Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Religious & Worldview Diversity

For Mrs Richardville's Health Occupations class at Monroe High School (thank you Sarah for inviting me to speak to your classes!):

Thank you for allowing me to speak in your class. I really enjoyed meeting you, and teaching you some things. I appreciated the energy you had for the material I was talking about, and the many good and relevant questions you asked.

Here are some of the ideas I’ve shared with you at our two class sessions together.

I came to talk about diversity from the perspectives of philosophy and religion.

Philosophy deals with issues such as:

- Meaning of life; the meaning of “meaning”
- Ethics – right and wrong; good and evil
- Knowledge (called “epistemology” – “theory of knowledge”) – what can we know; also, what does it mean to “know” anything at all; is true knowledge possible
- Truth – what is “truth”; Logic concerns what is called “propositional truth,” i.e., evaluating arguments which are composed of statements, a “statement” being a sentence that is either true or false
- Personhood – the nature of persons; is there such a thing as “mind,” such a thing as “soul?”
- Value – such as, e.g., beauty (philosophy of aesthetics)
- God – is there a God – yes or no? Philosophical (essentially non-religious) arguments are given for the existence of God and against the existence of God
- Worldviews – noetic frameworks

Religions deal with issues of:

- Good and evil; right and wrong
- Meaning
- God
- Value
- The meaning of persons
- Life after death
- Purpose of life

Both philosophy and religion deal with life's "Big questions." They deal with questions "science" (qua science) cannot answer.
Every person has a “philosophy” and a “religious” or “a-religious” perspective.

No one does not have a “worldview.” Most people are unable to articulate their worldview. Few reflect on their worldview. For most, it is simply the water they swim in, the air they breathe. Worldviews show themselves in words that are spoken, choices that are made, and behaviors.

So, for the purposes of working in the field of health care, every person you encounter and care for will have a worldview. They may not be able to reflect on it. But it will show itself to you if you understand some things. Like what?

Understand the basic worldviews. Understand the basic religions and ir-religions.


- Theism – the belief in one God who has the omni-attributes of all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, omni-temporality, and so on…
- Atheism – the belief that God does not exist
For me, atheism implies Philosophical Naturalism; viz., the idea that all that exists is matter and its various arrangements (collocations)
- Deism – the belief in one God, but with the idea that this God has made the world and then leaves it alone
- Agnosticism – the belief that we cannot know whether or not there is a God
- Pantheism – that belief that all that is, is “God”
- Polytheism – the belief in multiple deities/gods
- Monism – the belief that everything that is, is metaphysically One
- Animism – the belief that inanimate objects are occupied by spirits (“anima”)

In regard to these worlds, all of them can be either “strong” or “weak.” These words, used this way, do not imply value judgments. They refer to: “able to philosophically reason about the worldview,” or “unable to philosophically reason about the worldview.” For example, someone may say they are an atheist, yet when asked for a reason for their atheism, are unable to give something philosophically coherent. A “strong atheist” is one who is able to give articulate arguments for the non-existence of God.

Because everyone has a worldview, patients you attend to in the health care field will have a worldview.


- Judaism – 14 million
- Christianity – 2.2 billion
- Islam – 1.5 million
- Hinduism – 1 billion
- Buddhism – 400 million

There are also a number of “minor” religions. For example, in Chinese culture we have Primitive Chinese Religions (400 billion). This includes Confucianism and Taoism.

Within each of these there are various “denominations.” Like, e.g., within the concept of “money” there are different “denominations” – a penny, nickel, quarter, dollar bill, and so on…

Judaism and Christianity are essentially historical religions. That is, the claim is that God has acted in human history to reveal himself to us and love us. Christianity, e.g., rises or falls with the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are religions of ideas.

Because many of the patients you attend to will be religious, it will be helpful to know something about their belief system, especially if they are serious and committed to what they believe.

Note: Among people in America, I have found that most patients will not only not refuse prayer, but will appreciate being prayed for. As a health care professional you may not be allowed to pray for patients. But your patient may greatly value having someone come in to pray for them.

If someone is a committed ir-religionist, they may or may not want prayer.

My cross-cultural experience in Asia and elsewhere tells me that most people, when facing a health-care crisis, concern themselves with worldview and religious questions and issues. So it will be good to be sensitive to these things.

Again - thanks for allowing me to come to your class. If you want to dialogue sent me a response!

John Piippo