding the times: coexisting
in a nation with different worldviews

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I try to stay informed, not only about what’s happening around the world but also about current findings in history and science. I try to educate myself about the thoughts and ideas of people that I disagree with so that I can understand them better AND have a better chance of presenting my arguments in a way that they can’t tear apart!

When I find a book at a garage sale or flea market for a quarter, one that I ordinarily wouldn’t buy for myself, but one that might lend some insight into what those “other” folks think I’ll buy it.

I picked up a book by Sean Hannity and when I sat down to read it I couldn’t get past the first few pages before I had to put it down because it was so offensive.

I picked up another book, “Understanding the Times, The collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews”, David A. Noebel. I also didn’t get very far with it. It appears to be a text book used for some sort of special retreat type workshop or class.

In the introduction he mentions an article in Newsweek magazine 1999-MAR-29 by Alvin J. Schmidt, titled" “Under the influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization 1,2 On the 3rd page, you can see I didn’t get very far into the book, he quotes from this article. Part 1.5

“By any secular standard, Jesus is the dominant figure of Western culture”.

“Like the millennium itself, much of what we now think of as Western ideas, inventions and values finds it source of inspiration in the religion that worships God in his name. Art and science, the self and society, politics and economics, marriage and the family, right and wrong, body and soul—all have been touched and often radically transformed by Christian influence.”

Noebel says a little later:

“The current conflict of worldviews engulfing Western culture is designed to dethrone Jesus Christ (Psalm 2) and replace the Biblical Christian worldview with the ideas of fallible but very clever human beings. The conflict pits the wisdom of God against the wisdom of the world.”

Wait a minute isn’t the “wisdom of the world” also “God’s wisdom”?

I was so full of questions I couldn’t continue. Jesus is the dominant figure of Western culture? Really? This book was written in 1999 but I would bet that if you stopped 10 people at random on the street that year and asked them to name the dominant figure of Western culture Jesus wouldn’t have been mentioned.

Does he consider the racism, the bigotry, the homophobia, the anti-semitism, the poverty, sexism, the drug culture, alcoholism, spousal abuse, child abuse, products of this Christian influence? Or does he ignore these things or blame them on “other” influences?

If the Christian culture has been so dominant than it seems to me that it must also be responsible for the problems in our society as well as for the successes!

What makes this guy think that he knows the TRUTH about what is or is not “Gods wisdom of the world”? What makes this guy think that his Biblical Christian worldview is the TRUE view and not some distortion or perversion?

I don’t think the author of the book realizes how biased his opinions/positions are. Simply claiming Jesus as the dominant figure of Western culture shows two cultural biases. 1st there is an assumption that Western culture is more important than Eastern or World culture.

Out of curiosity I googled “The most influential people of history?” Two different lists the web search brought up didn’t agree on the top people on their lists.

  • One listed Ashoka the Great, he kick started the global spread of Buddhism, ahead of Jesus. The author of this list based his reasoning on the estimation that Buddhism has influenced more people world wide than Christianity.

  • Another list placed Muhammad and Isaac Newton at the top of the list also ahead of Jesus.

I agree with Noebel that the world is in a mess but I disagree with his interpretation of why it is in a mess and with his vision of what we ought to do about it.

He is absolutely right: worldviews are in conflict.

What is a “worldview”? M. Scott Peck offers a good explanation in his book, “The Road Less Traveled”.

“As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace.” This understanding of the world and how it works and of ourselves and how we work and how the two fit together (our nomos, and our mythos and logos I mentioned in other essays) is our “worldview. ... Conversely, as people fail to grow in discipline, love and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow. ... This understanding is our religion. Since everyone has some understanding -- some worldview, no matter how limited or primitive or inaccurate -- everyone has a religion.”

Peck is using the word “religion” in its broadest meaning here. When I had my discussion with the PR director of the American Atheist group earlier this year he insisted Atheism was NOT a religion. I tried to explain to him this broader definition of “religion” and he refused to comprehend it. I also explained that Atheism had become his “holy cause” and that when anyone's “worldview” becomes a “holy cause”, rationality, logic and common sense fly out the window.

Worldviews are influenced by, affected by all that happens to us-- by all that we learn, the experiences we have in our lives, the people that we meet, the books we read, the movies we watch, the TV news programs we turn to, the magazines and newspapers we subscribe to, AND most importantly by our parents.

The editor of this web site sent me an email in which he commented that there are two issues that really concern him.

“Information sources are heavily biased. If you view both MSNBC and Fox, you almost feel that they are talking about two different countries. It is VERY important that liberals understand WHAT conservatives believe and WHY they believe it, and vice versa. But it isn’t happening.”

I have heard many highly educated people comment on PBS news programs that they aren’t really concerned about the explosion of information on the Web because they are sure people can distinguish between the “TRUTH” and “opinion”.

I wanted to ask those “experts” on the PBS news programs, “IF people can distinguish between “truth” and “untruth or opinion” (untruths and opinions aren’t the same), why are Advertisers so successful in pushing their products?” “Why are there so many reports in my local news paper warning people about telemarketing scams, or home repair scams?” P.T. Barnum was right a “sucker” is born every minute. People can’t or refuse to distinguish between “truth” and “untruth” and “opinions”. As long as something tells them what they want to hear, as long as it doesn’t conflict with their ‘worldview” it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the TRUTH in their minds.

Fox News and MSNBC pander to their customers by telling them what they want to hear. Many thoughtful folks have begun to raise concerns about the rise of entertainment/news conglomerates. They are afraid that the news markets will be controlled not by a BIG Government, but by self-interested capitalists presenting ONLY what they want people to hear. Why is it that dictatorships shut down the free press and control internet access and telecommunications? They know they can’t afford to have people get access to information that doesn’t agree with their “worldview”. If you want to keep people docile and subservient, submissive and compliant you can’t let them gain information that might lead them to THINK for themselves and question the actions of the people in power. Which is why Conservatives in Congress want to pull all funding from PBS and NPR; they pass on information Conservatives don’t want people to hear, information that conflicts with their “worldview”.

In an online “discussion” one day over the “truth” of Fox news with an ultra-Conservative I commented that I thought the guy was being conned, pandered to, talked down to as though he was incapable of telling fact from fantasy. Needless to say that made him mad. Personally I like to be treated as though I am intelligent and have the ability to think thoughtfully and critically about issues. I like to be challenged to push the limits of my understanding and comprehension. I like to be forced to THINK, which is why I watch the Newshour on PBS. I watch my local NBC station to keep up with local issues and the national NBC news to get their take on the day’s issues then I watch the Newshour to see their take on the days events. On Fridays I continue on with Washington Week in Review with Gwen Ifill and on Saturday I watch Moyers and Company. Sometimes I will watch the Asian and BBC news programs to see what other parts of the world think about our issues.

One Conservative commented to me that this is my problem, I listen to all this left leaning garbage! I told him his problem is that he doesn’t. I am reminded of the comment from a friend (I discussed this in my essay on hubris) listening to other points of view (even other Christian opinions) in his mind was committing “spiritual adultery”. Those other opinions conflicted with his “worldview”.

I pointed out that IF there was any truth to his opinions they wouldn’t be harmed by learning about the opinions of others. If his opinions are false they wouldn’t stand the test but at least he would have learned something important. If his opinions were false they would still be false even if he refused to learn about other opinions. I suspect that he knew what I was saying was true.

My father was a highly intelligent academic and he firmly believed that people are basically rational and sensible folks and that with complete accurate information they will make rational, logical and sensible choices.

I think he was wrong. But that is because there is disagreement over what is and is not rational. What is rational and logical to the academic and highly educated isn’t for those that aren’t.

I think people make choices that don’t conflict with their worldviews. They see their choice as rational, IF it leads to the least amount of discomfort and stress, the least amount of energy is expended on their part, and the greatest happiness ensues. Truth, facts, often cause great discomfort, they force people to examine their own conscience, to question their own biases and prejudices, to face the harsh reality that their own actions caused harm and discomfort to others and forces them to make changes in their behavior if they want to relieve that discomfort which takes a great deal of energy and is simply hard work. People have a tendency to choose the easier path over the difficult path. Is that choice so irrational?

One gentlemen in an online comments section of our local paper said, “he never watches PBS because of its left leaning bias.” I pointed out that there are many programs on PBS, nature and historical programs, that are simply factual, that there have been many beautiful programs about the places in the Middle East that one can visit today that are mentioned in the Bible.

Later after watching one of those programs, “Walking the Bible” I came to understand why that gentlemen wouldn’t like it. It was an honest program. If there was no archaeological evidence for a place mentioned the program said so. Even though there was confirmation of many places mentioned, the few that weren’t confirmed would be enough to convince the gent that the program was biased and was trying to undermine the “truth” of the Bible. It would force him to wonder if there might be other passages in the Bible that weren’t literally TRUE.

What I find most offensive about “sources of information”, like that book I mentioned earlier, “Understanding The Times”, is that the author tries to present his position as unbiased fact when it is obvious to someone with a different “worldview” that it is nothing more than a propaganda piece, designed to present one “worldview” as right and virtuous and others as not only incorrect but downright dangerous, a threat to society.

Why is it that many folks aren’t able to simply agree to disagree about some issues? Instead they feel the need to discredit, demean, belittle, even demonize the person (not just his opinion) who has an opinion on something (a worldview) that is different from their own?

Why is it that some of the folks that are most adamant about placing the “Ten Commandments” in public spaces seem to believe that it is okay to spread misinformation, to distort opinions and positions of their opponents, to outright create lies about their opponents when one of those commandments they think should be binding on our society says “thou shalt not bear false witness”? Lying and spreading misinformation is “bearing false witness”.

Why is it that folks like me (with a broad worldview) are demonized when we say,

“It is okay to believe what you want to believe as long as your actions based on your beliefs don’t interfere with my rights or the rights of others.”

We are demonized by those on the far left (Atheists) who believe all religious beliefs are dangerous and should be forbidden. Which is why the PR director of the American Atheists refused to accept the concept that his beliefs were a religion. And we are demonized by those on the far right (fundamentalists) who believe that all other beliefs are dangerous, ONLY their beliefs are good, virtuous, the TRUTH and must be adopted by everyone.

Both groups think that their way and only their way is acceptable. There is no room in their “worldview” for tolerance of those that aren’t just like them. There is not only room in my “worldview” for tolerance it is a primary component of my “worldview”, respecting the rights of those that are different to be different as long as their differences don’t interfere with the rights of others to be different.

This “worldview” was firmly established by my parents while I was young. I was taught to read and more importantly to love to read. I was encouraged to ask questions and to think critically about issues. I had friends that were Catholics and Jews and were taught a little about both of their beliefs. I was taken to museums and public parks. And in school we had art and music classes where our creativity was encouraged. We had regular recess and physical education classes (all the way through high school). The belief was and still should be that strong bodies help build strong minds.

Today teachers that are judged by the performance of their students on standardized tests. They can’t afford to allow their students to ask questions, or encourage their creative thinking or artistic talents. Our education system seems to have been designed to mass produce good little robots that spit out only what has been uploaded into their database. It’s no wonder that school boards and churches fight over control of the data that is presented in textbooks.

In a Letter to the Editor of my local paper I commented that:

“If you want your beliefs tolerated, than you have no choice but to tolerate others and their beliefs.”

One man commented in the online comments section, “where is your proof” that statement is true.

He ignored the previous sentence, the full paragraph, which said,

“Is there wisdom to the principle that one should not do to others what one doesn’t want done to them? If you want your beliefs tolerated, than you have no choice but to tolerate others and their beliefs.”

I pointed out to the gent his Bible tells him this is true. I have also had to remind others that the sentiment of the “Golden Rule” first originated with those Pagan Greeks, was promoted by Confucius long before Jesus appeared on this planet AND it has been a principle promoted by many other world religions. It is NOT a Christian principle. Maybe that is why some refuse to accept it!

This is the final objection I have to the book “Understanding the Times” and that Newsweek article the author mentioned. Many of the ideas that Christians have claimed as “Christian values” aren’t. They are Universal values, held by people with many different “worldviews”. Honoring parents and people in positions of authority, caring for and nurturing children, admonitions against killing others, admonitions against lying and spreading misinformation, our concepts of Democratic and Republican forms of governments, all these ideas and more originated with societies around the world.

Some Christians try to take credit for concepts they have borrowed from others and refuse to take credit for things they should take credit for (inquisitions, witch hunts, promotion of slavery…..).

I think that if people REALLY want to “Understand the Times” in order to help the world get out of the mess it is in, they will have to figure out a way to broaden their “worldview”, to see what the other sees by first “removing the beam in their own eye before they worry about the dust mite in their neighbors eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5) That “beam” is made up of the biases, prejudices, fear, and hate of the other, the one that is different. That “beam” is their “religion”, their “worldview”.

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  1. We were unable to locate the essay by Alvin J. Schmidt in Newsweek during 1999. However there is a book published two years later by the same author and with the same title in Ref. 2 below.
  2. book cover imge Alvin J. Schmidt,Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization," Zondervan, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store Thirteen readers gave the book an average rating of 4.2 stars out of 5.

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Originally posted on: 2013-SEP-04
Latest update: 2013-SEP-05
Author: Susan Humphreys
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