The Universe Next Door
The Universe Next Door by James W Sire
Whatever worldview I hold, I must remind myself that an attitude of humility as a working frame of reference is required. We are humans; we can’t understand total reality, completely and in all aspects.
The Universe Next Door by James W Sire is an introduction to this humility. The author points us to the dominant worldviews in play at present - and the necessary requirements of a worldview too.
A Consistent Worldview
Any worldview, in order to be coherent and valid, must contain at least these four elements:
1. Have internal quality
2. Be able to comprehend the data of reality and incorporate it in the worldview
3. Explain what it claims to explain (ex. morality)
4. Be subjectively satisfactory (it satisfies by being true)
I. Deism: there is a transcendent God, who created the Universe, but left it to run on its own. Because the Universe is normal, it reveals what is right. Ethics is intuitive.
II. Naturalism. Prime reality is matter and it’s all there is. There is no God. Human beings are complex machines and the personality is an interrelation of chemical and physical properties. Death is the extinction of personality and individuality. The universe is in its normal state. Ethics is autonomous and situational... An example of naturalism in practice includes: Marxism (humanism, materialism). Naturalism leads to nihilism eventually.
III. Nihilism is the denial of any philosophy, of the possibility of knowledge, that anything is valuable.
IV. Existentialism is the response to Nihilism. People make themselves who they are. The person creates value. Two forms:
a. Atheistic existentialism – parasite on naturalism. The existentialist affirms forever. It lifts philosophy from objective. It creates meaning from human affirmation.
b. Theistic existentialism - parasite on theism. It was a response to dead theism. It lifts religion from history, focusing on inner meaning. The history is uncertain, but unimportant. Knowledge is subjectivity.
V. Eastern pantheistic monism (only one impersonal element constitutes reality). Atman is Brahman=the soul of each human is the soul of the cosmos (ultimate reality). God is everything that exists. Eventually religions lead to the same end. To realise one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond personality, knowledge, good and evil and time. The cosmos is perfect at every moment. History is cyclical. Time is unreal. Death=the end of individual, personal existence, but it changes nothing essential in an individual’s nature. Final goal: by the elimination of desire, to achieve salvation (to realise one’s union with the One-Hinduism, or the void, pure consciousness - Buddism).
VI. The New Age - spirituality without religion
There is no Lord of the universe unless it be each of us. There is only the closed universe. There is hope of evolutionary change for humanity. The self is the kingpin, the prime reality. There is:
-a visible universe: accessible through ordinary consciousness
-an invisible universe (Mind at Large) accessible through altered states of consciousness. The core experience of New Age is cosmic consciousness. Cosmic history ends with the deification of the humanity or the individual self.
VII. Postmodernism. It is a shift from being to knowing to constructing meaning. The truth about reality is forever hidden from us. All we can do is tell stories. Human beings make themselves who they are by the language they construct about themselves. Ethics is a linguistic construct. Social good is whatever society takes it to be. Being good without God.
This is a readable book with a coherent and valuable introduction to the major worldviews in Western (and to some degree, Eastern, too) thought in the present day. The book is valuable in launching us into these topics and helping us to grasp the fundamental differences between these worldviews.
In this review I have not reviewed the argument for Theism that James W Sire presents - though this is the worldview that I myself hold, and advocate for! I can recommend this text as a good global introduction to a range of worldviews though - and to help us to better understand plurality in the modern world.