Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Once and Future Scriptures - We don't need another story (pt 7)

This post is my last look at The Once and Future Scriptures edited by Gregory C Jenks (Finally!). Here are my thoughts on the into and first chapter, the second chapter, the third chapter, fourth chapterfifth chapter and sixth chapter. This post will be dealing with the last chapter.

Peter Catt - Chapter 7 Scripture, Science and the Big Story
In this chapter Catt looks at the importance of stories in people's lives, broken up into little byte size sub-sections.

The Role of Story
Catt points out the many way we tell stories, from the news, to books and TV (p 113). We need stories as it gives us meaning and allows us to see things in connected and not arbitrary ways, and they help us ask the big existential questions of life (p 114).

Metanarrative is defined as "a particular type of story, one that makes sense of life and conveys meaning at a 'global level'" (p 114). It "a story about a story" (p 114). The negative point about metanarratives are that they 'totalize' everything and stops people from look at the world in different ways (p 114). Catt is right to point out that "we cannot help but frame our life within a story context" even for those who criticize metanarratives (p 114-115). Metanarratives are useful to help provide people 'the' answers to existential questions (p 115).

The Christendom Metanarrative
Catt gives an overview of the Christendom metanarrative that has predominantly ruled the West's history. It assumed a bunch of things, including that there was a God (p 115). This metanarrative allowed everyone else to see how their own story fitted into this. Since the Enlightenment metanarrative (which is rightly pointed out was birthed from within the Christendom metanarrative) reason and not God is promoted as being supreme (p 116).

The Dangers of a Common Story
Catt goes over some examples of the oppressive ideas that were inherent in the Christendom metanarrative from the idea of people being ordered over others (p 117). One idea to stop this oppression is that everyone should have their own little stories and create their own meaning. This has massive downsides in that it creates relativism, and no universal values (p 117-118). It also means our place in storytelling is lost as there is no grand backdrop for it, and so no grand context for our relationships to everything else (p 118).

The Loss of a Common Story
Drawing from a conversation with an Aboriginal elder, Catt describes how the Aboriginals used their Dreamtime to give their people a sense of the world and that currently they have no story or backdrop for their community as that has sadly been lost (p 118). There is a danger that the West is going to go the same way. At the moment there is a clash "between the Christendom story and its child, the Enlightenment metanarative" (p 119). 

The Enlightenment is focused on facts so only factual stories become the only valid form of narrative (p 119). Faith stories are not given an equal position. As a response some Christians have tried different methods. Catt saw a defence of the "myths of the Bible" as history against the Enlightenment as an act of defending "facts" (in inverted commas) against evidence (p 120). This is an issue as it seems Catt had already assumed the high ground of the Enlightenment and the low ground for the accuracy of the Bible. But Catt doesn't see this lack of historical grounding to the Bible as an issue as the short coming to the Enlightenment is not that it has evidence on it's side (as Catt assumes) but because it "did not appreciate the role of story in human life" so now we are "scrambling for meaning at the 'meta' level" (p 120). While I agree with this result, I would also say that another short coming of the Enlightenment is that is assumed that human reasoning is capable of knowing all things, not realising that human reasoning is not the highest form of epistemology. Being told something by a truthful and reliable source (revelation) is probably a better way for us to know what is evidence and what is just "facts" (in inverted commas).

Moving Towards a New 'Meta' Story
Catt points out the limitations of everyone making up their own stories - in order for them to make sense with each other, they need to be part of a larger story (p 121). So what is needed is a "more sophisticated metanarrative that entertains the deepest of human yearnings and honours our complexity, as emotional and spiritual beings as well as rational creatures" (p 121).

Narrative Theology
Narrative Theology is defines as approaching the Bible as "a collection of narratives rather than a set of coherent theological propositions" (p 122). I would also add that the narratives are linked together in a coherent way, but this would undermine Catt's next point in that in the Bible there is "not one single and coherent theology within the Bible, but rather a set of theologies" (p 122). This statement is just too open. Is  pantheism another set of theologies found in the Bible? Monotheism? Are both pre-Trib and post-Trib theologies found in the Bible? Are the Christian ideas as well as Gnostic (Skeptic, Pagan etc..) theologies found in the Bible?

I don't think Catt means it to be taken this far, but to not say these narratives are also connected under one main story line (which was where I thought this chapter was going to go) then we are back to the issue of the Enlightenment with a bunch of unconnected stories that are not under the main one. Instead the approach seems to be that when we read individual narratives (note not connected narratives) it touches someone and then they are formed and shared by that meta-story (p 122). This meta-story may imply the reader is reading a single connected story, but Catt reminds us that all stories are written within a context. Genesis 1 & 2 are for when people understood the universe to be part of some three-tiered structure (p 122). Now we know better, but like those back in Genesis, the quest for meaning remains, and people need to be told that they matter to God (p 123). What is needed is to express "our deep longings and to honor the grand 'meta' themes in a context that takes seriously the world as we now know it to be" (p 123). This seems to suggest that what we know the world to be (since passing through the Enlightenment) is really the 'meta' governor to how we approach the Bible. The context seems to limit the "grand 'meta' themes".

Testing Stories
Catt assumes new metanarratives will develop, which again is the issue he had with the Enlightenment. Maybe these new metanarratives will be on a group level, but that still will means groups are not connected to each other and we will just get more polarised (see America). Now that we know we need stories, we have the freedom to own or reject stories (p 124).

The Context for a Twenty-First-Century Western Metanarrative
Drawing from science, Catt shows that our worldview over the last few hundred years has changed. We go around the Sun and the universe got very massive. Because of our lack of knowledge Catt states "We live in an evolving universe." (p 125). Maybe. Or the universe has been the same and we are just learning about it. Also quantum physics shows that we are the product of our relationships (p 125) and shows that the Enlightenment "metanarrative built entirely on reason and 'facts' (now they get the inverted commas) does not capture who we see ourselves to be" (p 125-126). Although, who says our understanding of Quantum physics is a deviation from the Enlightenment? It could be seen as a continuation of the quest for facts.

One Possible New Story
Catt puts forward that we should draw from both Science and the Bible. Citing Telihard, we should "embrace an evolutionary metanarrative with eschatological import" (p 126). (Reminds me a little of what John Dickson said on QandA: "I get science plus Jesus"). Catt leaves with the idea of the future and how humans are co-creators of it (p 127). Religion does not cut against science but honors it and layers it with hope (p 127). I do think there are limitations to science and it does not deal with humans as a whole, but merely looks at the facts and the evidence while ignoring the intangible. There is room for both, but my concern is how much ground is given to science over and above the Bible. I'm not arguing for a six day created universe, but I am arguing for our ethics to come from the Bible and not from Science, just because things are technically possible.

On the fall of Christendom, I had hope Catt would have given a better way we should advance in this world than to give science an ear. I'm for that, but I also think the modern church can learn from the Donatists, Waldensians, Lollards and Anabaptists (to name just four groups from history) who rebelled against the Christendom Empire. They had the crazy idea that just because you were born in a "Christen" country that doesn't make you a Christen. They emphasised the priesthood of all believers, holiness, non-violence, helping the poor and questioned the Empires activities all in the face of violent opposition. Today the church is not given a prominent place in society, but it is still a voice in society - if it chooses to speak. And we also don't have violent persecution. The church today is to be like a foreign colony and everyone a citizen of heaven or better yet the church is a foreign embassy and everyone an ambassador of Christ. I think it is our mission to proclaim the Bible's one connected metanarrative into this world. This message will look different to the Christendom (and Enlightenment) metanarraive and will be based on the Bible. This is not a new idea, but it is a needed one.


Post a Comment