The Hidden Worldviews that Shape our Lives #1 (Worldview and Individualism)

The Hidden Worldviews that Shape our Lives #1 (Worldview and Individualism) January 24, 2012

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.

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  • Mike Ward

    I’m fascinated by this subject so this looked interesting.

    But when I read the sample pages at Amazon I was disappointed. The authors call this a book of Christian apologetics and then rather than being a book about how world views affect everyone it looks more like a book about how worldviews affect “you” (the reader) and how you could be like “us” (the writers) if you could just get past these worldviews.

    I guess in a nutshell, my concern is it doesn’t look very objective.

    But I don’t know. I might like it better if I could read the first chapter but the preview did not go that far.

  • Anonymous

    Having ministered in Asia for 30 years, boy have we ever seen
    NON-individualistic culture, and witnessed the problems that Westerners
    have when trying to force individualism upon Asians because of the
    misinformed notion that it is Biblical, rather than the messenger’s
    cultural norm (and arguably, in fact, UNbiblical)! I’m going to track
    this book down… thanks for the heads-up!

    Note for clarity’s sake(?): “A reaction against either form of
    individualism affirms its power in our lives.” I think you mean
    “confirms” here, rather than affirms.

  • Seems the second type of individualism is the type popularized in American Idol.
    And the first is the kind typical in America…

  • Mlodicoipad

    Good summary! At you aware of spiral dynamics, a similar theory of world views?