from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009 Stephen P. Cook      back to worldview theme(s) #2

Preliminary Discussion: The Basis for Knowledge 

     The first of fifty questions that project Worldview 's free inquiry based, systematic approach to worldview development is built around is "What is the basis for my knowledge?"  A young adult's first asking this question is noteworthy!  Young children never consciously formally consider it.  They instead learn to unconsciously answer it with some combination of "what my senses reveal" and "what my parents tell me." 

     Gradually parental authority is supplemented, and for some eventually replaced by the authority of
1) other people: family, teachers, and community, tribal, or religious leaders, etc., 2) a growing store of experience-based memory, 3) printed or electronic media, and 4) increasingly sophisticated analytical skills and tools to use in deciding what to believe.   At some point, either as older children or young adults, unless one is incredibly lacking in intellectual curiosity or has been seriously retarded by prejudices inflicted by parents or others in positions of authority, individual mental development progresses to a point where this question is consciously considered in something other than a trivial context. 
Consider a list (certainly not all inclusive) of possible answers to this question:

"What is the Basis for My Knowledge?" 

note: for now, knowledge can be simplistically thought of as a "condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience" or "the range of one's information or understanding" to cite common dictionary definitions.   

Possible Answers:

my senses

my own experience

my parents

other family or friends

cultural tradition

inspired religious, spiritual, ethical leaders,                     or great healers

a book sacred to my religion


tribal, community or national leaders

printed media such as books,                          newspapers, magazines, etc.


electronic media such as radio,                           television, internet, movies, etc.

my appreciation of human nature                                    and the human experience

intuition or creative insight

introspection, rich inner or mystical experience

mind altering drugs


scientific or scholarly methods

instruments that extend my senses using technology

computer modeling and simulation

     Sadly, many respond to this question by immediately locking onto a single answer or narrow range of answers.  Not doing so, but rather leaving the door open for further exploration and consideration of a wide range of possible answers, starts one down the free inquiry path to a worldview.  (Added note: Sadly, especially narrow worldviews are often built around the "True Believer" theme discussed below.)

Discussion (of Theme(s) #2)

#2A: While the term "true believer" is an ancient one with religious origins (see Figure #2a), by the latter half of the twentieth century its meaning had broadened.  Imagine yourself a true believer, as Eric Hoffer described you in his classic 1951 book The True Believer, "a man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause."  Hoffer argues that "frustration of itself, without any proselytizing prompting from the outside" is behind this person you've become: dissatisfied with past and present, unable to accept your own flaws and imperfections, you escape all this by believing in an imaginary future world—one that your idealized self, working collectively with others, will create.  Hoffer posits you are a revolutionary who came from the class of "noncreative men of words"—not the creative ones who became the mere reformers.              

     While you are "Working for Change" (worldview theme #35B) you recognize chaos (in which you thrive) will be required to bring it about.  You embrace "Apocalypticism" (worldview theme #9B) for as Hoffer described one of your fondest dreams: "he glories in the sight of a world coming to a sudden end."  Your belief in the righteousness of your cause is behind the nearly unlimited energy you have for promoting it. The solidarity you feel for those you work with has forged (in the words of Theodore Draper) a "band of true believers bonded together against all those who did not agree with them." 

     Those non-believers will describe you differently—perhaps derogatorily.  Depending upon the nature of your crusade, your organization, or the company you keep, you may be characterized in various ways:

1) as someone not known for critical thinking skills; someone who isn't very smart; one who prefers faith to reason, or—given your passion—emotion to logic,

2) as an ideologue:  a blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular idea (perhaps political in nature),

3) if there is a pseudoscientific component to your true belief, as someone who fiercely clings to belief despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, and

4) as someone not worth arguing with.

     Carl Coon in an essay "What is Faith?" writes,  "The true believer will never let himself admit, even to himself, that he has been beaten in an argument about the propositions he believes in.  He's stubborn to the point of total irrationality.  There really is no point in trying to talk him out of his beliefs, because all you are likely to get from the effort is a punch in the nose."

     The certainty behind true believerdom is anathema to the "Humbly Unsure" and the "Skeptic" (worldview themes #1A ,1B.)  Former religious true believer Terry Walstrom—connects this fanaticism with drug addiction.  In his essay "Absolute Certainty: The Grip of Belief" he writes, "The bargain a True Believer makes with their belief system is the bargain of a drug


addicted person.  Unless more and greater stimulation is available, the destructive evidence of reality wipes away the high."  He offers this advice: "The moral of the story is: JUST SAY NO! to the drug of absolute certainty."

     After presenting this admonition, we also note one could argue that many of the most revered, respected people through-out human history have been—to one extent or another —true believers!  As Figure #2b suggests—saying "This I believe" is powerful!  It could be true belief itself is not what is to be discouraged—indeed, one can argue its merits and desirability.  Being selective is required: the critical thing is what idea, vision, cause, or way to change the world one decides to devote one's life to.  Of course the degree of one's devotion or fanaticism can vary. The "True Believer" component of one's world-view need not eclipse the rest of one's being!

#2B: While some value seeking truth using a dialectic method, true believers believe they have found it and are strongly driven to convert others to the great idea or cause and change their lives.  Christian evangelicals are responding to the "Great Commission" and following Jesus' instructions to preach the gospel.  Those who embrace scientism feel that only scientific methods have value in the quest for knowledge and forcefully urge others to modify their academic pursuits accordingly. 

     Those who feel "I Know What's Best for You," go far beyond casually giving unsolicited advice in attempting to convert others to their beliefs.  Many have mastered persuasive communication techniques—an art that can be traced back to Cicero.   Some so skillfully craft their messages, they do not obviously appear to be designed to persuade.  They also present both sides of arguments—taking care to refute the "wrong" argument.  Those who are naturally skilled at reaching others and changing minds make especially good evangelists if they are religious true believers.  If they don't fit into this latter category, they may make good salespeople!

     Those at whom this persuasive effort is aimed, in repelling it, may skeptically ask, "What right do you have to impose your worldview on me?"  Others may be receptive to this proselytizing and eventually gratefully offer thanks!  That may be especially true of those who are experiencing cognitive dissonance.  Such people are good candidates for changing  attitudes ands beliefs.  By doing that—and eliminating a perceived inconsistency—inner tension can be reduced.                                              

  Figure #2a: The Qur'an on Belief and Doubt

"The true believers are those who feel a fear in their hearts (of the consequences of violating the commands of Allah) when Allah is mentioned.  And when His Revelations are recited to them, they find their faith strengthened.  They do their best and then put their trust in their Lord"  (from the Qur'an, 8:2)

"This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who keep their duty" (from the Qur'an, 2:2)                                


Figure #2b: This I Believe

Edward R. Murrow's 1950s radio program (and associated books) This I Believe was  revived on National Public Radio for four years beginning in 2005.  There "Americans from all walks of life [shared] the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives."  Some had their statements read on the air, or printed in books; all were digitally archived so that they can be read online.    

"[B]eliefs have divided men at terrible cost, and they continue to divide them...[O]ur main to point to the common meeting ground of faiths, which is the essence of brotherhood and which in a sense provides the floor of our civilization."

Edward R. Murrow, 1954

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