What are “worldviews” and why should people care about them? Well, the dictionary defines the word “worldview” as, “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world” and “a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.” (1) So a worldview is a set of core beliefs that provide a way for people to understand, interpret and make decisions in life. These decisions can include lots of things like the friends you choose, the way that you spend your money or what you do with your time, just to name a few.
This matters because your attitudes and beliefs have an influence on everything you do. You see, people usually act on what they believe, not on what they don’t believe. For example, let’s consider a person with a worldview that says that an afterlife doesn’t exist. It’s reasonable to expect this person to live out their life and make various lifestyle choices based on that particular worldview because that’s what they believe, right?
On the other hand, let’s consider a second person with a different worldview- one that accepts the existence of life after death and the belief that people must eventually explain their actions to God after they die. A person like this is likely to make very different lifestyle choices from the person in our first example because their worldview leads them to see the world in a very different manner. So you can see that it’s important to look at your core beliefs about life because the things that you believe will affect your life (and the lives of others) in lots of big and small ways.
It’s probably safe to say that most people hold their particular worldview because they believe that it represents the truth about life. That’s fine, but how can we know whether something is the truth unless we know what “truth” is first? So what’s the definition of “truth”? Well, “truth” is simply defined as “that which conforms (or corresponds) to reality.” Truth is that which is in agreement with the facts. In other words, if you’re speaking the “truth” then you’re telling it the way that it really is. So the “truth” refers to something that is authentic, genuine and corresponds with what is actual and factual. This definition of truth is handy to have around because it’s useful for testing out different kinds of worldviews to see how they measure up.
Now you may not realize it but there are different kinds of truth. For example, there is relative truth. “Relative truth” says that something is wrong if someone thinks or feels it’s wrong. The worldview that’s associated with relative truth is relativism. Relativism is the belief that there is nothing that is absolutely true and that truth can change and be different for people depending on the time, place and society. One well-known type of relativism that you may have heard of is called moral relativism. Moral relativism says that the idea of “right and wrong” behavior depends on someone’s personal opinion and that there is no standard of right and wrong that applies to everyone.
At the other end of the spectrum from relative truth is absolute truth. An “absolute truth” is something that is true for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Unlike a relative truth that changes from time to time and person to person, an absolute truth doesn’t change at all. An absolute truth always corresponds to reality no matter what the time, place or person.
In one sense, relative and absolute truths are like tools in a toolbox- you have to choose the right one to get good results. For example, let’s say that two people are asked to give their opinion of a painting in an art museum. The first person may say, “This painting is beautiful” and the second person might say, “It’s ugly.” In this example, it’s possible to have two opposite but truthful answers because the truth (in this case) is dependent on or relative to the way that someone thinks or feels. Relative truth would be an appropriate application of truth in this case because a truthful answer is dependent on certain conditions, like someone’s personal opinion. (2)
The problem is that truth is not always dependent on what someone thinks or feels. This is illustrated whenever someone makes a statement like “all truth is relative.” This is a self-contradicting belief because the statement that “all truth is relative” is actually an absolute truth itself when you think about it. This statement says that relative truth is always true, which makes it an absolute truth- get it?
Or let’s take statement like this: “Everyone determines what’s right and wrong for themselves.” OK, fine- but here’s the question: “Is that right for everyone? Is it absolutely true that everyone determines right and wrong for themselves?” If so, then there’s at least one thing that’s absolutely right and true in every circumstance- people determine right and wrong for themselves. You see, no matter how you try to get around it, it’s absolutely true that some “right” things and “wrong” things exist for everyone. For now however, let’s just say that there is definitely such a thing as absolute truth and the fact that it exists has important consequences for everyone.
So What Does It Mean?
As we said earlier, it’s possible to test out different worldviews to see how they measure up to the truth. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be uncomfortable for those people who have core beliefs that don’t pass the “truth exam.” In cases like this, people sometimes have the tendency to respond by ignoring the consequences of a worldview that comes up short in the truth department. After all, it’s always easier to do nothing than to do something, especially when it comes to making hard decisions in an area like this. However, it’s important to examine the things we believe and why we believe them because the old proverb still applies: the truth always catches up with you!
(1) The American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language 3rd Edition
(2) Yes, yes, The Doctor knows that it’s absolutely true that one person loved the painting and the other person thought it was ugly but we’re just trying to illustrate broad concepts here, wise guy.