EDITOR’S NOTE: This article on “Embedded Fallacies in the Western Worldview” is the third in a 4-part series to deconstruct the Western, settler-colonial worldview and to #ResurrectEloheh.
Dualism: Dualism is perhaps the foundational fallacy of the Western worldview and is directly linked to many of the other fallacies present. A dualistic worldview causes people to invest in the ethereal (in the spiritual/metaphysical realm) or abstract (as in academia) to a higher degree than the physical realm. Our thoughts and our theologies become disembodied.
In dualistic theologies, we neglect the importance of seeing Christ at work and being Christ at work in our earthly cultures. We tend to view certain areas of life, especially those outside the church, as secular, when in fact, Jesus taught that all of life is sacred, including both heaven and earth. In his words in Matthew 5:34 Jesus was quoting Isaiah 66:1, “Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? (c.f. Matthew 23:22; Acts 7:49; James 5:12).
Can the Creator of all be contained in any building or any space? Dualism especially causes us to believe that God is at work uniquely in the church more than God is at work in the world which God also created. This often leads to inactivity through complacency brought on by our own pride.
Dualism causes us to neglect the truth found in Jesus’ words to do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” Physical/mental or physical/spiritual dualism results in there being no certainty of one whole reality but rather living into the parts as if they were the whole. Dualism creates blindness to the needs of those outside our own group or even our own selves.
In dualistic systems, abstract reality is thought of as more real than physical reality such as land, or even one’s own body, which is considered abstract and less important. Western dualism is also apparent on the plane of morality. Western thinkers tend to think in binary positions like either right or wrong; either legal or illegal; either heaven or hell; either sin or holiness; success or failure; civilized or primitive; introvert or extrovert; saved or lost; clean or dirty; weeds or plants; animals or varmints, et.al…This dualism makes it difficult for Western thinkers to hold two seemingly incompatible things in tension without having to find a resolution, and it creates the false assumption that all things may be understood and every problem solved.
Compartmentalization: Similar to the Sacred/Secular split mentioned above, compartmentalization stems from dualism, in that it allows Western thinkers to create extrinsic, often unrelated categories that are only parts of the whole of reality. This reductionism divides and classifies life into many parts with little attention to whole. Again, the parts can often become a false reality.
One example of compartmentalization is the inability for North Americans to understand how the economics of extracting natural resources from the earth affects climate change. They simply classify them into two realities, neither of which is whole without the other.
Another example is that of medical specialization. A patient may have a General Practitioner, a Cardiologist, a Gastroenterologist, and a Podiatrist but if each only relates to the patient from their own area of specialization without regard to the others, the patient will be the poorer for it. In the Apostle Paul’s words, we are members one of another, each making the body whole.”
Compartmentalization can be a great asset under certain circumstances. To use the last analogy, a physician who specializes in cardiology may be able to offer help that other medical professionals don’t see, but she chooses to ignore the rest of the body at the patient’s peril.
Hierarchy is another major fallacy of the Western worldview. Western thinkers, including Western systems of governance, appear to believe equality is wrong or at least not a preferred system, even if they call it democratic. The results of historical Western structured systems have created de-humanization by class, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, etc. Because of structured hierarchy, the Western worldview is able to classify persons and people groups one above the others.
This classification of rank does not mean leadership must be absent nor anarchy present. Jesus himself exhibited great leadership but seemed to understand only one form of hierarchy, namely, Creator God has the innate right to regulate all creation. When asked about the hierarchy of his kingdom, Jesus taught that his followers should not Lord over one another like the Gentiles but instead serve one another.
Anthropocentricism: Borrowing thought from compartmentalization, dualism, and hierarchy, anthropocentrism allows classification of humanity outside of the created order to the point where human beings are seen as over creation and apart from creation. An anthropocentric view understands humans as having the right of supreme rule over all creation to the point where all creation is subject to humans. Anthropocentrism allows human beings to view the resources of the world as commodities made for their pleasure or for extraction, without thought of the whole of the eco-systemic reality. An anthropocentric worldview misses the intimate relationship we share with all creation in the web of life. In the words of Indigenous activist and planter Winona LaDuke, “Regardless of whether or not they have roots or fins or legs or wings, they are all my relatives.”
In a recent book by biologist George David Haskell, The Song of Trees, the author gives an example of the Waorani people in the Amazon rainforest. When asked to describe specific trees by their general type, they could not do it. In order to describe the tree, it was necessary for the Waorani to also describe the tree’s ecological context. In the minds of the Waorani, like many indigenous peoples, the tree does not stand alone in creation. Each tree, like every other creature, exists in relationship to its surroundings. We are all intricately linked to all of creation. We are related to the world around us as necessary family.
Racism: White supremacy, another fallacy that developed through the mythologies of Greece and Rome, et. al. (i.e., the savage, the barbarian) and was propped up by Western European and American pseudo-science, is related to the fallacy of hierarchy. European hierarchical worldviews understand white people as deserving ultimate control of all knowledge, wealth, resources, and power. White supremacy and its modern expressions of white normalcy and white privilege are particularly embedded in the history of the formation of the North American soul.
Individualism: North America exhibits perhaps, throughout all of human history, the height of an individualistic worldview. This is especially apparent in theological understandings. Americans interpret scripture primarily applying it to themselves individually rather than corporately/communally. The problem being that the writers of scripture did not write from an individualistic worldview, but rather from a communal one. Thus, the result is misinterpreting the scriptures at almost every turn.
Binary Thinking & Competition: In the Western mind, things are generally true or false, off or on, this way or that way, and holding two seemingly divergent thoughts in tension without a resolution seems uninteresting. These binary classifications become a great platform for judgement: weed or plant; animal or varmint; heaven or hell; right or wrong; etc.
Competitiveness stems from the binary thinking and is much preferred to Western thinkers over cooperation. For example, the model of governance where majority rule trumps consensus. Whereby, the first church in Jerusalem in Acts 15, we see that the body politic makes the major decisions with input from everyone. “Buy-in” is more concerned about the welfare of the community or group moving forward together than 51% being right and the 49% deemed wrong. This is directly related to our current political climate.
Intolerance: Intolerance of others who are different is the norm of the Western worldview, and it has ancient roots, as stated earlier, going all the way back to Greece. Intolerance becomes the catalyst for creating unjust laws or to carry out unequal justice, and even creating wars to preserve the American myths of hierarchy and white supremacy. Diversity is shunned or seen as a bonus, not as essential.
Utopianism: Utopianism is a centrally shared myth or vision of the Western worldview that believes its end results in the perfect form of human existence. Most often future oriented, utopianism often has meant that a particular goal must be obtained by using any means necessary. The end goal, considered sacrosanct, is worth any price paid and is justifiable given the right end goal. Utopianism most often emphasizes the eschaton (in religion) or, in civil government, the perfect society (i.e., law and order). The end justifies the means.
Greed & Control: Greed in our global system has often become a zero-sum game. For Westerners to want more, often means someone else in the world must have less. Greed is not just about personal reward, but it also spins off other systemic maladies. The West’s ability to control the narrative justifies the greed, and too often, becomes a means to obtain it.
Control stems from the hierarchical view that certain people, class, race, intelligences, etc. are made to be in charge. Social theories and theologies are created to maintain psychological control using theories of rewards and punishments in order to maintain control. Force is often used when other means fail. Perhaps control’s greatest harm is not the control of others but the attempted control of God, including assumptions of how God views others. In the Western worldview, greed and control feed each other.
Randy Woodley and his wife Edith are co-sustainers of Eloheh/Eagle’s Wings, www.eloheh.org in Oregon. He has written several books including Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. The Woodleys are currently campaigning to “Resurrect Eloheh” so they can purchase land in the American Southwest for the new Eloheh Farm, an Indigenous learning center and spiritual community. Please consider supporting their efforts at www.gofundme.com/ResurrectEloheh.
- Read PART I of this series on “The American Way”
- Read PART II of this series on “Worldview Distinctions”
- BONUS READING: How Making Friends with Indigenous People Changed My Life