The four layers of a worldview (as I learned them; I haven’t been able to find this anywhere outside my notes from freshman year of college) are catechesis, narrative, liturgy, and lifestyle.

Catechesis– This is the theoretical, instructional component to our worldview. It is cohesive teaching, the content of our beliefs, contained in propositions. It’s what most of us think about when we think of a person’s worldview.

Narrative– These are the stories we tell about ourselves, our heroes, our gods. These are the stories we tell ourselves about where we came from and where we’re going. They reveal (and sometimes conceal) our propositional beliefs at a fundamental level. They are proposition envisioned.

Liturgy– Our liturgy is made up of the formal symbols and events that image forth our worldview; these are our basic community rituals, and everybody has them. Initiation rites, recitations, symbols, sacrifices- they are proposition enacted.

Lifestyle– This is worldview on the ground, the informal and daily decisions made by people as they seek to live out the other three levels of their worldview. Automatic and reflexive, these habits are proposition embodied.

Here’s my point: in the world we think we inhabit, the flow from one level to the next goes from the top down, from catechesis all the way to lifestyle. And to be fair, that happens from time to time. But more often than not, the world we actually live in works exactly the opposite way. Worldviews are not (primarily) taught, but caught. This is easiest to see with children. Think about a 15-month old baby boy and his experience with prayer. Can he explain the purposes and theology behind prayer? Can he regurgitate stories about George Mueller and Hudson Taylor? No. What he can do is fold his chubby little hands and bow his head. He’ll learn the other stuff later. Right now, he’s absorbing his parent’s worldview through their lifestyle and liturgies, primarily.

I think that last paragraph is pretty self-evident. We understand instinctually that this is the case with children, and probably we understand that as adults our worldview is strengthened by our practice of it, both communally and individually. What we may not be so quick to realize is that a person’s worldview can be unraveled from the bottom up much more quickly than the top down. In Christian terms, evangelism doesn’t just happen on the propositional level. As individuals accept the lifestyle practices, liturgical constructs, and fundamental narratives of another worldview, their beliefs about the world will naturally slide into place. How many people do you know who stopped believing in God because they wanted to have casual sex? I could list four off the top of my head, who told me as much with their own lips.

There’s so much more to say about this, but I can’t see the top of the post from here, which means I’m in trouble. Let me wrap up with an observation. No worldview is neutral. We aren’t talking about everyone’s favorite pizza toppings. At the heart of every culture is worship; not whether or not we have a god, but which god. Don’t think your Christianity is superior because it’s minimalistic and gnostic (divorced from the last two or three levels). A worldview that is not envisioned, enacted, or embodied is a worldview that cannot encompass the world in which we live, cannot offer people more than substance-less exhortation. This isn’t a marketing scheme; it’s a life fully lived.

5 thoughts on “Weltanschauung

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