We Assemble Our Worldviews Like We Are Dining at the Local Buffet Restaurant

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Does it sometimes seem like there are several ready-made worldviews for the taking? One person sees "conservative Christian" hanging on the shelf and grabs it. Another selects "secular progressive" (gasp) and goes in that direction. It can look like that's what's happening, but I'd like to suggest an alternative.

First, there is no such thing as "conservative Christian" or "secular progressive." These are labels that mislead us by masking the variability we find within each category. Despite the shared label, the worldviews of the labeled often differ in major ways. Second, every one of us cobbles together our own worldview. This is true for religious people and non-religious people alike. Adherents of so-called New Age practices are open about doing this. The rest of us often have trouble admitting it.

Dining at the Buffet of Worldviews

I live in the deep South, and I can tell you that restaurants without buffets don't last long. The locals love what some of us who grew up in more civilized regions refer to as "trough food." But the buffet restaurant is the perfect image for how we build our worldviews. At least, it can be if we are willing to stretch it in one important way.

Picture yourself standing in line at the largest buffet you've ever seen. This is not a typical buffet, though, for there is something magic about it. Everyone has the same choices laid out in front of them with one important difference. Each customer has a small section of the buffet specific to them. This magic section reflects individual differences in culture, upbringing, and life experiences. We can select from this section, but we are not limited to it.

As I make my way through the buffet, I look at my personal magic section and find little appeal there. The only thing I put on my plate is skepticism. As I move on, I add healthy servings of atheism, humanism, and freethought. Hmmm...the liberal politics looks good today. I'll have some of that too.

Why Some Christians Resist This

I have known plenty of Christians who bristle at the suggestion that this could apply to them. They consider "cafeteria Christian" to be an insult. What they fail to realize is that their worldview is not identical to those of other Christians. It isn't even identical to the worldviews of other Christians in their congregation!

In my church-going days, I recall a conversation involving three of us. It followed a sermon in which the minister had referred to his belief that there were many paths to heaven. I took what he said to mean good people would get into heaven regardless of which gods they worshiped. Another guy disagreed with me, insisting that few people had a shot at heaven. For him, it was only for the most faithful among us (i.e., and limited to Christians). The third wasn't sure. He tried to split the difference. Most Christians would reach heaven but only exceptional non-Christians could do so.

"Do you think the minister was wrong?" They did. At the time, this struck me as more than a trivial disagreement. It seemed important, and it surprised me. I'd soon learn that this was nothing. There was great variability in the worldviews of the Christians in my congregation. Some felt obligated to aid the less fortunate. Others believed they were getting what they deserved.

Why This Matters

It matters because it means that we aren't so different after all. I've never had any trouble admitting that I've pieced together my worldview. It took me longer to wonder if religious believers do so too. So many are quick to deny it, but the evidence is there.

Those who assume all Christians believe the same things are mistaken. There is no singular Christian worldview that applies to all Christians. The label has limited utility. Those who assume all atheists believe the same things are mistaken. There is no atheist worldview at all. Atheism is insufficient to serve as a worldview.

It also matters because it opens the door to change. If Christianity was someone's entire worldview, removing it would be terrifying. And while I know it sometimes seems like it is someone's entire worldview, it isn't. It may be a huge part, but it is never all there is. As challenging as it can be to transition from Christian to ex-Christian, many people do it. Some even do it while maintaining other aspects of their worldview.

Might this also mean that we shouldn't be so quick to give up on one another? I hope so. When someone identifies as Christian, that doesn't tell me much about them. It doesn't tell me whether I'll like them or how they'll treat me. The same is true when I tell them I'm an atheist, assuming I'm feeling brave enough to do so.

My worldview has never been set in stone. It is still shifting around, and the only constant appears to be ongoing change. I'm not always in the mood to grab the same thing from the buffet. Sometimes, I like to try something different. The same is true for most people, regardless of how we label them.

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