For the next few days I am going to introduce you to a book that I’ve found to be a great resource. It’s called Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape our Lives, by Wilkens and Sanford. The rest of the series can be read here.
In the first chapter of Hidden Worldviews the authors present the idea of worldview as story. They make clear that story has to do with “real-life” more than “purified theoretical forms” (14). The way in which a person moves from story to action is a layered process that can be imagined as a series of spheres.
The inner circle is story, “the central narrative of our life.” Following this is identity, “how we see ourselves and present ourselves to others.” Next is convictions, “those beliefs that make up how reality works for us.” Flowing out of that is values/ethics, “what we believe we should do and what we take to be our highest priorities.” And finally, morals/actions, “the realm of doing that includes all our activities” (19). One area of interest to me in this section was the idea that convictions create worlds. A quote captured this idea with an example of two polarities in the culture war: “…a naturalist and a theist could live in the same house and, at the same time, inhabit two entirely different universes” (20).
The second chapter was possibly my favorite. Individualism – “the individual is the primary reality” (27) – is a hidden worldview that is not that hidden in American evangelicalism. Two sorts of individualism can be identified in the culture at large: 1) utilitarian individualism and 2) expressive individualism. The first of these “focuses on personal achievement” by the “pursuit of one’s own interests.” This view does not “reject the structures and rules of society” but sees them as something to utilize for personal gain within the system.
The latter, expressive individualism, “worships the freedom to express our uniqueness against constraint and conventions.” The authors clarify the distinct difference between the two views: “where utilitarian individualism sees our social systems as a means for attaining our individual goals, expressive individualism generally views these systems as obstacles to individual freedom” (28). It seems to me that the expressive view has two extremes in our culture at the moment. On one end would be conservative libertarianism, with its focus on individual freedom from any sort of government restrictions. Yet, I could also see this expressive impulse in a liberal form of anarchism, in which people choose to express themselves in such a way that creates an alternative culture. Both, in an American context, are conditioned by this hidden worldview – even those who consciously attempt to hold this tendency at bay. A reaction against either form of individualism affirms its power in our lives.