Worldview and Sociology

Worldview and Sociology

Sociology involves the study of human social behavior. It is particularly focused on studying the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society. It concentrates on humanity’s primary social institutions.

As with all of the other topics related to the structure of belief, each worldview has its own approach to dealing with the topic of sociology based on the assumptions that it holds. Sociology is not a subject that can be objectively studied independent of presuppositions. Every study of human social behavior begins with a framework which shapes what will be explored and how it will be evaluated. As such, the results of each study will be influenced by the presuppositions. If those assumptions are flawed, the understanding resulting from the study will be flawed. Thus, it is critical for us to grasp the truth about reality so that our presuppositions will be correct and our understanding of society will make sense.

How Do the Four Worldviews Approach Sociology?
Every worldview has its own way of understanding sociology. It is important to understand the different perspectives in order to be able to be able to intentionally choose the one which most closely corresponds with the way reality is actually organized.
Naturalism is the worldview foundation which is used most commonly in our modern world to try and get at social understanding. Modern academia does virtually all of its research and elicits its conclusions based on Naturalism.

Naturalistic sociology is founded on the worldview assumption that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality. Thus, mankind does not exist for a transcendent purpose. According to the Naturalistic worldview, mankind evolved from mindless matter. Based on this foundation, they believe that when human beings came into existence, the forces of evolution caused the human animal to develop socially as a means of ensuring its survival. Since there is no other purpose for man or society, there is no prescription about how society ought to be formed. It can become whatever the group decides is good for its situation. This relativistic mindset tends toward accepting non-traditional families as legitimate societal groupings and treats other social institutions as merely functional elements which have as their only purpose to promote the survival of the human species.

Animistic sociology is based on the cohesion of the family or tribe. It is based on the belief that ancestor spirits continue to be engaged with the family as it is expressed in the material world. As such, society is based on a tribal/family foundation and is tightly controlled based on their Animistic presuppositions. An Animistic view of society focuses on the interactivity of the beings in the spirit and physical worlds and on how that impacts the development of the tribe/family and its survival.
Far Eastern Thought
In Far Eastern Thought, everything exists as the natural expression of the impersonal life force. Everything is understood to be as it must be at any given moment based on karmic evolution. Based on the working of karma in the world, people who follow this worldview assert that equilibrium is maintained in the lives of individuals and in the universe as a whole. In dealing with the subject of sociology, this same principle also applies to the operation of society.
Theistic sociology is based on the belief that God created the world and gave instructions regarding the proper order of society based on his purposes. There is a way things ought to be, and it is up to believers to discern that right way based on the revelation of God. Human beings are tasked to try and order society based on that revelation. Theistic belief systems tend to organize around the traditional family.
Christianity and Sociology
The Christian worldview is a Theistic belief system and begins with the assumption that mankind is created in the image of God. But this is not understood to be just any generic god. It is specifically the God who is revealed in the Bible. As such, a Christian understanding of sociology must be based on the teachings of the Bible. A Biblical understanding of sociology must begin with the understanding of humanity that is put forth in the Bible.

And just what is that understanding? The Bible teaches that mankind exists in a fallen condition. And since individual human beings are fallen and tend toward sin and rebellion against God, society (the various collections of individuals in local areas) is also understood to be naturally flawed.

At the same time, the Bible puts forth the idea that there is an ideal that society should be striving for. That ideal corresponds with God’s purpose for his created order. In other words, God created man to operate within a social order for the purpose of accomplishing his work through humanity.

Free Will and Society
Christian sociology begins with the assumption that the individual, not the social order, is at the center of God’s purposes for mankind. It affirms that the individual is endowed with an actual free will and that he is responsible for the choices he makes. Human beings are capable of choosing between varying alternatives and those choices shape society.

But human beings don’t live strictly as individuals in the world. We were created to be social creatures and live in relationship. The fact that we are individually accountable to God for our lives does not in any respect take away from the responsibilities we have as we interact in society. Thus, the Christian understanding of sociology starts with an acknowledgment of the effects of the fall in the individual, then develops its understanding of society based on how this spills out into the structure and operation of social groupings. It acknowledges that human beings have an inclination toward evil which, by extension, causes society to tend toward degradation rather than toward good.

But the fact of the existence of sin and man’s tendency to sin is not decisive. Since man has a free will, he also has a corresponding responsibility before God to choose to live rightly. Again, by extension, human beings also have a responsibility collectively to build and guide society in a way which corresponds to God’s will. There is also responsibility for societal degradation when it happens.

Mankind is guilty before God for bad choices. As a result, Christian sociology tries to understand society in light of our free will and the consequences of our choices of rebellion against God. These wrong choices result in alienation from God and bad results in the social order. In other words, in the Christian worldview, society is not seen to be an entity in and of itself to be managed because of its inherent value. Rather, it is a collection of individuals who have value and it takes various forms based on the free will decisions and acts of the individuals which make it up.

The Inherent Worth of the Individual
In spite of the fact that man tends toward evil, Christian sociology has an optimistic point of view because we understand that God is willing to grant us grace. It is possible to overcome our negative human tendencies to the degree that we make choices to follow God and develop society based on the societal principles he has revealed to us.

That grace is not based on the inherent value of society, but on that of the individuals whom God created for the very purpose of fellowship with himself. The Bible pictures individual human beings to be inherently valuable because we were created in the image of God. The value comes because of who we are based on God’s intent in creating us. He created us as beings who are able to contribute positively to society by making right choices. As such, we have within us the ability to move ourselves and our society against the tide of sin and evil and accomplish a higher purpose that he created us for. The fact that we rebel against God is a terrible thing and must be dealt with based on justice in God’s economy. That being said, it does not take away from the inherent worth of the individual based on God’s purpose in creating mankind.

The Individual as a Social Being
Even though a Christian worldview places a higher value on the individual than on society, this does not take away from the value of the social order. It is still vitally important. As human beings, we are created in the image of God which makes us social beings. God’s existence as a Trinity provides him the ability to express this social element within himself. Since humans don’t exist that way, it is necessary for us to express the social part of our personhood in our relationships with other people. This is played out as human beings form themselves into social units. As such, society plays a vital role in the development of individuals as well as in providing an environment which has the potential to promote or inhibit our relationship with God.

Humans were intentionally created by God to be relational beings. It is a part of having been created in his image. However, because of our fallen nature, we continually mess this up individually which affects the development of society. It is important for each person to recognize this social aspect of our personhood and work to operate within society in ways which accomplish the purposes of God. In order to do this, it is required that we understand our nature as individuals who have been created in the image of God but who are fallen. Then, based on that knowledge, to make decisions about how we live life so as to accomplish within society the purposes of God.

Biblically Prescribed Institutions
Society is composed of several elements which are very important to its existence and operation. Among these are institutions such as education, medicine, agriculture, law enforcement, business, and financial entities. For the Christian, all of these are important and the smooth operation of society is influenced by the decisions individuals make regarding these institutions. But there are three which are of particular interest for the Christian as they are particularly prescribed in the Bible. These include the family, church, and state.

The family has been ordained by God and is the most foundational institution in society. It exists based on the union of a man and woman who become married and are committed to one another for life. It is this unit of society which determines the health of a society at its most fundamental level. Lifestyles which are accepted by a society but operate outside of this boundary end up degrading and destroying it.

God has also ordained the church as a foundational institution in society. The church is called on to proclaim the truth about God and share with mankind how he can be known. This is the institution which is primarily focused on understanding the fallen nature of mankind and on giving man guidance regarding how to move toward God rather than away from him.

The third institution specifically ordained by God is the state. The state is specifically tasked with the duty of maintaining order in society. In God’s economy, anarchy is not an option. In order for human beings to be able to function effectively in the world, there must be order in society. It is this order which provides an environment in which God can work through human beings to accomplish the work of his kingdom in the world.

Christian sociology puts a priority on the individual, but also places a high value on social institutions. Individuals are free to make choices, but the choices they make also have an effect on other people. Truly understanding the nature of the individual and the social order gives us the means by which we are able to follow God’s leading to enhance both. An understanding of sociology based on a Biblical worldview gives us the insights we need to develop society into a form which corresponds with God’s purposes and which makes it strong and viable.

© 2010 Freddy Davis