Just to be sure we are communicating as clearly as possible, I’ll start by defining the terms I’m using here. Every person has a worldview. A worldview is the basic assumptions, beliefs and values a person has adopted over the years, consciously or subconsciously as being true and good. All our knowing, doing and feeling is intimately interlaced in our worldview, and its content produces the answers we tend to give to the most important questions of life, reality and death. Our worldview shapes our life, and defines our perspective on things.
Hopefully that is not controversial. I do not mean it to be. Assuming it isn’t, let me suggest a few modest proposals linking the lack of civility in the public square with the notion of worldviews.
Proposal #1: Different worldviews tend to lead to different conclusions. This can involve differing—even conflicting—conclusions about everything from the proper goal of government, to lifestyles, to the definition of the common good, to the identity of superstition, to the meaning of marriage, to you name it. Again, not very controversial.
Proposal #2: Speaking effectively across worldviews is immensely, amazingly difficult. For one thing, an idea that in my worldview is beloved, obvious, and sacred may appear in another worldview to be irrational, inconceivable, and dangerous. In order to truly communicate the speakers must engage one another on levels far deeper than the idea being debated, and that takes unhurried time, trust, and a willingness to both listen and accept challenges to our own worldview. It can’t be done in slogans, debates, or brief commentaries designed to maintain a media audience. Again, I don’t see this as very controversial, but there it is.
Proposal #3: Of all people, Christians should understand proposal #2. Some of us experienced the stunning reversal of having to radically change worldviews when we came to faith. The rest of us know how hard repentance is, how resistant we are to facing the hidden idolatries in our hearts, and how difficult it is to drop ideas when shown in Scripture they are legalisms or hypocritical or simply devoid of grace. But we forget. Because something is obvious to us, it must be obvious to everyone, and to make it so, we believe that speaking more loudly will do the trick. And to reassure ourselves, we summarize our opponent’s position in a way that gets a laugh from our side, apparently assuming that whatever is laughable to us is simply laughable. A bit more controversial, I suppose, but fairly easily defended I think.
Proposal #4: If we—I am referring to Christians, here—if we are not engaged in the sort of conversation that involves unhurried time, the intentional building of trust, and a willingness to both listen and accept challenges to our own worldview, we should remain silent in the public square. If you need a biblical reason, how about 1 Corinthians 13—the reason being that we should never choose to be a clanging, clattering gong before the watching world. OK, this is the controversial one, so I’d like to know what you think. (But wouldn’t it be a relief?)