When we move to a new neighbourhood, we instinctively take with us a ball-park expectation of what ‘genuine, good and reliable’ shops look like: they somehow give a yes answer to a set of assumed questions we use —without even thinking about them—to gather evidence about the best places to get hardware, computer services, groceries and so on, and there will also be a few things we are really fussy about such as anchovies, coffee, music, and quality tea. As this all unfolds, the actual evidence-gathering process can be quite nuanced, and range from the use of raw and unpredictable sources such as gossip, advertisements and intuition. Next there will be a range of intelligence operations, or if you like ‘spying’ activities: word of mouth, the way they clean or don’t clean their tables, how they responded when we behaved badly, or what their over-the-counter service is like. All such information is gathered in milliseconds, like a bee collecting pollen or even a literal CIA operator taking a photo. In our case, that ‘photo’ is a memory of a tone of voice, a less-than excellent flavour in the mouth, a shocking number on an invoice or even a bad mood we were in—all of which are automatically fixed with either joy or rage to an inner image of a staff member’s—or manager’s—smiling face: all quite dangerous and volcanic territory. And so it should be, because we owe it to ourselves, to our families, our friends and to our sanity, to be quite particular about allowing such potentially damaging and dysfunctional-ising or healing and functionalising foods and drinks, services and influences into our homes, our bank accounts and our bodies.
Given that we are so meticulous about our choice of places to shop, it’s surprising that we are so careless about the way we arrive at settled worldview conclusions. Once again, we owe it to ourselves, to our families, our friends and our sanity, to be quite particular about allowing potentially damaging and dysfunctional-ising or healing and functionalising ways of thinking, believing, and even worshipping into the deepest places of our soul. For example, have you ever wondered what those ‘ball-park expectations of a ‘genuine, good and reliable’ worldview might look like? If you were to compose a list of questions that a robust, ‘ring of truth’ faith-story might give yes answers to, what might those questions be?
This journey is about ‘acquiring a nose’ or ‘acquiring an ear’ for what smells and sounds like a dead-end or a way ahead. Typically those who speak on worldview take certain significant things into consideration: our origins, questions of evil & suffering, our future, justice and compassion and so on, but there are other questions of the more nuanced ‘tea, coffee and music’—nose and ear—kind that are often overlooked. One way to come at this is to reflect on some famous observations and questions that have been put out there by respected thinkers, which invite us to then ask: ‘In light of their questions, does it feel as if my worldview is ‘punching above it’s weight?’
Before we look at those questions it might be good to consider a thought from GK Chesterton: ‘But there are some people, nevertheless—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 land-lady 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.’7
Below is a list of questions and observations you might like to start with …
We might also add: ‘How could a merely material universe, which is impersonal, come up with something that is at times so emphatically and unambiguously cruel—even vicious and plainly evil—about which pantheism’s stoic platitudes (‘… circle of life etc.’) begin to sound and feel suspiciously convenient: a cop-out in fact. For this kind of wound has a poignantly personal quality about it that shouts to us, ‘Whether you like it or not, you live in a personal universe, and right now something deeply personal is happening and to talk any other way about it is to sell out on every myth, every fairy story and every baby who was ever born—to sell out on any shred of integrity in the message of Christmas and Easter.’
In light of the previous observation about the dark side of this deeply personal universe, the introductory statement about ‘moving into a new neighbourhood and looking for the right shops’ would have to be told very differently if we were living in the developing world for example. We might just be thinking about, ‘a good place to hide’ or ‘a place to get a bowl of rice.’ You might be doing literal ‘spying’ activities to see if they ‘kidnap or don’t kidnap children’, ‘rape or don’t rape the women’ and ‘shoot or don’t shoot the men’. Interestingly, ‘the problem of pain’—although it is taken very seriously and a source of great anguish—is not so much of a faith-issue for those who live under these conditions. As an African preacher once famously said to a group of Australians, ‘Unlike you, we know we need God in Africa.’ And even the use of the plural ‘we’, comes more naturally from the mouth of a speaker in the developing world (actually should probably say, ‘the majority of the world’), although of course in this context the African was just talking of ‘we’ in the same way that any overseas visitor would speak to their new friends about their country. The fact is that they think and talk about faith in an ancient, deeper and truer context, which always implies love (of the self-giving kind) that happens most emphatically in a family and a community, whereas our artificial western ‘purely individual’ construct cannot really experience and express that kind of love. When it talks of love, what it really means is choosing those I like to be around and then ‘loving’ them: the ‘kidding yourself’ version of love. Returning to our friends in the developing world, their ‘nose and ear’ for truth is therefore both communal and intensely practical. It wants to know: ‘Does this god do miracles for us? Does this god give us food? Will this god bring love and justice to our family and our community? By the way, if you are wondering about all these miracle stories that keep coming from these places, bear in mind the fact that ‘experiences of great miracles and of great suffering are mostly crowded together throughout history,’# so if we long for one (of the miracles) we must also understand that the other comes with it.
Rather than using the myths of humans having the blood of gods coursing in their veins—or even of gods dying and rising again—as a way of explaining away the gospels as just more of the same, perhaps we could consider that these might be good dreams sent to us by God in order to prepare us for the real story.9
Do we ask: ‘Is there a god?’ or ‘What kind of God?’
‘Is this spiritual being already aware that I am on the hunt?’
‘It it dangerous?’
‘This scary and beautiful cosmos was designed with you in mind: your dreams and your pride, your creativity and your immaturity. Has the tunnel vision of your self-interest made you deaf to the voice of this honest and helpful stranger simply because you have already defined goodness on the grounds of your fast-fooded, health-cared, Coca Cola-ed, Christian-Santa Claus-ed culture with it’s two inquisitional questions: ‘Does it hurt? & ‘Is it unfair?’ Anything that answers ‘Yes,’ is automatically dismissed.
Am I able to pray Abraham’s prayer? ‘Behold, now, I have taken upon myself to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.’ ( Gen 18:27)