Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sans Paroles

I encountered the phrase "guiding narrative," and I instantly recognized what I had jettisoned -- Christianity as the story through which to understand and lead my life. Christianity as the story that best reflects the life and times of the Cosmos and all that is therein.

As tired as I feel, sometimes, of stories, I recognize that we need them -- to hear them and to tell them. They are a kind of glue that binds us, a kind of food that feeds our empathy. There is a certain encouragement in hearing Ecclesiastes the preacher state "there is nothing new under the sun," or, as I might paraphrase it for my current purpose, "I have heard all the stories."

There is a strident, self-righteous atheist among my small cadre of randomly acquired Facebook "friends" -- a brilliant and accomplished musician -- who is given to posting what he must deem to be witty and incisive bits from the militant atheist blogosphere, bits that tend to extol the sophisticated genius of atheists at the same time as they depict all Christians as ignorant, bigoted, knuckle-dragging intellectual barbarians.

One of these consisted of a list of statements that paralleled Biblical text -- you were thirsty and I gave you water, you were hungry and I gave you food, etc. -- and the capping verse, as it were, was "I did this because it was right not because I wanted a reward or feared punishment."

I sighed at the predictable, shallow and tedious critique. I suppose there are Christians who act out of a worldview that operates on heavenly reward and hellish punishment. But there are also Christians who do good "because it is right" -- right comprising actions that increase the well-being of earth and its creatures -- and for whom "God" is a post-hoc metaphor that describes this moral landscape, and for whom Jesus is a symbol, incarnation, of a human being who exemplifies these moral qualities. A model for behavior, as it were.

And, needless to say, there are secular "rewards" for "doing right" that involve narcissistic puffing up of the self and the ego -- a variant, I suppose, of spiritual materialism.

One can certainly chuck the stories and the guiding narrative and keep the right action. Then all the complexities about Jesus as "God" and somehow cosmic and somehow involved in a moral transaction involving our sins simply fall away. It is an enormous relief, a liberation, a joy. It is an enormous relief not to feel sinful for my unsociability, not to be told that wanting more time by myself is "choosing death."

Let us posit, then, the "trailing narrative."

The narrative that follow one down the path like a trail of Hansel-and-Gretel breadcrumbs --

-- perfect food for hungry birds and wind.

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