World Views in Our Culture

by Steve W. Lemke
delivered at the 1995 annual seminar
of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


        The pluralism of our age has brought an incredible diversity of world views within our culture. Only a few decades ago, one dominant world view was accepted by consensus in American culture--a world view with conservative values shaped largely by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Of course, there have always been other world views within our culture which our constitutional freedoms protect with toleration. But one world view was consistently presented in the media and mainstream culture. The situation has changed, however. Our culture has lost this sense of identity. We have become legion, a multiple world view cultural personality disorder which has led to the psychological disintegration of the nation's soul. We no longer know who we are or what we believe as a culture. As James Hunter documents in his books Culture Wars and Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America's Culture War, our numerous world views do not merely offer a variety of alternatives, but competing and unreconcilable rival positions vying against each other in a war for dominance in our culture. Network television presents us with a cacophony of competing world views screaming for our attention. In fact, it seems that every effort is made to magnify the views of non-traditional world views while silencing or debunking the world view that has been our tradition.

        What are the leading world views in our culture? I would like us to examine five world views that have arisen as the principal rivals to the Judeo-Christian world view--materialistic naturalism, consequentialist pragmatism, underculture nihilism, enlightenment modernism, and eclectic postmodernism. In each of these world views, I would like to contrast how they view God, persons, and ethics, and how they would approach an ethical issue such as abortion. As we will see, very different world views may agree on a specific issue, but for very different reasons. This agreement of strange bedfellows sometimes creates the illusion that our culture is more unified than it is in fact. Of course, when making such an overview survey, generalizations must be made. Individuals may choose various aspects of different world views, but often people remain basically within a single world view.

        One could name many other world views which deserve our attention, of course. They have become so numerous that time would not permit dealing with them all. Perhaps the Islamic world view will become the next major world view on the scene, since in the next year Islam will replace Judaism as the second major religion in adherents behind Christianity in America. There are already half as many Muslims as Southern Baptists in the United States, and Islam is growing at a faster rate than Southern Baptists in several recent years. Christians need to become much more aware of the world views of other world religions in a nation in which already Buddhism is the dominant world religion in one of our fifty states. As Richard Cunningham has stated,

        The Christian apologetic task today is defined by our new setting in a pluralistic world. . . .
        The church is at a juncture in history where it is increasingly important for ministers and
        many laypersons to better understand the alternative belief systems and worldviews that
        challenge the Christian faith's proclamation of Jesus Christ as the way to truth, reality,
        and God. The mission of the church to people who hold alternativ