Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Your Life is Not a Story

Useful stuff in this sermon I heard on Sunday.

And here's the Alan Watts video that the speaker used, via YouTube.

The difficult question that follows, I think, is: "If that's true, then why should we think there is a Story?"


Scott Haile said...

Interesting video. I haven't listened to the sermon, so I might write some things that are already addressed there.

I think the video is very compatible with life being a story--which, like a piece of music, is meant to be enjoyed along the way.

It seems to me that the hoax in the video is that professional and material success are the goal of life. If you adjust it and say that living a fulfilling life is the goal of life, then you would end up with each person seeking a balance of things to make them happy--enough professional success to have some satisfaction and make a living to get by, but also enough of the other things in life, so that each person can find life fulfilling as a whole.

Bad theology does the same thing with salvation that society does with success: it claims that the goal is either getting to heaven or solving the world's problems, depending on which skewed brand of Christianity you buy into. But good theology recognizes that our goal is union with God, which begins in this life. That way, "heaven" is merely the consummation of the journey we're on all along. Meanwhile, our work to improve the world is a secondary outgrowth of our primary goal (knowing God), so it can be done with a freedom that doesn't have to despair if/when we figure out that our best efforts do little to really solve the world's problems.

Alex said...

I very much enjoyed the lecture. That's certainly one of the better sermons I've heard in a while, and one which I'll be sure to keep in mind from day to day.

I recently came across this through an economics blog, it's similar in questioning the validity of thinking in narrative:

I read your question, too, Matt, and I think I see your point. To that, I guess I'd add, what's our standard for narrative or story? How much has to be entailed?

Even Randy's example of literature to show the mundaneness and non-narrativeness of life is, in fact, a story. A short one, albeit, but a story nonetheless.

Narrative has many problems, but I think there's a lot of power, elegance and beauty to its forms. It's a waste to throw it away as a means of interacting with life. Yet, making it the overburdening goal of life is also a clear problem.

crystal said...

I've been thinking about life as a story myself lately. We spend so much time reading stories, watching stories (in movies) and sometimes writing stories too, that it really seems like life should make sense, even if a tragedy. I wonder if this desire is what informed guys like Teilhard de Chardin who came up with a kind of progressive evolutionary theory?

Are you still working on that Rahner/liberation theology thing?

Matthew said...

@Alex: the summary looks interesting. I grabbed the PDF but (gasp!) haven't actually read it yet.

>what's our standard for narrative or story? How much has to be entailed?

I think the essential implication is that there is some mind to observe the entirety of the Plot. I don't see how you can really have a story without a consciousness to perceive it.

@Crystal: I'm not sure what you mean about the Rahner thing. I forget things I've said, often. I am still interested in better stories about what's going on in the universe, though.

Paul Maurice Martin said...

Scott suggests union with God as the consummation of the journey we're on, which works for me as a working statement of faith. That said, journey = story = events unfolding in time so I do wonder if the happily-ever-after of heaven can represent the fulfillment of any particular narrative through time, whether that of the life of the human species, or life on earth, or the unfolding of events in this particular Big Bang. Can there be a causal relationship between the contingencies involved in any particular sequence of events-in-time to an end-time, a beyond-time, an ultimate state? Or would heaven represent an existential “leap of being,” so to speak?

Either way I guess I’ll be having raisin bran for breakfast again tomorrow.

Only got to listen to a few bits and pieces of the audio but what I heard sure makes sense to me - the idea that faith is finally something realized most directly and intensely when your own story line breaks down.

Matthew said...

> Can there be a causal relationship between the contingencies involved in any particular sequence of events-in-time to an end-time, a beyond-time, an ultimate state?

Do you mean that the end-time is something that people would have to bring about ... not in some "magic number" sort of way, but that God's breaking into the world to the degree that it constitutes the arrival of "heaven" is heavily dependent on what people do?

Because "people acting" seems to be the way that God acts, I think so.

Paul Maurice Martin said...

I guess I'm thinking of the really big picture, including the idea that this universe may well be one of any number of "big bangs." If It All turns out OK, then to me it seems counterintuitive that this would depend on any exact sequence of events occurring in this one universe that includes contingency and randomness.

If the larger process and biggest picture turns out to ultimately resolve itself well, human history might be something like a detail or small rivulet running into it, contributing in its way to the overall flow or direction. I mean, it can't all depend on us. The Big Asteroid could hit tomorrow.

Unless one believes that everything is preordained, which doesn't strike me as likely, especially given the little bit I know of science, like the uncertainty principle. Also just my general sense of what human life is like...

Vincent said...

That guy delivers a great sermon. It works well to a non-Christian who has no intention to become one.

Matthew said...

That's one of the things I appreciated about it: it told a helpful, interesting, somewhat counter-intuitive story without requiring that the listener have this particular metaphysical worldview or believe this or that doctrine.

I think it has a lot in common with Paul Martin's stuff.

Vincent said...

Right, that's where I encountered you, commenting on his blog.