A Worldview’s Structure

A Worldview’s Structure

What causes people to behave the way they do?  How does a person’s worldview affect his actions?

Remember that a worldview is the way a person looks at the world, including that person’s place in the world.

In order to understand how worldviews and people’s lives are related, we’ll have to look at a worldview’s structure.  Worldviews have a structure that looks like the woody part of a tree.  Just like a tree’s leaves grow out of its branches, a person’s actions grow out of the beliefs in his worldview.

The Parts In a Worldview

Presuppositions are a person’s deepest beliefs, the ones that he is least likely to change.  Surface-level beliefs are weaker beliefs that a person has because of his presuppositions.  Together, the presuppositions and surface-level beliefs make up a person’s worldview.  The arrow on the right will help you remember that presuppositions are deeper than surface-level beliefs.*

The material culture is made up of the way people act, the things they say, and the things they create.  The act of milking cows, magazine articles, and paper money are all part of the culture around us.  The material culture exists because people act on what they believe.  Each person contributes a little bit to the culture around him and transforms it.  Although no one has complete control over the culture around him, a lot of people who act on the same worldview can make large changes to the culture.

The arrow on the right in the diagram will help you remember that a person’s worldview is deeper than the material culture is.  Just like branches grow out of the trunk of a tree, surface-level beliefs grow out of a person’s presuppositions.  Like the leaves grow out of a tree’s branches, the material culture grows out of many people’s surface-level beliefs.

A Christian’s Worldview

Look at the diagram of Jane’s Christian worldview.  Notice that her presuppositions, her deepest beliefs, are her beliefs about God.  Because they are her deepest beliefs, they lead her to believe other things as well.  If God exists, they she should see her friends in heaven someday, and she has a motivation to share the gospel.  Since her belief in the Bible is so important, she will question some of the things she sees on television if she realizes that they might contradict what the Bible says.

Because belief in God is one of Jane’s presuppositions, it is embedded deeply in her worldview and is hard to change.  Even if people intimidated her or threatened to kill her, she would hang on to her belief in God if it were truly real.  In fact, one of her surface beliefs might be, “God is allowing those intimidating people to be near me so I can share the gospel with them.”  She would be willing to give up a weaker surface-level belief (“God always wants me to have fun”) in order to hang on to her presupposition (“God exists”).

Jane has also created part of the material culture around her.  Although she may not have written books, printed money, or created Web sites, she may have made posters and tracts that express her beliefs to other people.  She may have formed good habits, such as changing the channel when a television show is too offensive.  Her actions, her words, and the things she creates all become part of the material culture that is around her.  Jane is transforming her culture because of what she believes.

An Atheist’s Worldview

Now take a look at Joey’s atheistic worldview.  Notice that his presuppositions include the belief that there is no God, and leads him to the surface-level belief that there is nothing he needs to worship.  His presupposition that only physical things exist leads to the surface-level belief that we stop existing when we die.  His presupposition that people define right and wrong leads to his belief that our country’s laws are moral because people voted for them.  For example, if people voted that it was all right to allow children to watch violent movies without their parents’ permission, Joey would might agree because he thinks that people’s opinions should define right and wrong.

Notice that one of Joey’s presuppositions is the belief that there is no God.  Because this belief is embedded so deeply in his worldview, Joey will hang on to it and change his weaker surface-level beliefs if that means he can avoid giving up his presupposition.  For example, if Jane showed Joey enough evidence to convince him that there is life after death, Joey might respond, “Well, I guess I agree with you that you keep existing after you die, but it’s not because God is sending you to heaven or hell.  It’s much more reasonable to me to think that we all become wandering spirits that can help other people rather than be stuck up in heaven by ourselves.”

Joey also created part of the material culture around him.  Since he believes there is no life after death, he focuses on making money to support himself and his family.  He thinks that public schools are great because they teach children beliefs that are similar to his.  He would also like to see the Ten Commandments removed from government buildings so people will no longer worship a God that is not real.  The things Joey creates, his actions, and the things he says all contribute to transforming his culture according to his atheistic worldview.

Worldview Shifts

Worldview shifts usually affect a person’s presuppositions.  If the presuppositions change, the surface-level beliefs that rely on those presuppositions will probably also change.  This eventually affects the way a person influences his material culture.  An atheist becoming a Christian would be a good example of a worldview shift, since that person’s presuppositions have changed.

Worldviews Matter

Worldviews matter because they affect how people live, and when people act on their beliefs, they transform the culture around them.  If enough people live the same way, they can make big changes to their culture.

Discussion Questions

  1. Look again at the diagram that describes Jane’s worldview.  Write down three more beliefs that you think could be part of her surface-level beliefs.  Then write down six more ways that she might influence the material culture around her.
  2. An atheist is someone who believes there is no God.  Look again at the diagram that describes Joey’s atheistic worldview.  Write down three more beliefs that you think could be part of his surface-level beliefs.  Then write down six more things that she might influence the material culture around her.
  3. Classify each of the beliefs below as presupposition, surface-level belief, or material culture.  Then explain how you arrived at your answer.Everyone should pray to the spirits that exist around us.Everything is spirit, and physical things are only illusions.I am writing a song about how we should worship the spirits properly.
  4. Read Romans 1:18-32.  Describe the people the apostle Paul is writing about.  Identify one presupposition they have, three of their surface-level beliefs, and nine things they did to change their culture.  Explain whether or not Paul approved of their worldview and why.
  5. Write down one of your own presuppositions, three of your surface-level beliefs, and nine things you have done to change the culture around you.
  6. Think about your answer to the previous question.  Do you think God wants you to believe what you believe?  Explain your answer and support it by giving a reference to a Bible passage.  Copy down at least one verse from the passage.  Explain the original meaning of the passage as part of your answer.
  7. Think about your answer to the previous question.  Do you think God wants you to live the way you have been living?  Explain your answer and support it by giving a reference to a Bible passage.  Copy down at least one verse from the passage.  Explain the original meaning of the passage as part of your answer.

*NOTE: This website, originally published on Teachbible.org, had some diagrams that are no longer available.  If I find them, I’ll post them.

Share