Listening to Other Stories
I've written several posts about "story" since the start of the new year. As I've mentioned in those posts, N.T. Wright's book The New Testament and the People of God has served as my inspiration. The third chapter of the book is entitled "Literature, Story and the Articulation of Worldviews." Anyone who is invested in discussions surrounding these topics really should take the time to read this chapter. I for one know I will likely turn to it again and again as a reference.
Among other things, Wright explains how it is the telling of stories that "invest[s] 'events' with 'meaning'." While events take place objectively, apart from perspective or bias, no event is ever perceived by a neutral bystander. Everyone has a perspective and everyone carries presuppositions about the way the world works whenever they perceive an event. It is the retelling of an event, the telling of a story, that invests that event with meaning. Here's what Wright says:
Stories, both in their shape and in their manner of telling, are the crucial agents that invest 'events' with 'meaning'. The way the bare physical facts are described, the point at which tension or climax occurs, the selection and arrangement—all these indicate the meaning which the event is believed to posses. (pg. 79)
The implications of such a perspective are myriad. This means that "bare facts" are no longer enough. No one ever presents just "bare facts." A scientist may perceive some "bare facts" in an experiment, but as soon as he begins to record the data he is telling a story. He is no longer "unbiased." He perceived the data from a certain perspective and fit the data in to the preexisting stories he already believe about the world. He invests the data with meaning in the way that he arranges it and describes it.
I've already stated elsewhere that humans perceive the world through the lens of story. We naturally fit all the events we come across on a daily basis into the story-forms that are already known to us (pg. 40). If we see a policeman chasing after a man with a purse in his hands we will likely fit this event into a certain story-form (We'll likely assume the man with the purse robed a woman). In setting up this story-driven anthropology Wright also challenges the reader. Because humans will naturally attempt to fit events into the story-forms they've already embraced we will often simplify events to fit our stories.
The modern secular mind caries a naturalistic story-form which assumes the "supernatural" is impossible. Therefore, when they are confronted by the story of Jesus' resurrection they will conform the story to fit their preexisting story-form(s). They will come up with some other explanation for the events rather than embrace the challenge of the subverting story. This is exactly where Wright brings the challenge, not only to the secular but also the religious. Instead of simply distilling every event in such a way to fit the story-forms we already embrace, Wright says that it's appropriate to "listen to other stories." We should not be afraid to examine other lenses through which to see the world. Here's Wright:
It is appropriate for humans in general to listen to stories other than those by which they habitually order their lives, and to ask themselves whether those other stories ought not to be allowed to subvert their usual ones, that is, to ask whether there really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in their little philosophies. (pg. 97)
Wright is not simply calling for post-modern relativism here. Rather, he is confronting the modern plague of narrow dualism that's taken over nearly every realm of modern life. From politics to science to religion it seems that the modern man has very few lenses through which to view. Dualism reigns supreme and the disillusioned consumer has but two options for their checkbooks while the puppeteers of allowable thought bathe in their coffers of cash.
This sad reality is due, in large part, to the modern man's abandonment of story. The world is no longer majestic and mysterious. Rather, everything can be known scientifically. All things can be boiled down to Left or Right. Perhaps what we really need is a return to story; a return to Narnia/Middle Earth/Hogwarts. We need to have our stories subverted by the Gospel so that we can see that there is more to God's world than what we see through the microscopes of our man-made philosophies.
Food for thought.