Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home

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Overview

How have we come by our worldviews, and what influence did Christianity have on those that are common to Western civilization?

In this accessible and eminently readable survey, Glenn Sunshine traces the development of the worldviews that underpin the Western world. He demonstrates the decisive effect the growth of Christianity had in transforming the outlook of pagan Roman culture into one that, based on biblical concepts of humanity and its ...

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Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home

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Overview

How have we come by our worldviews, and what influence did Christianity have on those that are common to Western civilization?

In this accessible and eminently readable survey, Glenn Sunshine traces the development of the worldviews that underpin the Western world. He demonstrates the decisive effect the growth of Christianity had in transforming the outlook of pagan Roman culture into one that, based on biblical concepts of humanity and its relationship with God, established virtually all the positive aspects of Western civilization.

Unique among books on the topic, Why You Think The Way You Do discusses Western worldviews as a continuous narrative rather than as simply as catalog of ideas and traces the effects changes in worldview had on society. It helps readers understand their own worldviews and those of other people and helps them recognize the consequences that worldviews hold. Professors, students, and lay-historians alike will profit from this book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310292302
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 8/1/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 583,796
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Glenn S. Sunshine (PhD University of Wisconsin, Madison) is professor of history at the Central Connecticut State University and a faculty member of the Centurions Program at Breakpoint, the worldview training ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Previously, he taught at Calvin College and was a visiting professor at the Universit™t der Bundeswehr-Hamburg (now Helmut Schmidt University) in Germany. He is author of The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, and Reforming French Protestantism, and contributor to the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, and the Encyclopedia of Protestantism.
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Read an Excerpt

Why You Think the Way You Do

The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home
By Glenn S. Sunshine

Zondervan

Copyright © 2009 Glenn S. Sunshine
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-29230-2


Chapter One

WHAT IS A WORLDVIEW AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

This book is about why you think the way you do. Chances are, if you are reading this, you either grew up in the Western world or have been heavily influenced by it. And this means you probably look at the world from one of the perspectives that developed within Western culture. In other words, your worldview has been shaped by the Western cultural experience.

What is a worldview? A worldview is the framework you use to interpret the world and your place in it. It is like a set of glasses that you look through to bring what is happening in the world into mental focus. If you like computers, you can think of your worldview as your operating system, the thing that converts your experiences into the "ones and zeros" your mind understands-the thing that defines what inputs (i.e., experiences) mean, which of them you accept as meaningful, and which you exclude or ignore. More simply, your worldview is what you think of as common sense about the world. It is your gut-level, instinctive response to the basic philosophical questions, such as "What isreal?" (metaphysics), "What can I know and how can I know it?" (epistemology), and "Are there such things as right and wrong, and if so, how do I know what they are?" (ethics).

But you do not need to be a philosopher to have a worldview. Philosophers think about these issues in greater depth than most people, but whether or not you've studied philosophy, you still have intuitive answers to the questions and therefore you have a worldview. In fact, everyone has a worldview, because otherwise it would be impossible to learn, to make decisions, to decide on values and priorities-in short, to function at all in the world.

To understand worldviews a bit better, consider the first of these questions: What is real? Is the physical universe real? Does it exist? Chances are, simply asking these questions on some level seems ridiculous to you (unless you were a philosophy major). The answer probably is, "Of course the physical universe is real! What kind of stupid question is that?" But the problem is that your answer, which seems so patently obvious to you, is not so obvious to people who hold a different worldview. So, for example, many Native Americans have historically believed that the physical universe is secondary to the world of dreams; in this culture, dreams are more "real" than the waking world. Or if you are a Hindu, you may argue that the universe is not truly real; it is simply a dream in the mind of God. Not everyone thinks of the same things as common sense, or, to put it differently, not everyone shares the same worldview.

Along with these basic sorts of questions, another aspect of worldview involves understanding what it means to be human. Where did I come from? Are we different from animals? How do I relate to other people? How do I relate to [other] animals and to the physical world? Why am I here? Does life have any purpose or meaning? What happens when I die? These are the big questions of life, and most people do not have conscious answers to these sorts of questions-just like they do not have conscious answers to the more philosophically oriented worldview questions. But whether they are aware of them or not, they do have answers, which they live out every day of their lives. What you think of other people and your relationship to them is evident in how you treat them; the same applies to animals and the physical world. Whether you think life has meaning and purpose is evident in the ways you spend your time, treat yourself, express your attitudes, and live out your priorities. So the answers are there, even if we aren't consciously aware of them. In fact, it is even possible that we may think we have a particular worldview when in fact we do not. For example, if we say we care about the environment, if that is part of what defines our self-image, yet we litter or dump our motor oil down the storm drains, we reveal through our actions what we really think and what our values really are-and thus our worldview. This is how worldviews operate-below the radar, behind the scenes, guiding our thoughts, words, and actions and only rarely being examined or analyzed.

Worldview and Culture

Though our worldviews shape how we live, this is just part of the reason worldviews are important. Most of the people who grow up in a society tend to share a common worldview. In fact, for a society to function effectively or to have any semblance of stability, there must be broad agreement on at least a core set of values drawn from a common conception of what it means to be human and how we are to relate to each other, which in turn presupposes a set of beliefs about the world, truth, and morality. Even cultures that value pluralism operate from a worldview consensus that holds pluralism as a value and that sees certain kinds of differences between people as unimportant to the society. In all cases, pluralism has limits. For example, American culture allows for religious pluralism, yet we did not allow Mormons to continue practicing polygamy, nor do we allow honor killings among Muslims or sati (ritual suicide or killing of widows) among Hindus. So even pluralistic societies depend on a broadly accepted worldview that defines where pluralism is appropriate and where it is not. Without this agreement, a society will self-destruct.

So like people, cultures also have worldviews, and these worldviews shape the society. For example, what people believe is real determines what is taught and what is studied, as do ideas concerning the nature of knowledge; questions of ethics shape laws; concepts of humanness influence everything, from the structure of families to whether or not to hold slaves to principles of law and justice and to who has what rights.

A society's worldview can change over time, resulting in changes in the culture. Worldviews generally evolve slowly due to either their own internal logic or the force of new ideas and pressures. Sometimes new worldviews are introduced that out-compete their predecessors and become a new cultural consensus, though when that happens the result is generally something of a hybrid of the new and the old. Occasionally, worldviews are overturned in periods of social, political, or religious unrest.

What all this means is that to understand a culture or a civilization, you have to understand its worldview, since all of its successes and failures are largely the product of the basic ideas that shape the society. In fact, the society's worldview will inevitably shape the culture around its ideas, which means that the logical implications of these ideas will inevitably be followed by the culture if it survives long enough. And if you want to understand why and how a civilization changes over time, you need to track the evolution of its dominant worldview.

WHAT THIS BOOK IS ... AND IS NOT

In this book I'll be explaining the development of Western civilization from the perspective of the changes in worldview from the Roman Empire to the early years of the twenty-first century. Although this may sound like intellectual history or the history of philosophy, it is not. Since worldviews are typically held unconsciously, formal philosophical or intellectual history does not usually deal with them much, preferring instead to focus on elites who self-consciously set out to develop systems of ideas. My interest here is in the fundamental ideas that shaped the culture and how those ideas were lived out in Western society. As we will see, the intellectual elites who are studied in philosophy sometimes had a very important influence on shaping (or expressing) worldviews, but for my purposes they only enter this story to the degree that they had an influence on the broader culture.

This book is also not a formal history of religion, though since worldviews deal with foundational questions about existence, morality, and purpose, religion naturally enters the discussion. All societies in history prior to the modern West were intrinsically religious, probably because they knew that life was precarious. Death surrounded them on all sides. If they wanted meat, they had to either kill something or pay someone to do it for them. Until around the nineteenth century, more people died in cities than were born in them (and so cities had to rely on immigration to survive), infant mortality was extremely high, and epidemic diseases and famines were not uncommon. In the Roman Empire, the average life span was around thirty years. In this kind of world, is it any wonder that people oriented their lives around supernatural forces to try to find protection from life's dangers or to look for a source of hope when death claimed them?

As a result, religion is essential to understanding worldviews. In Western history, this means particularly Christianity. In fact, in many ways the history of Western worldviews is the history of the rise of Christianity and with it the emergence of a biblical worldview, the de facto rejection of this worldview over one thousand years later by a significant segment of the cultural and intellectual elites, and the results of the movement away from a biblical worldview. Again, my concern here is not with church history per se, but rather with the impact Christianity had on worldviews and thus on culture.

The key dynamic that begins the development of a distinctly Western worldview is the interaction of Greco-Roman civilization with Christianity. To understand this dynamic, I must start with a survey of worldviews within the Roman Empire.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Why You Think the Way You Do by Glenn S. Sunshine Copyright © 2009 by Glenn S. Sunshine. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Charles W. Colson 9

Acknowledgments 11

1 What Is a Worldview and Why Should I Care? 13

2 The Worldview of Ancient Rome 19

3 Christianity and the Transformation of the Pagan World 35

4 The Emergence of the Medieval Worldview 55

5 Medieval Economics and Politics 75

6 The Breakdown of the Medieval Model 95

7 A New Paradigm of Knowledge 115

8 Enlightenment and Revolutions 135

9 Modernity and Its Discontents 163

10 The Decay of Modernity 183

11 Trajectories 203

Notes 217

Name Index 223

Subject Index 227

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An excellent summary of the progression of Worldview in Western civilization

    WYTTWYD is written with Dr. Sunshine's typical wit and in his usual concise style, a uniquely spare phrasing that carries the intent of the statement clearly and without resorting to academic jargon. He has produced a volume that is both refreshing in providing a clear understanding of the development of worldviews that carried Western civilization from Rome to home, and back again, I might add; and simultaneously a volume that is very disturbing in its implications because of the clarity of the arguments presented.

    After an introductory chapter defining worldview and the importance of the concept to an understanding of a culture, he begins with a through examination of the religions of the Roman Empire, and how they formed the worldviews of Rome. The resultant picture is haunting familiar as a precursor to the 21st Century. Subsequent chapters examine the gradual change in worldviews as a result of the Christianization of the Empire, the emergence of the Medieval period, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Modernity and finally the collapse of Modernity into Post-Modernity.

    The final chapter, Trajectories, clearly lays out the steps necessary for Christianity to repeat the transformation of a society in the 21st and following centuries as it did in the 1st three. A valuable guide as a overview of the problems of our society and the needed solutions. However, Dr. Sunshine does not address the one significant difference between the 1st Century church and the 21st Century. The early church was counter-cultural from the very beginning with a powerful drive to proclaim the availability of the Kingdom of God and to live day by day in that Kingdom; the 12st Century church has assimilated with the culture, has lost its first love and seeks to maintain the status quo. Does a faithful remnant exist to once again bring the Gospel to the Roman Empire?

    This volume is an excellent and enjoyable read plus a valuable resource for the student who is seeking a source to help put the progression of Western worldviews in perspective.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 28, 2010

    FINALLY, an understandable explanation of worldviews and why they matter!

    At last someone has given a very concise, clear, and very interesting explanation of worldviews. Without overwhelming the reader with concepts that only a professional scholar can follow, Dr. Sunshine has written a book that is readable and understandable to any reader. For those of us who look around of our society with a shake of our heads, wondering what happened and how we ended up here, this will really help our understanding. And while what we see maybe very discouraging, he also gives us a look at where we are heading and how we might change that.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2012

    Must read!

    Glenn Sunshine has stolen my heart. I love his easy to absorb style and his sense of humor. This is such an important topic and I highly recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    An summary of WV through Western Civilization

    WYTTWYD is written with Dr. Sunshine's typical wit and in his usual concise style, a uniquely spare phrasing that carries the intent of the statement clearly and without resorting to academic jargon. He has produced a volume that is both refreshing in providing a clear understanding of the development of worldviews that carried Western civilization from Rome to home, and back again, I might add; and simultaneously a volume that is very disturbing in its implications because of the clarity of the arguments presented.After an introductory chapter defining worldview and the importance of the concept to an understanding of a culture, he begins with a through examination of the religions of the Roman Empire, and how they formed the worldviews of Rome. The resultant picture is haunting familiar as a precursor to the 21st Century. Subsequent chapters examine the gradual change in worldviews as a result of the Christianization of the Empire, the emergence of the Medieval period, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Modernity and finally the collapse of Modernity into Post-Modernity.The final chapter, Trajectories, clearly lays out the steps necessary for Christianity to repeat the transformation of a society in the 21st and following centuries as it did in the 1st three. A valuable guide as a overview of the problems of our society and the needed solutions. However, Dr. Sunshine does not address the one significant difference between the 1st Century church and the 21st Century. The early church was counter-cultural from the very beginning with a powerful drive to proclaim the availability of the Kingdom of God and to live day by day in that Kingdom; the 12st Century church has assimilated with the culture, has lost its first love and seeks to maintain the status quo. Does a faithful remnant exist to once again bring the Gospel to the Roman Empire?This volume is an excellent and enjoyable read plus a valuable resource for the student who is seeking a source to help put the progression of Western worldviews in perspective.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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