On the Sacred Worldview


Dr. Luke Murray


In my recent post on the KU flag controversy, I attempted to describe why many people reacted negatively to the ‘flag-art’, maintaining that those who disagreed with the piece were likely coming from a different world view, one that believed the physical reality of the flag as intimate with, or even inseparable from, what the flag represented. I said that this unity between sign and meaning likely came from a type of ‘sacred’ worldview; one that views reality as being capable of imparting meaning, a meaning that can come even from outside the human will. The difficulty with the flag, it seems to me, was that its meaning did ultimately come from a human will (human beings have agreed that this pattern of stars and stripes should represent the USA) but also that the flag is somewhat unique; it has become a type of ‘sacred’ or ‘inviolable’ sign since people have, for over the past three centuries, died for it, and now the meaning represented by the flag has ‘transcended’ the intentions of people today. Thus, it is not surprising why people would be so upset to see it disfigured, even if the artist had good intentions in so doing.

In this short essay, however, I intend to develop what I meant by a ‘sacred’ or ‘sacramental’ worldview. With the rise of secularism, it is not surprising that my previous post on the flag may have been confusing. How can there be any worldview today that is not inherently secular? Is not such a ‘sacred’ worldview also a ‘pre-historic’ or ‘pre-scientific’ worldview? Am I referring to a ‘magical’ or ‘superstitious’ way of viewing the world?

The simple answer is no. I contend that the traditional Christian or Catholic way of viewing the world is neither superstitious (although there are many superstitious Christians) nor against science (though there are many Christians who are); rather, it is a way of viewing the world that builds off a scientific view without contradicting it. In short, it sees nature as a work of art; as a painting that has meaning even if we are unable to completely understand it.

How is this not against science? To risk oversimplifying the matter, science has shown that the universe had a beginning since it is still moving away in every direction from a single source in time. I know that many now want to propose a ‘multi-verse’ in order to get away from this fact, but the truth is that there simply is no evidence for such an eternally existing ‘multi-verse’ (and even if it was eternal it would still require a cause of its existing eternally). Now, as Christians, we acknowledge this truth about the origin of the Universe and agree with scientists that whatever was responsible for the origin of space (and subsequently time) must itself be outside of space and time. Obviously, we cannot know anything more about this ‘first cause’ or ‘big banger’ except that it is responsible for everything that exists. This is what Christians mean by ‘God’ and I would argue to the death that it is not against reason and science but that reason and science actually prove what philosophers have known for almost 2400 years.

How does this relate to a ‘sacred’ or ‘sacramental’ worldview? Without contradicting science and its findings on the incredible age of the universe (billions of years), the sacred worldview maintains that despite the incredibly complex process of the universe coming into being and evolving over time, since there was a single source or cause of the process, then there is nothing irrational in believing that there was, and is now, a purpose behind the realities of our every-day experience; that nature is indeed a ‘work of art’ and can have meaning independent of human volition; that it expresses something about its origin, about “God.”

I think part of the confusion arises due to language about ‘God’ and the clear difference between accepting what science/reason shows, and believing with faith what goes beyond science (but not against science!!) Strictly speaking, ‘God’ refers only to the first cause of the universe - and although we can reason to other properties of its reality (it must be immaterial for example since matter does not exist before the big bang), but by and large it is a mystery.

As a Christian, however, I believe that this ‘first cause’ has freely made itself known to us, revealing information about itself that we could never know on our own with science. We believe it first revealed itself to our world through Israel, and then more fully revealed itself through the historical person of Jesus Christ. To make a long story short, we believe Jesus Christ has fully revealed the nature of this first cause to be a mysterious reality of love - a love that is the ultimate cause of all that exists and which has eternally existed: in traditional terms, it is called a “Trinity” - that is a relationship between a Lover (Father) - a Beloved (Son) - and the Love itself which they have for one another (the Holy Spirit). All of this goes beyond what we can know with reason and science, of course, but my point is that the sacred worldview is not against science or the scientific worldview, it just goes beyond what science can know. One final point is that this wordview disagrees with our culture’s popular view that seems to see ‘random chance’ (whatever that is) as the source of the universe and subsequently what justifies our purposeless experience with nature or reality. The ‘sacred’ worldview believes that all things have happened for a purpose, and even if we cannot understand why some things happen - especially great suffering - we still believe that our lives have a purpose. And this purpose is the foundation of our lives, giving us hope and joy even amidst the trials and suffering.