There are some people—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run anything else affects them.
These past few weeks have seen several conversations about (and clashes between) worldviews — those metanarratives that form a framework for understanding our cultures and places, and which direct so many of the opinions we form and choices we make every day.
I won’t be going into specifics about these conversations, or laying out a defense of my own worldview (which can be too often interpreted as forcing it down one’s throat), but I am interested in discussing the importance of having a stable worldview. And (despite a handful or recent accusations about my own close-mindedness) to lay out the reasons I believe it’s important to engage with people who disagree.
The truth is, I’m a bit miffed when some people consider me close-minded, because I think I am (for the most part) anything but. Yes, I believe there is a right and a wrong, and that said right and wrong are knowable, and that we should do our best to change our behavior so it lines up to that right while disavowing that wrong. And, I know that this makes me horribly, even tragically, old-school and just plain repulsive. I’d be much better off if I donned my skinny jeans and black rimmed glasses and got my postmodern, relativistic groove on—and we all know it.
But my particular worldview doesn’t necessarily mean I’m close-minded, that I’ve shut myself off for considering the ideas or engaging the people who disagree with me. In fact, my life is filled with people who believe different things. Some of the people I look up to and respect the most are liberals and agnostics and secular humanists. I’ve befriended Muslims and Jews and homosexuals and (*gasp*) Democrats and all sorts of other people who I might be expected to close myself off from. But I haven’t. These people help me, they force me to look at my presuppositions and question them, they force me to refine and sharpen my worldview, they point out the places where I’ve gotten some things wrong. They help me dig. They challenge me, and I’m far better for it.
The truth is, having people in my life who disagree with me is one of the healthiest and most mature things I know how to do, and it’s also why I think it’s important that other people expose themselves to me and my worldview. Not because I want to impose my worldview, but because I can, to some degree, force him to look at his own worldview; I can ask honest questions, point out the holes that need filling, and, if necessary, encourage him to change it from time to time. There’s nothing oppressive or ideologically aggressive about that at all.
If there’s one thing I want you to get from this post, it’s this:
If your worldview doesn’t work, find a new one.
There are certain things that need to be critically examined, and some of them are very popular right about now. Things like (stop me if you’ve heard this before) “There is no such thing as right and wrong.” Some people call that a suicidal worldview, because as soon as you open your mouth to assert that there is no right or wrong (that is, the moment you claim you’re right) your worldview kills itself. It eats its own tail. It proves itself wrong. It cannot continue with any sort of respectability because it destroys itself in the very act of being spoken.
Another example might be the virtue of tolerance, which sounds nice until it runs into intolerance, which it won’t tolerate, and thus kills itself. One more here: “You’re too close-minded for me to listen to what you have to say.” Wow. Ironic and more than a little bit sad.
All that to say, whenever we look critically at something we believe in and it doesn’t cut the mustard, the only responsible thing is to throw it out. It’s vitally important that we examine our worldviews because worldviews, while they seem like theoretical and intangible things, have very real consequences.
I’m not talking about political or social concerns here, although a person’s views on politics, abortion, homosexuality, global warming, economics, civil unions, religion, charity, morality, &c. certainly have consequences. No, I’m talking about the plainer, more everyday decisions that shape our lives. The worldview that says, for example, that we’re at liberty to treat others as rudely or inappropriately as we like so long as we feel justified. The worldview that makes our feelings the sole judge of truth; the worldview that elevates self-expression above civility and respect; the worldview that wants nothing to do with proper authority or just order. Like all worldviews, these — and the actions that flow from them — have very real consequences, and we need to make sure that we’ve weighed those consequences carefully.
And here’s the heart of the matter: It’s harder to weigh those consequences and examine our worldviews when we surround ourselves by people who simply reinforce and encourage us rather than those who, for right or wrong, think they see shadows on the road ahead and take the trouble to tell us about them.
That’s what disappoints me most about people who dismiss me because they disagree with my opinions: It’s very hard for either of us to grow that way.