This modest-sized book is presented as concise descriptions of several worldviews and related thinking, those being Christian Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism (Hinduism), New Ageism, and Postmodernism. The basics of worldviews are: "the nature and character of ultimate reality, the nature of the universe, the nature of humanity and what happens at death, the basis of human knowing and ethics, and the meaning of history." The book is not as impartial in its consideration of the worldviews as might be expected for a catalog; the book slants characterizations of the worldviews based on the standard of Christian Theism.
The basic tenets of Christian Theism are well known in the US: "God is infinite and personal, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good." He is self-conscious, thinks, and acts, and therefore, since humans are created in the image of God, they possess personality, morality, and creativity, capable, according to the author, of transcending the cosmos. This set of beliefs is accepted unquestionably, despite the fact that there is no credible evidence that any of the suppositions are anything other than the product of enterprising minds. See postmodernism below.
The principle challenge to theism since the Enlightenment has come from naturalism. The ultimate reality for naturalists is the physical universe - that is, matter with physical and chemical properties. There is no supernatural realm of a creator God - only matter exists. Humans have evolved to become the most complex living species in the universe, yet their actions, thoughts, and personalities are all ultimately based on highly complex chemical and physical processes. They do not transcend the universe, but are an integral part of it.
Human beings, from the naturalist perspective, are not the robotic, mechanical creatures that theists contend. In their view, humans can hardly rely upon a hypothetical God to reveal moral values and ethical behavior. Such concepts have to be constructed with real-world considerations as the only guide; their decisions are ultimately judged by how well they sustain the survival and well-being of mankind. Though human actions most certainly have antecedent causes, it certainly seems that humans do exercise choice and responsibility within the naturalistic framework.
There have been any number of reactions to the basic implication of naturalism: that God is dead. Nihilism is the reaction of despair to the absence of transcendent meaning in the world, which can take the form of a variety of psychotic behaviors. Existentialism seeks to transcend nihilism by positing a physical world of inexorability and a subjective, but free, world of the mind. But a burden is placed on humans to create themselves. The authentic person must revolt against the alien, absurd objective world and create value. Choice becomes an ethical good in and of itself. Fortunately, real-world naturalist systems of laws and social standards enforce ethical standards.
The New Age reaction to naturalism places ultimate reality within each individual person - he or she becomes God. A consciousness is emphasized that transcends the limitations of time, space, and conventional morality. Somewhat like existentialism, two worlds are envisaged: the visible universe and the invisible accessible only through altered states of consciousness. Since the self is God, ethics is relative only to a person. New Age philosophy accepts each person's perceived world as equally valid - beyond criticism. Each person is the sole judge of whether his or her system works. As the author points out, this is a form of epistemological nihilism: there is no non-relative reality. Many view New Age philosophy as a form of megalomania.
Eastern, pantheistic monism holds that one infinite, impersonal element constitutes reality - that is, God. God is the cosmos and each person is God - nothing exists that is not God. Contrary to theism, human beings in their essence - their truest, fullest being - are impersonal. To realize one's oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond knowledge and beyond good and evil - the cosmos is perfect at every moment. The main road to oneness requires quiet and solitude, enhanced by chanting an intellectually contentless word such as "Om." The self-effacement of Eastern thought is barely comprehensible to Westerners who assume complex self-aware and self-determining personalities.
Postmodernism is not so much a worldview as it is a critique of those who try to construct a worldview. Postmodernists contend that reality, truth, ethics, etc are basically unknowable; they are only constructs of language which is no more than the expression of the current regime of power. Human beings are in fact constructs of language, which is an existentialist view. The social good is whatever those who wield power in society choose to make it.
The author takes postmodernism mainly to be a criticism of the modernist concept of naturalism which is primarily based on human reason and rationality. However, it is hardly conceivable that a worldview that is based on a transcendent God, where humans are made in the image of God and justice is divinely revealed would or should escape a postmodernist analysis. It's hard to imagine a philosophy that is more likely to invoke the postmodern contention that meta-narratives are at best an illusion.
The author does not suggest that he fully captures all of the subtleties of the worldviews that he chooses to explicate. Instead of the agenda of discrediting the thinking of modernist naturalists, a more fruitful direction would have been to assess all worldviews in general including the theistic. One does not have to be a giant of perception to appreciate that it is science and reason that have revealed the modern world in all of its complexity. It is the world that all people actually live in, work in, communicate in, etc. Despite incomplete understanding, it is not an illusory world - a world of only bogus constructions. Human society would have collapsed long ago from the sheer weight of any such widespread fantasies. It is clearly ironic that theism, New Ageism, and postmodernism construct supernatural or subjective worldviews, knowing full well that there is a real world based on human reason and understanding to depend on.
Postmodernism has legitimacy in its corrective to the notion that human thought and action is entirely straightforward. Power does dictate the shape of human societies and the language used to describe such societies. Yet that power can be analyzed by those willing to dig beyond the propaganda. The fact that such power is wielded does not translate into a contention that an unknowable, transcendent God somehow provides a frame of reference for understanding or even living in our world. Genuine knowledge may be hard to come by, but escaping into the supernatural or worlds of fantasy will hardly work. The author unwittingly makes the case for naturalism being the only worldview that has even the remotest chance of maintaining human society, though that is an unfinished task. Unfortunately, naturalists are placed in the position of having to provide the foundation to support those who engage in non-rational, even delusional, prescriptions.
Contrary to some, it was not expected that a "catalog" of worldviews would be an apologetic for Christian theism. Nonetheless, the book is thought provoking.