This week I had the opportunity to teach on our cultural narratives or presuppositions. In recent years, “worldview thinking” has benefitted from a better understanding of how our worldview is formed and informed by not only our conscious (foreground) beliefs but by our unconscious (background) values, desires, imagination, beliefs, experiences, and ways of perceiving and relating to the world. These presuppositions become the grid or tastebuds by which other things (truth-claims, beliefs, moral stances, etc.) are seen as plausible or implausible, appealing of distasteful, and ultimately worth accepting or rejecting. Too often, Christans are unaware of both their own presuppositions as well as those cultural presuppositions informing the average person you meet.
So, what are the primary cultural presuppositions in America today? While that’s a big, complex, and debated question, I offered four fundamental Narratives shaping us today. This is informed partly by the work of Tim Keller and James K.A. Smith–both borrowing from and explaining Charles Taylor–alongside of others.
Naturalism: the natural, visible world is all that exists.
- The universe is a closed, immanent, naturalistic environment
- Humans are just another animal.
- You only live once, so live it up now.
- Atheism is the only rational system; all religion is irrational.
- Evolution is the honest, reasonable, and factual paradigm.
Autonomy: I am an independent person free from any ultimate authority beyond myself, whose goal is to pursue my happiness and self-fulfillment.
- People are sovereign selves, independent of external authority.
- The highest goal to pursue is our personal human flourishing or our own happiness.
- Happiness is based on discovering and being “who you are.”
- Denying—or changing—who you are is unhealthy and destructive.
Relativism: There are no absolutes when it comes to knowledge, truth, or morality.
- There are no absolutes we can objectively know; truth and morality must be created or determined.
- No one person or religion can claim knowledge of the truth; so all religions are equally valid and yet incomplete on their own.
- People should be free to live as they choose.
- Tolerance is a key virtue and judgment is hate.
- The Bible’s ethics are cultural, and therefore, it’s not reliable for modern issues.
Progress: history is progressive to that what’s new is superior to what’s old, today is better than yesterday.
- History is about a line of progress moving forward.
- Religion is bad and holds people back from good.
- A Progressive future is a Secular Future.
- Traditional values mean you will end up on the wrong side of history.
If you’re interested in reading a quick explanation of each sub-narrative, you can email me.