Feb 27, 2023

I’m continually surprised by the number of people who think they’re expressing a worldview when in fact they’re writing with a bias. When I point this out, I’m inevitably asked, “What’s the difference between the two?”

A WORLDVIEW is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. Every writer and every artist has a worldview, and the personal beliefs you hold to be true about the nature of the universe and reality will inevitably permeate your story. In fact, writing with a worldview is not something that can be avoided--nor should it be. Without a worldview, a story has no meaning. The question is, how can we have a worldview and not be biased? 

BIAS means to be prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

In other words, the work is biased if you ignore or leave out certain types of information that might challenge your worldview. If you are honest about the complexity of a particular issue, or if you don’t suppress or twist the evidence to conform to your point of view, then there’s a good chance you’re simply reflecting a worldview. As Flannery O'Connor says, “The Christian writer does not decide what is good for the world and then proceed to deliver it. Like a very doubtful Jacob, she enters into the struggle and wonders if she will come out at all.”

This leads us to the second key difference between worldview and bias: Worldview explores a theme, whereas bias presents an agenda. By theme, I’m referring to the main idea or underlying meaning of a literary work. It’s the important idea or specific argument that runs through a piece of literature. Theme is of the utmost importance when it comes to stories. The theme is the overarching point that the author is trying to make without explicitly saying it.

But how does a theme differ from agenda? For starters, an agenda is a list, a plan, or an outline of things to be done; matters to be acted or voted upon; a secret aim or reason for doing something. The key concept here is the secret aim to be accomplished because of a previous commitment to some ideal or belief.

Christians often present a false view of reality. However, people outside of the faith community, such as those with far-left leanings, are also guilty of this. Whereas faith-based writers avoid including things that they consider to be “bad,” liberal artists often deliberately avoid including things that might undermine their liberal philosophies or atheistic underpinnings. In the film Castaway, for example, Tom Hanks’s character was stranded on an island for years and yet he never cried out to God. This was an exclusion born strictly from the screenwriter’s atheistic views. But it’s not realistic since anybody stranded on an island, atheist or not, would at some point cry out to God. It would be inhuman not to.

A theme, then, is a specific idea that's being explored openly and honestly -- not with a pre-determined outcome in mind. One is a discussion. The other is a lecture. People talking AT you versus people talking WITH you. To avoid writing an agenda, resist the temptation to decide in advance what the outcome should be. Give it a fair shake. Be honest. As JK Rowlings wrote, “Sometimes I know what I believe because of what I write.” That's someone who didn't enter a story with a bias and try to force the narrative to fit a preconceived idea. She discovered her theme(s) as she wrote the story. And that's the key: we need to discover it.

If you already know the point you’re trying to make before you even start writing, if you ignore any counterarguments or twist any contradictory evidence because you already know exactly what you want to say, there’s a good chance you’re writing with bias and agenda.

Nobody, especially your audience, enjoys that.