Beliefs and Worldviews

I do not care what you believe. Tell me about your worldview.

Okay, maybe that’s too strong. (See end of this post, for instance.) But the way we talk today, what someone believes is rarely useful information. It’s useful when it identifies their worldview, which, unfortunately, usually means they’re stuck a few centuries behind. You believe that God created the world in seven days? Even after all science has taught us about the universe, planet formation, evolution? Even though you would have learned a different story, with equally as much evidence (i.e., it was written down a long time ago, and passed on since then), had you been born in a different part of the world? Okay, well, let me introduce you to the 19th century.

More often, what someone believes is useless information. And it’s boring. You believe in reincarnation? You believe in heaven? Who cares? What does that tell me about you? By itself, nothing.

What tells us more-a lot more-is someone’s worldview, the stage of development in which they operate. Two people who ostensibly share the same beliefs, but have different worldviews, are far more different than two people with the same worldview but different beliefs. This is one reason why churches are increasingly useless. Defining your affiliation with others based on beliefs, despite different worldviews (often starkly different), holds us all back.

To understand that, we need to get a good handle on what a worldview is.

There are three or four main worldviews operating in America today – mythic/traditional, modern/rational, postmodern/pluralistic, and integral. These generally reflect stages of development – cross-cultural, directional, can’t-be-skipped stages of growth that are open to all of us. (See the link to the right, An Essential Introduction to the Integral Approach, for a much better summary than this.)

What I’m calling “beliefs” are particular cultural, religious, or other content, as interpreted through that worldview. A mythic belief in, for example, reincarnation is very different from a modern, or postmodern, belief in reincarnation. Where a person operating from a mythic perspective may hold to the literal truth of a belief (based on authority, group consensus, or tradition), a modernist may interpret that same belief through a rational, logical-deductive lens; say, as an expression of the truth that all matter and energy in the universe is conserved. And a postmodernist may interpret it from a contextual, relativistic lens; say, as the result of a cultural reaction to cyclical environmental and historical patterns of a particular region and people.

A funny thing happens once we shift from focusing on beliefs to focusing on worldviews. In many ways, worldviews become much more important. A postmodern or integral understanding Buddhism, for example, is in many ways much more similar to a postmodern or integral understanding of Christianity than to a mythic understanding of Buddhism. Personally, I feel myself much more at home at any gathering where people roughly share my worldview – centered around science, religion, psychology, whatever, along any tradition or lineage – than I feel among a group that shares my religious and cultural background, but with a firmly mythic, rational, or postmodern worldview. (And, yes, I realize that betrays the shortcomings in my own development as much as anything else.)

Hence, teaching or presenting a religion or culture as a set of beliefs is misleading, and dangerous. Any set of beliefs can be a path of growth or not, a means of connection or of alienation, depending on how I hold it and how a particular person or group is holding it, largely determined by our worldviews. Linking beliefs and worldviews (in America, Christianity is often taught as mythic beliefs; eastern religions, as postmodern beliefs) can lead us down paths that don’t work as well for us as they could, or worse, do real damage.

And when we do recognize worldviews and beliefs for what they are, beliefs can be the flavors that bring life to its fullest. Each of us can find a home with religious and cultural beliefs that resonate most deeply, and our highest fullness in the wrinkles and nuances that other beliefs bring to our understanding of reality in its greatest depth and widest embrace.

Originally posted at:

Review & Commentary