Secularized Christian belief: worldview is a cultural universal

Lets become clear about the nature of my claims about worldviews.

1. The word carries multiple meanings. It has partly to do with the multiple meanings of the component words: `world’ and `view’. In daily language-use, `world’ is used to pick out (a) a spatial and temporal slice of the cosmos (b) and/or the entire Cosmos itself. The first, the slices, are many: from the `social world’ to the `emotional world’; from earth (`our world’) to parts of the same (`our part of the world’, `in different parts of the world’) and so on. The same consideration applies to `view’: it could refer to perspectives (`my view of the issue’) and to the totality (`we now have a clear view of the situation’).

As though this is not enough, the word `world view’ also carries additional multiple meanings: it picks out a totality of beliefs that some individual has; it refers at times exclusively to false beliefs (the Marxist use of the notion of ideology); it is either necessary or strictly superfluous (depending on how one interprets the scope of `ideology’); it picks out the common denominator among a group of people and the latter itself can refer to a nation, a class, a culture, the species, etc.

Consequently, to ask for the meaning of `world view’ is to ask for some individual’s definition of the word. It also indicates that there is no theory about the world views, their role and nature and such like. This is one of the claims of the 10th chapter.

2. Despite the lack of clarity and the presence of ambiguity, some people use it to explain many things: `the crisis in the western world view’, the `nature’ of the Tibetan world view, and such like. One also talks about the need for a `scientific world view’ and the need for a world view for an individual. In order to make sense of these kinds of claims, I use the word `world view’ in the following way in `The Heathen…’: `world’ refers to everything that was, is and shall be; `view’ refers to a totality of perspectives. `World view’, under these restrictions, is something different from the (partial) theories we produce about (slices of) the world. That is to say, our intuitive psychological and philosophical notions about people belong to the domains of our theories in psychology and philosophy. This rendering of the meaning of the word allows me to make sense of many, many linguistic expressions that use the word `world view’. It also shows that we are unable to come up with examples of `secular’ or `scientific’ world views and it appears as though `religion’ is the only example we have of `world view’.

3. It is important to notice the level of abstraction: religion is the best (or only) example of world view. This or that specific religion (say, Christianity, Judaism, Islam) becomes this or that specific world view: Christian world view, Islamic world view, Jewish world view and so on. As I have explained at length, `Religion’ is always a specific religion in human communities, and this is a constraint on religion. Even though religion is an EI account, it is formulated in some or another human language and thus becomes some or another religion. This limits `religion’ because religion cannot be restricted by time, place or ideational clothes. So, I suggest that religion is compelled to move beyond the restriction of being a specific religion (that is, some or another specific content that makes into some religion or another) and become “as formal as possible”. Here, the word `form’ refers to the `logical form’ of the EI account, stripped of its semantic content. (It is, however, the semantic content that makes it into a specific EI account.) In simple terms, such a `world view’ cannot have any doctrines (each doctrine limits `religion’ and makes it into a specific religion), any beliefs (each belief has `some’ meaning), and so on. Such a purely `formal entity’ would be `the world view’: but, given the nature of human beings, we will not get such a world view. The explanatory intelligibility consists in religion being a very specific set of claims about the world, but for religion to be what it is, namely, the EI account, it has to go beyond (i.e. transcend) every specific belief. Such a formal entity is `the world view’: it comes into being in the process of religion trying to free itself from the limitation of being a specific religion, and the process of secularization names this process.

4. This hypothesis allows me (among other things) to make sense of the belief that people have about `world views’ even though no one has succeeded in outlining a world view. (Those who believe they have a world view are invited to write down their world view. Once this attempt is made, one realizes that one has merely many `beliefs’ about slices of the world that belong to domains like ethics, metaphysics, political philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc. What makes this arbitrary set into a world view and not just a hotchpotch of partial claims about slices of the world? In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, all one can do is to take recourse to a definitional fiat: `I call this my world view’. ) No one has given an explanation as to why `nationalism’ and `Marxism’ are world views; or how, say, a Christian world view differs from the Christian religion; or why the Encyclopedia Britannica is not merely an encyclopedia but a `scientific’ world view; and so on. The logic of my argument suggests that nobody will be able to do it either.

5. I do not argue that a world view exists as a secular counterpart to religion; I say that the process of secularization of religion is its attempt to become a world view. I do not say that one can identify a world view today because I say that the only examples of the use of this word are its references to specific religions. This explains (as far as I am concerned) why people do not want to give up the idea of a `world view’. To do so is to give up the idea of the universality of religion. It also shows us why the issue of the existence of religion in all human cultures is of cognitive interest: the claim that all individuals, peoples and cultures have a world view is a secular counterpart of the religious belief about religion’s universality. Such a belief also suggests that having a world view is indispensable to a successful navigation in the world. My hypothesis thus explains why the intensity with which this belief is held is directly proportional to the lack of any evidence for the existence of a world view outside of specific religions. And so on.

6. In other words, people in religious cultures are `intuitively’ convinced that all people have a world view. They are convinced of this not because they have a world view that is distinct from some religion or another but because they belong to a culture where some religion or another has generated the process of secularization. I further say that people in non-religious cultures would have great difficulty is explaining what the discussions about world views are about. They lack the intuitive conviction that members of a religious culture share. The Indians on this yahoo group would not lose their sleep if (a) they discover that they all have a world view or (b) realize that they never had one. Apart from a purely cognitive interest, they have no other stake in the issue. In fact, the way in which this discussion is going on itself indicates the truth of the above fact. (I do not want to elaborate on this.)

7. In the form of simple claims, these are my assertions in `The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’. (a) We do not know what a world view is outside of specific religions; (b) There are no examples of secular or scientific world views; (c) The conviction about the universality and indispensability of world views is a secularized religious claim; (d) we can explain this conviction by looking at the secularization process of religion (note the level of abstraction); (e) world view can only name secularized religion (again note that this is not a claim about this or that specific religion). Therefore, the `challenge’ to identify a world view that is a secular counterpart to religion is the challenge to identify religion as such and not this or that religion. As human beings, we constrain religion to become this or that religion; religion as such cannot exist in human communities (see my science fiction example in the ninth chapter). Consequently, there will no `world view’ to identify either.

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