Ep. 073: Understanding the Popular Worldviews
There are hundreds and hundreds of worldviews out there (a worldview being how one “sees” the world). You could even say that there are as many worldviews as there are people, since every person sees the world slightly differently. A few of the most popular, at least in the West, are naturalism, secularism, and postmodern relativism. You may have heard of one or more of these, but what what do they actually look like? How do they work? Steve Kim from Apologetics Canada joins us again to help us understand worldviews better. To conclude, Steve also lists 5 tips on engaging non-Christians with “worldview” questions.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio.
I’m in the studio again with Steve Kim. Hey Steve!
I’m in the studio again with Steve Kim. Hey Steve!
Hey, how’s it going?
I’m very good! Last week if you didn’t listen, and I’d encourage you to listen, but if you didn’t, I had Steve Kim with me. He is an associate at Apologetics Canada. I don’t know if you want to explain that briefly..?
Yeah. Apologetics Canada is a parachurch organization whose mission is to help equip the churches across Canada engage young adults and the culture by resourcing them, by way of video resources, books, conferences, that sort of thing. That’s what we do.
And the director, Andy Steiger, he was actually my World Religions professor, as you know, way back in Bible College. And I’ve actually been to many of the Apologetic Conferences as well, so if you’re a listener and apologetics interests you, I encourage you to go to apologeticscanada.com. There are recourses, there’s a podcast – which I’ll put all the links out there for that as well.
But, I just wanted to say that I actually know Steve.
Yeah, we do go back a couple years.
We do go back a couple years! And I’ll explain that to you. I had this World Religions class with Andy, and at the beginning of the semester he told us that for a midterm we’re going to have to tell the gospel to his agnostic, Buddhist friend.
So we had no idea who Steve was, this whole class. And Andy told the whole class this, and every face went white. Everyone went pale because they actually had to share the gospel. Which actually seems kind of funny that at a Bible College people would get so nervous about sharing the gospel.
Actually, apparently I was pretty convincing. For one because I looked the part apparently. I had really short hair back then, and what happened was my wife and I were talking about saving money – that sort of thing. So she decided to give me a haircut, so one evening she called me to the bathroom and I go in there and she’s got the buzzer and just an array of clips just laying there on the counter.
And I’m like, “Okay, what am I getting myself into?” So I sit down, she puts a clip on and she starts buzzing my hair. And I’m thinking, “She’ll probably go from the back a bit, or the sides” – but no, no, no, she started going right down the middle on the top of my head. And I was like, “Okay, well we’re committed now aren’t we?” So eventually she just buzzed my head altogether. So I had really short hair.
By the time I got to your Bible College, I apparently looked the part.
Yeah, and I remember – I walked in there and I see you there, and before we start you did the whole “prayer-bow” thing.
Yeah, bowing down. I pulled out every sort of idiosyncrasy, stuff that you can see on the outside. Putting my hands together and doing the bow to greet people, or things like that. And I tried to make it sound convincing by saying things like a non-Christian would say, so I would tell each student, “So Andy tells me that you’re going to share with me in 2 minutes your Christian gospel.” It’s not just the gospel, it’s the Christian gospel! So little things like that were apparently pretty convincing.
Oh, you were! My knees were shaking – it was great! Such a relief though at the end when you’re like, “I’m actually a Christian.”
“But please don’t tell anyone else, don’t ruin the experience for them!”
So Steve and I have actually been having a conversation about worldviews, eventually talking about how to, as Christians, engage with non-Christians. Last week, you should go listen to it, we talked a lot about worldviews. What exactly is a worldview and the main worldviews of our day?
We’re going to get into different worldviews today.
So, in our culture today, this Western culture in the 21st Century, what are the main worldviews?
I would point out at least a couple of them. One is naturalism and the other is postmodern relativism. By naturalism I mean, the view that this world is all there is. Reality is ultimately reducible to matter and energy. There’s nothing supernatural outside of it, there’s no god, no angels, no demons, we don’t have souls. The whole reality is material; we don’t have anything immaterial out there. So that is, I think, a very popular worldview. Not so much across the board, but I think that naturalism has a hold on some very important cultural institutions of our day like our universities and our government, and things like that.
And to go with that, we have secularism. Secularism is basically the idea that, simply put, you’re not going to have any religious foundations for doing things. For example, our government is a secular government. So when they make policies, they’re not going to base it or found it on any particular religious’ foundation or beliefs – that sort of a thing. So that’s a very popular or at least influential, I should say, worldview.
The other one is postmodern relativism. Relativism is basically the idea that all truth is relative. Like, there is no such thing as absolute truth, but we just have to measure it by what other people believe is true, that sort of a thing. So, you can’t claim any kind of objective truth outside of ourselves, right? So truth is, in a sense, what we make it out to be. That will have implications for our religious views. I find that in Canada, especially, that’s very much the case. Especially when it comes to religion, there is this common notion that, “Well, all religions are the same, basically. They’re only superficially different,” that sort of a thing. So I would say that those two: secularism and naturalism on the one hand, and postmodern relativism on the other hand, are very significant worldviews – aside from the Judeo-Christian worldview which sort of forms the basis for the founding of Canada as well as the United States and any other Western country I would say.
Would you say that most secularists are naturalists? Or are there many? Because when you explain naturalism too I’m thinking, “It sounds like atheism.” But can you be an atheist and not a naturalist?
Right, atheism and naturalism often go hand in hand. Many, if not most atheists I find are naturalists. So they believe this world is all there is. But there are certain kinds of atheists that may believe in some kind of supernatural reality.
Like Buddhism for example. Buddhism strictly speaking is an atheistic religion, but nonetheless, people that belong to the Mahayana tradition, which is sort of the reformed tradition if you will of Buddhism, they do believe in certain supernatural things. Like bodhisattvas and when you are enlightened you become a Buddha, and you have your own paradise, if you will, where you can bring other people to, and then you can help them achieve nirvana – that sort of a thing.
So that would be atheism without naturalism, is that correct?
Right. So this natural world isn’t all there is, but again – Eastern philosophies often suffer the death of incoherence, if you will. Eastern philosophies tend to be a lot more comfortable with what we in the West would consider logical contradictions and things like that. That’s especially the case with Hinduism. But not all atheists are naturalists.
Right, now would you say that postmodern relativism would deny naturalism? They wouldn’t believe naturalism because naturalists would objectively say that “There is only the world.”
I think you can be a relativist and a naturalist, but you would just say “This is what I believe. It’s not necessarily what you believe, but what’s true for me is true for me, what’s true for you is true for you, so if you find that Christianity is true, then that’s true for you. I think naturalism is true.” So it’s hard to wrap our minds around, because
postmodern relativism isn’t very logical – let’s just put it that way.
If I were to explain the views or describe the consequences of the views a little bit. I find that atheistic naturalism ultimately removes anything that we cherish as human beings. For example, if this world is just a collection of matter and energy, then we can’t have anything like value, duty, morality (at least objective morality), meaning, things like that. Things that we find that are really important to us.
Now, I’m not saying that atheists are immoral people, that’s not at all what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that given that naturalism, morality ultimately reduces down to a socio-biological adaptation – it’s just the way we’ve evolved and it’s the way we get along and survive as a species.
But that doesn’t tell me that this morality that we’ve developed is an objective one. If we wind back the clock of evolution and started all over again, we might’ve arrived at a very different morality – then that would be our morality. Very different from what we have here, now.
And so, I’m not saying that atheists are immoral people, I have many atheist friends who are really good people who care about others, so on and so forth. But the problem is, if this world is just a bunch of particles in motion, it’s really difficult to make sense of anything immaterial.
So, this is what happens. I like to use this illustration as an example. Lets just say we have two dominos, domino A and B. We have at least two possible scenarios here. Domino A falls and knocks domino B down, or the reverse; domino B knocks domino A down. Now my question is, which scenario is evil? Right? I see a bit of smirk on your face because you obviously recognize that this question is nonsense. It’s just physics, there’s nothing moral or immoral about it. It’s a morally neutral event.
So then, what I ask people is, okay lets just imagine that we have one hundred dominos, does that change anything? Well, no. It’s just more of the same. It’s just more physics. Let’s say we have a billion dominos. A trillion dominos. Or let’s say we have as many dominos as we have particles in this universe. Does that change anything? No, it’s still all blind physics.
So where in that process do we get something like morality? Which depends on values like good and evil, which are already immaterial things. So if this world is all just material things, then where do we get the concepts like good and evil? These are immaterial.
And duty too, moral duty for example. Duty is simply something that you owe to people. How do you even arrive at something immaterial as duty, like objective duty when we’re just all particles in motion? In fact, I would go so far as to say that on naturalism, you can’t even have knowledge, because it’s all just particles in motion. And so what I believe has nothing to do with whether something is true or not, it’s just that the particles have happened to arrange themselves in my mind that way.
And so, we have no free will because of that too, it’s all just blind physical process. It’s one domino falling and striking the next, and there’s no free will there. You can’t do other than you do, which then throws rationality out the window, because rationality requires free will. What I mean by that is this, when you are having a rational discourse, or you’re sifting through your ideas, you have multiple ideas and you’re judging whether this idea is true, or this idea is false. And then what you would do is that you would choose the ideas that are true, and reject the rest. So that takes free will, because you have to actually choose which one you’re going to believe.
So, without free will you can’t have rationality, but if you have atheist friends, agnostic friends, one thing that they pride in is the fact that many atheists and agnostics are rational people. And a lot of them really are. My question is, how do you make sense of that in a world where we’re all just particles, one physical process happening after another necessarily, and you can’t stop that process. I think that’s one big problem with that worldview.
And on the other hand is relativism. Well, relativism is a really funny one because relativists will tell you that what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me, there is no such thing as objective truth. If you’ve noticed, that’s like saying “I only believe in sentences that are made up of three words or less.” Right, I just contradicted myself. It’s like me saying, especially because I’m an immigrant, but now I’m a citizen, but I used to say this: “I can’t speak English.” Right? Of course what I meant by that was, “I don’t speak English very well,” but if I actually meant “I can’t speak English,” and I said that in English, then I’d be contradicting myself.
So, relativism is kind of like that, because nobody can get away from making an objective truth claim.
Even the person who says, “There is no such thing as truth,” is saying, “It is true that there is no such thing as truth.” I find that many relativists, the reason they hold to relativism is because they don’t want to offend other people. Especially in Canada, we’re reputed to be polite and I do find that that’s the case. Just looking at it from an outsider’s perspective. And so, “Well, you believe in Christianity, that’s fantastic. Well, I believe in Buddhism and we can all get along, and we can gather round the campfire and sing Kumbaya.” I’m like, okay, wonderful.
The problem is, I would say just about every worldview and every religion is exclusivist. Because truth is exclusivist.
Once I say that 2+2=4, I’m saying that 2+2 does not equal 5 or 3. Another example is, if I were to tell you that my phone number is 555-1234, I am excluding other phone numbers. You are not going to reach me at 555-1233, and I’m not being intolerant by the way, it’s just the way it is.
The problem is, most worldviews are making truth claims. Even the Bahia who say that all roads lead to Rome, basically, they exclude the exclusivists. They will tell Christians that they are wrong for saying that Jesus is the only way. And Jesus does say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Now that’s a radically exclusivist claim, but all the other religions make the same claim.
All that is to say, relativism kind of falls apart that way too.
You went into great depth of atheism, naturalism, and also postmodern relativism, and I think the first step in engaging non-Christians as a Christian is to understand all that. We need to understand that. So, the next thing then, what are some practical things that we can do to help us engage in conversation with our friends who may be in these other worldviews?
A number of things come to mind. The first one is, and this applies to every interaction we have; we want to make friends with them, we want to actually care about our friends who are atheist, Buddhist, Hare Krishna, what have you.
I used to be in sales actually, and there are a couple of things that I took away from that experience, and one of them is:
people don’t care how much you know, unless they know how much you care about them.
So, you got to put people first, and you can’t necessarily do that with an agenda. You can’t make friends with somebody solely for the purpose of converting them. And people are pretty perceptive to things like that. If anything, in our postmodern culture, or at least what we think is postmodern culture, that’s a whole other topic, but people really care about authenticity. And if they find that you’re not being authentic with them, that you have some hidden agenda that you’re not bringing to the surface – I was having a conversation with an agnostic friend just another night and I told him, look, you were a Christian too, so I’m going to bring this out on the table. When we’re having these conversations about these really important things, I have an agenda in mind, and that is, I want to help you come back to faith.
And he actually really appreciated that!
Another friend told me that an atheist once said that he believes Christians are all hypocritical because they say that they believe what they believe, but they don’t care to convert me. Right? Obviously they don’t believe what they say they believe.
So I brought that up on the table with my friend, and I told him, “Look, this is my goal. This is my agenda. I just wanted you to know that as we’re having this conversation to keep it transparent.” And he appreciated that.
And so, bring it out on the table. It’s fine to have an agenda, the problem is when you start hiding it as if it’s not there. But of course you’re going to have to pick the right time and place to actually bring that out on the table, but you definitely want to do that at some point in your conversation with your friend. Just let them know, “Hey, I’m a Christian, and as a Christian this is what I believe. And so I just wanted to let you know that during this conversation, there is that agenda there, that doesn’t mean that’s all I care about, I care about you as a friend, but just know that.”
And so when you have that relationship the second thing is – here’s one thing a lot of Christians can do better: listen. A lot of us are passionate about what we believe, things that are important to us, those are the kinds of things that make us passionate.
In our zeal, often we go on talking about what we believe as Christians, but we don’t take the time to listen to our atheist friends – why they are atheist and what they believe about the world.
Just bite your tongue, and give them a chance to say what they want to say, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s terribly uncomfortable for me to hear about how he thinks that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, or he had this terrible experience at church, or that he thinks believing in God is the same thing as believing in unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster, you’ll get that kind of stuff. And you know what? That’s fine, just develop a thick skin. You need to give that person a chance to bring all of that to the table, then you can start addressing it later, but if you don’t give them even that chance, well, people are not going to be interested in hearing what you have to say. You have to reciprocate that way.
The third point I would bring out is, ask lots of good questions. Greg Koukl is great about that. He wrote a book called Tactics and I would recommend that to our listeners, and it’s all about asking good questions. Now, when we look at books written on apologetics, we often get a lot of the “what” of apologetics, but not so much the “how” of it. So we learn a lot of arguments like the cosmological argument, the moral argument, that sort of thing, but then the next step is how we bridge that, how to we use that to talk to people.
So ask lots of good questions, I’m not going to get into a lot of detail on that because you can get all of that from that book Tactics.
And finally I would say, well, second to last,
a good place to start a conversation about deep issues in life, is just simply asking people, “Well, what do you think happens after we die?
Now that is a question that everybody can resonate with. If they’re human, they’re going to die, so the question is whether they’ve thought about that. And again, just give them the chance to speak their mind, that sort of a thing. That’s a really good question because it shows you what they believe. If they say, “Well, I think we’re going to come back again, and again, and again,” that tells you that he/she believes in some kind of Eastern philosophy of some sort – Hinduism or Buddhism. And if the person says, “Well, this life is all there is,” that’s going more towards naturalism. That will give you an idea.
And finally, just pray for them. I know this is really cliché, especially in a Christian setting, but this is something I struggle with too, when I’m about to talk to people I always, not always, but I often forget to pray.
In my busyness to prepare for the conversation, I forget to do the most important thing of all; [to pray].
You see, this is my struggle. It’s really easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we are the ones converting the people. Well, we know as Christians that that’s not the case, right? The Holy Spirit is the one that does the conversion. We’re just playing a small part of it, and I have to remember that – just got to take a step back. For even just half a minute and say a word of prayer before and after.
So, those are some things that I would leave our listeners with.
Well I always say too when it comes to saving souls, we’re called to be fishers of men, so we have to let out our nets down or cast our line, but then the act of the fish biting the bait or getting swept into the net, that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. But we do have to be faithful to that.
Well thank you so much Steve, that was amazing. I’ll give the listeners more information about where they can learn more about Apologetics Canada and also the book Tactics by Greg Koukl. I’ll also list out the five tips for engaging non-Christians.
Thank you so much Steve!
Yeah, thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.