As we each grew up and gathered more and more life experience, we developed a mental model of the world. This model, which I call a worldview, is comprised of a set of beliefs and memories that, when combined, determine how we interact with the world. Specifically, our worldview determined two crucially important things, the first of which is our moral code.
The summation of beliefs, memories (including trauma), biases, and other influences we’ve collected across our lives is like a manual that we subconsciously flip through at a moment’s notice when making decisions or judgments. One result of this is that these past experiences and beliefs, if left uninvestigated, can affect our behavior in ways we may not consciously intend. For example, if we were bitten by a dog as a child, and then our own son or daughter wants a puppy, we may be strongly swayed against the idea. In the case of traumatic memories, such as a dog bite, our minds may have suppressed the memory from our conscious awareness. In these cases, we would be opposed to the idea of getting the puppy—but won’t know why. It is for this reason that developing a curiosity around our preferences and our judgments is essential to living a sovereign life.
The second thing our worldview provides us is a sense of connection with the rest of the world. This connection can be thought of in terms of interpersonal relationships or metaphysical connection with the divine; regardless of the type, our worldview sets the stage for our sense of relationship with the world. For some, this relationship may be purely materialistic, as in the case of atheists or those whose life experiences have taught them to only trust what they see. On the other hand, for those inclined to spiritual beliefs on some level, this relationship can exist in the material as well as the spiritual world.
Similar to our code of ethics, our sense of connection with the world is determined by our life experiences and beliefs as well as any conscious changes we have made to those beliefs. An atheist, for example, can experience a spiritual awakening, whether by seeking it out or having some kind of interventional experience out of their control, in the same way a devout spiritual person can sever their ties with the divine after a traumatic event.
Two sources for worldviews
There are two schools of thought which, historically, have addressed the question of how to build a worldview: philosophy and religion. In ancient Rome, emperor Marcus Aurelius used philosophy, specifically Stoicism, to guide the moral compass of his reign. Stoic principles regarding the order of things, the nature of harmony and balance, meaning, and other important and complex concepts provided Marcus with a set of rules by which he could guide and justify his decisions.
Philosophy, by its nature, is governed by a set of rules. In the case of Stoicism, this set of rules is based on a concept known as logos. Other philosophies have their own sets of rules, but there are rules nonetheless. Each rule contributes to an understanding of the world to an extent that causes everything to “make sense,” to the point that one may lose their fear of death. The Stoic belief is that the world follows a natural and predetermined order (logos) and death is as sure of an inevitability as anything else—so a true Stoic will be equally at peace with dying as they are with falling asleep. This characteristic of Stoicism and of philosophy in general, of using logic for form, function, or physics of some kind as the basis of “making sense” of life is also what allows its proponents, such as Marcus Aurelius, to form their own ethical guidelines and sense of relationship with the world.
Religion offers the same promises, but in a slightly different way. For the sake of clarity, when I refer to religion in this context, I mean religious doctrine as a whole, in particular the tendency for religion to follow its own set of rules and to enforce those rules through ritual and community leaders.
The basis of every major established religion is scripture. Jews have the Torah, Muslims have Quran, Christians have the Bible, and Hindus have the Mahabharata. These scriptures explain a great many things, including how the Universe began, what happens after we die, and perhaps most importantly, how to live.
The major difference between philosophical and religious worldviews
While philosophy guides a person to create their own unique worldview, religion gives one to them and cannot be questioned. To be Jewish, for example, means that you adhere, or try to adhere, to a set of 613 laws (mitzvot), 365 of which are prohibitions (corresponding to the number of days in a calendar year) and 248 positive encouragements (corresponding to the number of spiritual limbs). We find other examples of worldviews that are given to us in other religions as well, such as the story of Genesis and the Ten Commandments in Christianity, Sharia law in the Muslim faith, and yoga in Hinduism. All of these religions, and many more, are predetermined ways of life which, if we so choose, can answer any question, solve any moral puzzle, and provide us with a warm blanket of certainty that the world is as it should be.
Regardless of whether you choose philosophy or religion as the basis of creating your worldview, it’s important to note that you must have a worldview in order to live. It is an essential ingredient to life; without it, our sense of individuality is lost, the relationship between cause and effect disappears, and our search for meaning evaporates. Having a worldview is essential for operating as a human being. Improving it, on the other hand, is completely optional.
Developing your worldview
Over the past few thousand years, since Socrates walked the land in Greece and yogic practices were developed in India, philosophy and religion have had little interaction. Even in Rome, philosophy was a state matter, used in the realm of politics while religion was quarantined in a separate part of society. This separation of church and state continues to this day.
For good reason, too. Philosophy could never take religion’s wild claims about how the universe works at face value. It’s the same reason behind why so many scientists are atheists; it is a very philosophical stance to only believe in what can either be seen or explained logically.
There may come a time when our knowledge about our world expands to such a degree that a religious doctrine is validated through philosophy, or even science. That is an uncertain future, though, so what are we to do when faced with the question of our own worldview? How can we move beyond the cold, Stoic philosophy without subscribing to a rigid religious doctrine?
It’s one thing to create a worldview passively, and another to take conscious and active control of your worldview. To do so would mean that you, from that point forward, will have more and more awareness (and thus control) over your thoughts. With enough practice, you can begin to rewrite old beliefs, including those instilled in us since childhood through religion. You can replace those old beliefs with new ones—ones that you’ve given proper thought and attention toward in your pursuit of a worldview that is right for you.
Whether you like it or not, your worldview impacts each and every thing you do. It is the summation of your life experiences wired deeply into your brain. It holds sway over your temperament, your ideas around love, your level of humility, and more. To take control of this, your entire personality, is to declare your sovereignty to the world—to say you are done taking religious views at face value or philosophical views without consideration for spirit. To begin developing your own worldview is nothing short of an awakening, an emancipation that will free you to seek out new worldviews, new ways of behaving and believing, and new paths to fulfillment.
The schools of philosophy and scriptures of religion are yours to explore. Dive deep and dive honestly. Pull yourself towards ideas, stories, and people who spark your curiosity. Challenge yourself and others to ask “why?” more often. If you do this for long enough, you will begin to find your own path—a path that leads to your own form of enlightenment.
Consider the following questions. Do some of them feel right for you? Do some of them make you feel uncomfortable? Be honest with yourself and answer truthfully—it is just you reading right now.
- What decisions did I make when I was young that I wouldn’t make today—but which are still affecting my daily life?
- Have I put in the time to develop my spiritual life? If not, what is holding me back?
- Do I judge others who practice their spirituality openly?
- Do I judge others who bring a cold, calculating, logical approach to life?
- Who is one person I know who has a different worldview than my own, and what can I learn from them?