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The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue [Paperback]

James W. Sire
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: IVP (18 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844740404
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844740406
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,260,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Presents a critique of major worldviews, designed to help readers find, modify or make more explicit their own individual worldview.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended 10 Jan 2009
This book is in its umpteenth edition, and deservedly so. It starts clearly from a Christian platform (so you know where you are), placing Christianity in the philosophical spectrum. It then surveys most of the other major worldviews around us: modernism, nihilism, existentialism, postmodernism, new age, etc. The author picks out their strengths and weaknesses with great perception. The intent, I assume, is to help Christians become educated and knowledgeable, as opposed to anti-intellectual and defensive. I recommend it for that purpose, and for anyone who wants a potted summary of worldviews.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Christian analysis of other presuppositions 22 April 2008
By Mr. Jason D. Ward - Published on
There are a number of reviewers who are under the impression that the only way to write a world-view catalog is from an objective position which has no bias at all.
This is unfortunate, because the book tries to show us how everyone has a presuppositional bias: there is no objective middle ground from which to weigh up the others.

This was required reading as a theology student, and I found it useful. His 7 questions are powerful and useful in deconstructing longer texts, but other sets of questions are more useful and easily deployed in analyzing world-views on a regular basis, such
1) what is my relationship to creation in this view
2) what is my relationship to other people in this view
3) what is my relationship to God in this view.

Another useful one is
1) What is the problem
2) What can save us/them from the problem
3) What does the world look like once it is saved?

Personally, I found it helpful to realize that not everyone thinks like me, and to use this book as a very useful quick guide to the way others may think. Of course he generalizes. Of course he is simplistic. But he is also helpful.

I recommend.
To those who criticize this book as validating Christians in their blinkered view, I suggest finding a different book to validate them in theirs. But isn't that rather Sire's point about us all having a world-view based on a series of assumptions which may or may not stack up?
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Road to Find Out 5 April 2006
By Gord Wilson - Published on
From the reviews I've read, some readers want this book to be something it's not. I'm much more excited about what it uniquely is: a brief overview of various philosophies (usually embodied in religions) about what's going on.

James Sire was head of InterVarsity Press, which was/ is? related to Britain's SCM Press, and which is related to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical student organization which exists on many college campuses. Right out of the box Sire tips his hand, revealing his own views (as opposed to those books where the author covertly tries to influence the reader). On the other hand, those looking for an apologetics book in support of the Christian world view will be disappointed (there are plenty of other books that take that tack and fill that niche for the enquiring reader).

What it is: an admirable if brief overview of comparative religions, which is to say how various people at various times have posed and answered (or theorized) about what seem to be perennial human questions. At the beginning of his book Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson tells how his father would read the Bible at breakfast every morning so his kids wouldn't grow up to be "empty-headed atheists". Sire's book, on the other hand, will help readers not to be "empty-headed believers".

Sire took his title from a line from E.E. Cummings: "There's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go. I took my title from a Cat Stevens song. The searchin' 'sixties are over, someone may object, but what goes around comes around, and in our present age of non-meaning (nihilism), many seem again on the road to find out.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great intro to worldview thought 5 Oct 2005
By shoebear - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Some reviewers expect a book like this to be all things to all people. This is not a scholarly reference; it is instead an introduction to and catalog of many of the common worldviews in the West today, written from a Christian perspective. It gives the basic ideas of each and shows how they are related -- one flows from another. As such, he does indeed give short shift to many thoughts and ideas -- even theism. But if you are upset about his treatment, go read some books that specialize in that worldview. It's a wine tasting, not a full meal; so don't complain that your stomach is not filled.

Instead, the book gives a coherent, easy to ready, midlevel survey. It is an ideal way to introduce a teen or young adult into the world of philosophy, history of western thought, religion, etc. It can capture the interest and heart of a young person and spur them to dive deeper. Before long they will be reading my own heros, Alvin Plantinga and Robert M. Adams.

Philosophy, history, theology, and sociology are all very big and very satisfying study areas. You can't expect a neophyte to understand it all at once. This book allows young people to tap into the wonder and thirst for more. It's especially appropriate for Christians, but many non-Christians can read it and benefit.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a calvinist. Excellent overview of world views and proclamation of truth (oops. not politically correct) 23 Nov 2005
By J. Johnson - Published on
It seems that the reviews here have turned more into an open forum than an effort at objective reviewing. As a Calvinist I found this book excellent. The various world views are given a brief overview from a Christian perspective. In his critiques Sire's point is that there is only one world view that is able to answer all the questions he postulates. His questions do not deal with "I" because he does not see himself as the center of creation. Eventually all world views must admit some sort of origin, which is why all questions necessarily lead back to a Creator.

For the Christian, this book is an excellent overview of varying world views.

For those who are not Christians, this book gives a good understanding of how Scripture relates to and answers the challenges of each of these world views.

In this Sire has accomplished his purpose. Five big fat stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Apologetic for Christian Theism 22 Oct 2006
By J. Grattan - Published on
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.
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