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two world viewsMerriam-Webster vacantly tells us that a worldview is “the way someone thinks about the world.” By this vapid standard there are seven billion worldviews. The squishy definition matches the convictions of our teachers and mind-molders who choose to stand militantly against taking a stand in this brave new age. Millions of school-age children are being taught that they are the arbiters of veracity and the creators of their own worldviews. I intend to set the record straight concerning the nature of an education in our little tiny corner of the world, here at The Imaginative Conservative.

There are two world views–only two! I assert against the academic consensus, beginning with the sophists and finding its highest expression in the work of Rene Descartes, that just thinking something to be true so does not make it so. By ignoring the wisdom of our forefathers on this issue, we are industriously sawing off the branch on which we sit, apparently unaware of the looming consequences.

What do Hesiod, 800 BC, The Apostle’s Catechism, AD 100, St. Augustine, AD 400, and St. Pope John Paul II, AD 1995, have in common? They all describe the two worldviews. What is a worldview really? Certainly, a worldview is how we see the world, but it also involves ideas, and as Richard Weaver said, “ideas have consequences.” The ideas we espouse determine what actions we will take as we build either habits of virtue or vice, so as to cultivate good or bad character, which in turn will determine a noble or ignoble destiny. Though we most certainly have the free will to choose which worldview we want, we are not at liberty to invent the terms of reality or the implications of our choices. As offensive as this is to modern sensibilities, I insensitively assert, there is a good worldview and a bad worldview best characterized by the concepts of virtue and vice. Both worldviews are explicated by these four enduring sources, spanning the last 3000 years of human history.

Hesiod, the Father of Didactic Poetry and contemporary of Homer, left a fair account of the proper worldview in his masterpiece Works and Days. In it he instructs his wayward brother Perses on living the good life. He elucidates the two world views by describing the two kinds of strife, that labor of living to which we all must commit. Hesiod explains “there are two strifes, one you will praise and this one even rouses the shiftless to work, and the other increases vile war and calamity, she is cruel. The hearts of the two strifes are different.” Hesiod alludes to the truth that the labor we choose to undertake based on our worldview will make all the difference as to whether it is good strife or bad strife. The very heart of the two strifes is the worldview itself. A proper worldview will lead to good and ethical strife that will inculcate good habits, good character and a noble destiny; on the other hand, a corrupted worldview will have someone striving towards illicit gain and will bring pain and suffering to the actor and those around him. Hesiod does not present a third option, because there is not one.

About 900 years after Hesiod, the Apostle’s Catechism called the Didache reveals an exposition of Hesiod’s point in its very first line. In fact, the last line is an echo of Hesiod’s last line; it is written, “there are two ways, one of life and one of death, but there is a great difference between the two ways.” The Didache explains that “the way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you.” Implicit in this description is the Christian worldview based on a belief in certain unseen realities such as the Creator and the Objective Moral Standard we might rightfully call the Logos. Most importantly, even though it may be counterintuitive, this worldview considers and meets a human soul’s true purposeful ends.

The Didache also explains the manifestations of the way of death in saying that “the way of death is this: first of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment.” Implicit here is that the way of death rejects the Creator and the objective standard in favor of the supremacy of the self. These horrible things come very naturally to our fallen human natures, and though we do them, they do not meet our true human ends. When we choose to make ourselves the arbiters of truth and ignore the reality of the objective standard, we usher soul death into our ethos.

Saint AugustineThree hundred years later St. Augustine expounded upon the two worldviews in his masterpiece The City of God. He tells us “there are two loves and from those loves come two cities. The love of self to the contempt of God, and the Love of God to the contempt of self.” In describing the two loves, St. Augustine illustrates that the very heart of a worldview is love. There are only these two kinds of love and they are contrary in every way. The bad love, or inordinate self-love is the heart of the worldview upon which the City of Man is built. It is that love that motivates and characterizes Hesiod’s conception of the bad strife. The properly ordered love puts truth above the self and serves as the heart of the worldview that builds the City of God. That properly ordered love motivates the action best characterized by Hesiod as the “good strife.”

In 1995, St. Pope John Paul II wrote Evangelium Vitae, in which he echoed the Didache in coining the term “culture of death.” The good pope was echoing what Hesiod, the Apostles, and St. Augustine had left to posterity: that there are only two ways to look at the world, by the culture of life, the Christian worldview, and by the culture of death, the secular worldview.

St. John Paul II explains the roots of the “culture of death” by stating that “we have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism.” At the heart of the Culture of Life is the understanding that God created man and that secularism is an incalculable reduction of humanity in which the machete of modern philosophy is used to hack away at the formal and final causes of man. This truncated culture that has lost sight of God, the true ends and purposes of a human soul, leads to death and destruction, just like the bad strife.

So I conclude and emphatically state that there are only two worldviews, the good strife or the bad strife, the way of life or the way of death, the City of God or the City of man, the culture of life or the culture of death. It is understandable that there is much confusion because of appearances. No doubt, the radical individualists, the communists, the nihilists, the postmodernists, and feminists—amongst countless other licentious ideologues—will violently disagree with the claim. Aristotle explains in the Nicomachean Ethics in Book 2 that “goodness is simple or one, badness is manifold.” By way of further example, G.K. Chesterton said, “there are an infinite number of ways to fall, but only one way to stand.”

The bad strife, the way of death, the city of man, the culture of death appear to have as many different forms as the souls who choose them over truth. But they all end the same: with a fall. We do not determine the nature of our worldview, we simply choose one. Our choice is to choose the life of virtue or of vice. We are not at liberty to choose the definitions of virtue or vice, though those who have chosen the vicious worldview have attempted to give themselves license to do just that. But alas, it is in vain and ends in a rage against truth, goodness, and beauty. Which worldview do you choose?

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Published: Jul 5, 2014
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. A convert to Catholicism, he is a catechist, a school teacher, and a writer and speaker on matters of faith, culture, and education. He holds a degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Steven is a member of the Teacher Advisory Board and writer of curriculum at the Sophia Institute for Teachers, a contributor to the Integrated Catholic Life, Crisis Magazine, The Civilized Reader, The Standard Bearers, Catholic Exchange, and a founding member of the Brinklings Literary Club.
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2 replies to this post
  1. This actually begs the question, since what is described is little more than the way of Wisdom (see Ps. 1:1). That is, while one can separate the wise and the foolish, in every culture there is a push to seek what is wise. I would suggest that the question of worldview is trying to wrestle with a somewhat different phenomenon, viz how and why one takes some actions and thoughts as acceptable and others as not. Worldview is finally a comparative piece of analysis, why one culture, one frame differs from another.

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