How do we prepare teens for interaction with the vast array of religions and worldviews that exist on the planet?
I ask this question from the perspective of a pastor who follows Jesus. I desire to lead my students to know, love, and follow Jesus as true disciples, not mere cultural Christans. I don’t want to isolate them in a Christian bubble where they may be tempted to fear, avoid, or hate other worldviews, AND I don’t want to inadvertently communicate the message that all religions are exactly the same and all that matters is that you’re a nice person (it’s just not that simple).
This is the topic of conversation that I will have with our ninth grade confirmation students in January. We call this unit of our curriculum My Neighbor’s Faith.
The challenge is twofold
Let’s be real. We live in a globalized society. Our teens have access to more information in the palm of their hands than Einstein ever had in his lifetime. They encounter multiple worldviews on a daily basis.
Our challenge is twofold:
- Do our students have the wisdom to know how to process all this information and conflicting worldview data they encounter?
- Have we adequately prepared our students for the inevitable worldview-shaking encounter they will have (if they aren’t already experiencing it) that will send them into a crisis of faith?
The answer to the first one is easy. Of course they don’t have the wisdom. They are early adolescents. Wisdom comes with age and experience.
That’s why they need us to handle number 2 very well. We must approach this topic with honesty and vulnerability.
The following images are a storyboard of an animation that I hope to create. If I don’t get to creating the animated film, I will use this PowerPoint storyboard to walk through the process with the students. Truthfully, I would use both. Show the video, then use the PowerPoint as the discussion guide.
I share this with you, dear reader, in hopes for feedback, and to offer this as a resource for your own work with the teens in your life.
What is a worldview?
A worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of Reality that ground and influence all one’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing. One’s worldview is also referred to as one’s philosophy, philosophy of life, mindset, outlook on life, formula for life, ideology, faith, or even religion (from this post).
A worldview is the answer to the five basic human questions:
- Does God exist OR what is ultimate reality?
- What happens after I die?
- What is our purpose in life?
- What is the basis of morality (right/wrong)?
- Who am I?
Every culture, throughout time, has come up with an anwer to these questions based upon how they interpret their encounter with reality.
In other words, a worldview is the lenses through which we perceive the world.
It is impossible to not have a worldview.
The process of growing up is to realize a) that you have one, and b) what it is and how you got it.
Our worldview is what allows us to interact with the world. It is not only our lenses, it is our arms and legs.
This is a big deal.
Worldviews are constructed.
They are actually built for us by the culture in which we grow up. Everything we encounter as a child–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is another piece of our worldview construction.
A child’s worldview is the air that she breathes. Everyone important to her fits nicely in her world, and everything makes sense.
This phase is often called innocence or the first naivete.
Note: Children who experience trauma often miss out on innocence. We often say, “they had to grow up too fast.” This can lead to various forms of mental illness. That is a different set of issues and teaching. This, however, is a worldview that is shaped by doubt, fear, and skepticism.
The assumption of these images is that the adolescent experienced a fairly healthy upbringing within a fairly coherent worldview that was a positive place in which to develop. The adolescent felt loved and safe in their worldview of origin.
There comes a point when two things happen in a young person’s life.
- They encounter a different worldview.
- They are cognitively able and aware enough to realize that this worldview contradicts the one in which they were raised.
They experience cognitive dissonance. This is a very unsettling experience.
It usually happens in college. However, with the growing availability of information, it is happening more and more in high school and middle schoolers.
There are generally two natural responses to this encounter.
The first possible response is a total shattering of the worldview. Students can think and feel that “everything I was ever taught is a lie!”
This can lead to violent mood swings, attacks on parents and church, or a sink into depression.
Many people never recover from this world-shattering experience. They end up taking the very common worldview of nihilism. This is the worldview which holds that there is no objective truth. Life is ultimately meaningless. We must create our own meaning and make the most of what we have before we cease to exist. Hope is hard to muster.
The second common response to the encounter with different worldviews is to entrench. The individual feels threatened by the difference and builds up defensive walls.
This entrenchment leads to either:
- a fearful isolation that denies the existence of the other. or
- a violent attempt to either convert the other to be like his own worldview, or eliminate the other in order to preserve his own worldview.
Both of these options, for different reasons, lead to isolation and self-destruction.
The truth is that we live in a world in which multiple worldviews co-exist.
The various worldviews across the world have evolved over eons within the thousands of geographical and cultural contexts across the planet. They often fought with each other on their borders, but rarely interacted at their core.
It has only been within the last century that these various contexts have been able to interact in real-time via telecommunications and transportation technologies (It used to take months or even years for simple messages to travel across the sea and mountains.)
How do we avoid these two destructive extremes and maintain a Christian Faith that engages in Inter-Faith Dialogue?
The first step to maturity is to honestly examine one’s own worldview.
Note: I step the students through the process of how a worldview is constructed. That will be the subject of another post.
Most of the major world religions existed before Christianity. Even Judaism, from which Christianity was born, was a fairly late development, long after the Sumerians and Egyptians had developed complex societies in the Middle East.
People have been asking the Five Worldview Questions since humans were able to form thoughts. And they have come up with a myriad of answers to the questions based on their interpretation of their experience of reality.
This is a fact.
It is vitally important to help young people understand that most of what we hold to as “Christianity” is actually culturally constructed within a very narrow slice of humanity (in my context, it is the slice of northern European protestant Christianity, particularly within one strand of the Lutheran Tribe).
Jesus, on the other hand, was a human being who lived within a particular time and place. He was born into the first century Palestinian Jewish Worldview. He spoke and taught within that worldview in order to help that worldview expand into maturity and come to more fully realize what God is doing in the larger world.
He did not come to start Christianity as a new religion.
I, as a disciple of Jesus, believe it is crucial to study, learn, follow, and practice Jesus’ teaching in order for God’s Promise of Shalom–Peace on Earth, the Kingdom of God, Eternal Life–to be realized. (read more about this here)
“Hey, wait a minute!” you may be thinking, “I thought Confirmation was the process of indoctrinating young people into the Lutheran Tradition so that they can know exactly who they are and what they believe and become a fully participating member of the church?”
I think that is what Confirmation has been in previous generations.
I believe that one of the reasons so many young people are leaving the church is because the church has not adequately prepared them for the world into which they emerge.
A Confirmation of Indoctrination into Creeds and memorized prayers and ritual leads to a rigid and brittle worldview that is more prone to fall into the two extremes.
A Confirmation that waters down the Gospel of Jesus into “just be nice” and “let’s just do service projects” is equally prone to the extremes (while more likely leads to nihilism).
A Confirmation that teaches the Scripture, the Catechism, service AND equips students for reflection and critical thinking may serve as an inoculation against total extremism on either side.
The only way to reach maturity is to be willing to examine one’s one worldview and see its imperfections, AND to value it as the source from which you are made.
It is only when members of each worldview carry their own worldview with humility and reach out to the other in mutual respect that we can begin to realize what peace on Earth might look like.
This, I believe, is the fulfillment of Jesus’ teaching to love your neighbor as yourself.
The path to maturity is not easy, nor is it a straight line. We will inevitably pass through seasons of nihilism and entrenchement, and cycle through them repeatedly.
It’s called growing up.
The core message of Jesus is the unconditional love of God. Perfect love drives out fear, as the Apostle John taught us.
Here is a seemingly contradictory reality: We actually need other perspectives in order to more fully understand our own. Hans Georg Gadamer called this A Fusion of Horizons. The video below helps explain the concept.
Here’s one more video that explores the paradoxical third way between this and that.