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:
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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. …
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).
3. If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
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).
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.”
This post provides a brief summary of conclusions and claims from the previous posts in this series.