A Dr. Seuss Worldview

Dr. Seuss’s children’s books have been cherished classics for decades, and they have recently gained a fresh spotlight thanks to Hollywood film adaptations of The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and (most recently) The Lorax. They are beloved stories that contain timeless truth…but they are more than that.

As soon as I found out that I was pregnant with our first child I began purchasing every Dr. Seuss book I could find. I was so excited for an excuse to finally get started on my collection. We are currently well on our way to collecting every Dr. Seuss book in print, thanks to used books stores, library sales, and Amazon (when all second-hand options have been exhausted). My son, who is now 16-months-old, loves books, and I am delighted to say that Dr. Seuss is one of his favorites. In fact, I think our family has figured out that I am trying to indoctrinate him early.

I can’t deny it. Anyone  who observes our reading times together will realize very quickly that I love the books more than he does. I love the illustrations, the poetry, and the phrasing. I love the honest and mischievous tone in the writing. I love how my soul feels reading the fanciful stories that deliver such poignant truths. I want to to see the world from a Dr. Seuss perspective–a Dr. Seuss “worldview”–and I want may son to do so as well. In fact, I wish everyone would.

“Dr. Seuss has a worldview?” you might ask with skepticism. Oh yes! No, it may not be the systematic, answers-all-of-life’s-questions, wraps-it-up-in-a-tight-package-with-a-bow conceptualization of “worldview,” which many Christian apologists construct and to which they adhere. But it has a worldview. It is actually a view of the world that rejects a systematic, mystery-absent, apologetic approach to thinking about the world. Suess presents a world that one can and should approach with humility and a sense of wonder. You hope as a parent that you model the approach to life that you want your children to possess with wild abandon. I have often thought during those precious moments reading with my son that he (and I) would both get along just fine if we maintain a spirit of humility and sense of wonder in our search for knowledge and the day-to-day rituals we live-out in our journey of life.

For those who have never considered such an underlying worldview in these popular children’s books–or if you have not ventured much further than The Lorax or The Cat in the Hat–here are a few titles (some with my favorite excerpts) to check out — the crème de la crème in my opinion.

Oh the Places You’ll Go:

“You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump. And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”

 

On Beyond Zebra:

“In the places I go there are things that I see that I never could spell if I stopped with the Z. I’m telling you this ’cause you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”

 

Horton Hears a Who:

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

 

And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street

 

McElligot’s Pool

 

Conceptualizing “Worldview:” Ontology, Epistemology & Linguistics

I’m currently working on a project focused on examining the rhetoric of “worldview” language in certain cultures of the evangelical tradition. In preparation for this project, I have been reviewing various definitions and conceptualizations of “worldview.” One valuable resource I have just read through is James W. Sire’s most recent work on the subject, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. He is also the author of The Universe Next Door (1976 and two later editions), in which he first defined the concept of worldview and examined how one’s worldview may conceptualize the world in a completely different way than another’s.

In Naming the Elephant he is concerned with revising his earlier definition of worldview, and in doing so he reviews the literature for significant definitions of worldview and the philosophical starting points from which scholars have theorized in conceptualizing the “first things” of a worldview. His new definition adds two elements that I track with: (1) that a worldview is a “commitment of the heart” more than merely a set of intellectual presuppositions, (gets at Jamie Smith’s argument in Desiring the Kingdom that we are primarily “desiring beings”) and (2) that the worldview serves as a foundation for the way that we live. (He notes that our lived actions are a truer indicator of our actual worldview than what we state to be our worldview beliefs.)

One particular issue that Sire explores is the philosophical starting point for a worldview — the “first thing.” He argues that ontology (being, specifically God’s existence) must precede epistemology (knowledge) in constructing a worldview. In other words, he says that our ontology (what is ultimately real) is what determines our capacity for knowledge. He says that because God exists we are then able to comprehend things about him, or about anything he has created in the world.

It is on this point — his order of “first things first” — that I am not sure if I agree with him. As a Christian, I of course believe in God’s existence and his creation of all things. However, I am not sure that we (as finite human beings) are able to separate what is real (ontology) from what we know is real (epistemology). As soon as a claim is made that something is real, the question that comes immediately to mind is how do we know what is real? To further complicate things, the question that comes next is how can we separate what we know from how we talk about what we know (linguistics)? Sire of course presents his arguments for why ontology precedes both epistemology and linguistics, and he also reviews the thoughts of philosophers who have raised the same challenges/questions that I just mentioned. He particularly addresses the contribution of postmodern philosophers, some of whom I think raise important issues.

The issue of whether ontology, epistemology and linguistics can be understood apart from each other — at least in our rhetoric — is one that has been particularly interesting to be as of late. It gets at the question of what God intended our humanness and our interpreting nature as human beings to be. (Jamie Smith’s first book, The Fall of Interpretation–see particularly the second edition–is all about this question. For those of you who are also in process on these important “first things” kind of questions (and they are vitally important), I encourage you to share your comments and the resources that you have found useful in your journey.