Over the years, our worldview has been shaped by many different things: media, politics, surroundings, the entertainment industry, and art. Through worldview, people experience and understand reality. Recently, Dr. Joseph Harder, an Associate Professor in the Theology Department at LCC International University discussed the different worldviews from a theological perspective and how they are portrayed in the movies, focusing on the Lord of the Rings movie. Movies play a significant role in many people’s lives today and can be an expression of their creators’ worldview, also encouraging us to deeper reflection.
Looking to the world from a theological perspective, it can be divided into two basic types of worldviews: any form of theism and materialism. Theism is the belief that there is some kind of god (monotheism) or gods (polytheism). Materialism is a conviction of matter being the only existing belief, nothing else outside that realm that we can access with our five senses. For example, a theist might believe that death is a doorway to another world, a different type of existence. Meanwhile, a materialist would consider death as the end of existence. People with these two worldviews will have a different understanding of morality, moral code, and ethics. A theist can view a moral code as God-given and the same for all people. However, for a materialist, the moral code will be a choice or something different cultures and individuals can invent or change.
A worldview can also be looked at metaphorically. Ted Turnau, an author of the book Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective, used a tree metaphor in his book. He suggests that our worldviews can be compared to three parts of the tree: the roots, the trunk, and the branches with the leaves. The root section accounts for presuppositions that are basic beliefs about reality, rising questions: does God exist, can we access reality through our five senses and trust them, what is the truth, and is it the same for the others? Presuppositions like the roots of the tree then shape the trunk, which metaphorically stands for the world story. The world story is something that we tell ourselves to make sense out of the world around us. Questions like where did we come from, what is our purpose, where is our future like? Essentially, once we start answering these questions, we become more aware of the worldview that is created around us and how we want to see it. Finally, after presuppositions that give the rise to our world story, the rest of the metaphorical tree, the branches and the leaves are our life philosophy. How we live, what is our ethical stance, how we treat others, values, and goals. These big questions lead humans to understand how we see reality through the lens of presuppositions, basic beliefs, and how we answer those questions. It is important to remember that human beings are complicated and often contradictory, thus there is a lack of consistency of how these three key aspects affect our behavior.
Pop culture plays a big part in shaping people’s worldviews. Cultural works that are easily accessible and widely spread can be very impactful to the audiences. Books, music, video games, or movies are common and prominent sources. After a good movie or a disturbing one, it can live in your head for a while. “Instead of addressing our belief systems head-on, cultural works structure our daily practices and colonize our imaginations,” said Kevin J. Vanhoozer, an American theologian and author of the book Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. One of the most important things to remember is to not be passive consumers of pop culture. It is easier to be a thoughtless consumer than to analyze the messages behind the cultural works and understanding its reasons and meanings. Another point is that works of culture are the expressions of a worldview because they are the products of humans. Once again, this leads to a thoughtful investigation of the pop culture worldviews by posing important questions. It is quite essential to investigate what is behind the story, where you stand in that context, what is under the surface, and how you fit in this world. “When we start asking and attempting to answer these questions, we are starting to dig below the surface. We are starting to get into the roots of the worldview tree, into the presuppositions,” commented Dr. Harder.
The Peter Jackson movie, Lord of the Rings, which was based on the books written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1954-55 is a great example of the cultural work that shapes people's worldviews in one way or another. Reflecting on the questions raised before, we can define what worldview the Lord of the Rings movie is creating for its audience. The movie creates a fantasy world, with parallels to the European medieval period, that humans are not aware of today. The scale of the story is immense, with a successful depiction of small, cozy hobbit dwellings and huge sweeping battle scenes with tens of thousands of warriors, giving a sense of deep history. The movie is not portrayed as a “moral relativism,” meaning that truth and right and wrong are relative, it is not the same for others as it is for you. As we dive deeper into the analysis, it is important to mention that Lord of the Rings does not have a dualistic worldview, because the evil power is a derivation or corruption of the good. A dualistic world usually has two equal powers, good and evil, and they are locked in the battle for eternity. The life that we are given the ability to access in the movie, can be reached through the senses of the characters. According to Dr. Harder, “In some very clear ways, the worldview of Lord of the Rings connects with the Christian worldview, because J. R. R. Tolkien was a committed Christian himself.” In this case, the movie is portrayed from the Christian worldview and is a narrative or a story with four acts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, making it an important creation with a reference to Christianity.
In the end, our worldviews are mostly impacted by the surroundings and environments we presently exist in. To live a fulfilled life, people need purpose, and it is different for each and everyone one of us. We explore the sense of reality through cultural works like art, books, music, movies, and we decide ourselves what fits best into our worlds. Considering the theological aspect that is portrayed in the movie Lord of the Rings, Dr. Joseph Harder suggests analyzing what is presented as purpose. Characters in the movie come to understand there is a vast universe beyond the few years they have spent in Middle Earth. With this parallel to the real world, we can recognize how it responds to some of the longings we have as human beings.