Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Power of a True Story

This morning, I find myself much taken by a tweet from John the Lutheran (who blogs at Curlew River).

The real reason people are atheists is not that they're "persuaded by the evidence", but that they find atheism's narrative more compelling.

I wouldn't presume to understand all atheists' (or all people's) reasons for believing or not. But I do appreciate John's main thrust, that for most people it's the power of the story they're taken by - not necessarily a logical presentation of evidence.

It's a matter of the stories we tell. And stories aren't exclusive of one another. The Creationists fall into the trap when they're somehow persuaded that either the story of a 6-day Creation is true, or the story of Evolution is. And the problem they've got is that the Evolution story is so compellingly told, by a bloke with an academic manner and good hair. Whereas stories of talking snakes presented by hayseed fundamentalists just ain't... well, let's put it this way. I'd be more inclined to join the Amish on the basis of the film "The Witness" than I would join a Fundamentalist Baptist church on the basis of their presentation of the Creation.

But I digress. Stories aren't exclusive of one another. Just because Michelle is having a baby in Eastenders, doesn't mean that Curly can't run the supermarket on Coronation Street. (I've not watched soaps in a while  - can someone let me know how the Ogdens are getting on?) But it's the power of the story that deems who follows it - not some rigorous proof.

Take another story. The narrative "God loved you so much that he tortured his Son to death for you" has its place. I suspect that place may be the 16th Century. But narratives about forlorn and apparently failed rescue attempts - that turn out to be glorious successes - they're rather popular. "Lord of the Rings",  Braveheart", all the "Toy Story" series - that story of moral / actual victories when all seems rather lost and pointless. Obviously, being English I don't actually watch Mel Gibson films, as they always seem to be blaming my race. I suspect that, if you translated the "Passion of the Christ" correctly, Pontius Pilate would turn out to be the British Consul.

So there you have it. Let's stop playing around constructing narratives from the Epistle to the Romans - or let's not construct them from 500 years of accretion on top of it - there's a great story in there, and it's there to check our stories against. Let's tell our stories out of the Gospels - tell about a God who loves the daft, rotten, beautiful people he created so much that he comes to look for them. Let's tell stories about the change that the God who came to do that for all of us, made when coming to look specifically for you and me. And let's put those alongside the story of Evolution on our Bookshelf of Truth. Because it's true and it's beautiful and it tells us something - though something frankly terrifying - about us too.


  1. As a card carrying atheist my experience is exactly that, i.e. I've taken a look at the various "stories" out there and frankly found them lacking in compulsion as well as evidence; we all take what we want from stories I guess. But, I would never label science as just "another story" it's a very shallow comparison IMO (imagine a Venn diagram, actually scratch that thought..). The other frequent mistake religious people make in my experience is to equate atheism and science as if science somehow replaces religion in the life of the atheist, this isn't true either, I'd still be an atheist even if I was a media studies graduate, although clearly then I'd have better fashion sense and more success with the opposite sex... ;)

    1. Media studies, computer science - you can take your choice of arts subjects, as far as I'm concerned.

      Science *is* "another story". But stories aren't "just". The story of the Battle of Britain is a story. But it's not "just" a story. Humans live for narrative - that's why most of us read Wodehouse, Martin Amis, Hardy or watch films for the truths that fill our lives - but only Burton Dasset would read a railway timetable for fun.

  2. Sometimes I post something or preach something which I think says something (if you know what I mean), and I am sometimes surprised that it gets little or no reaction. I think it's often that people are taken by surprise and want to think about it. This post of yours, Archdruid, is like that. I don't know what to say, but I feel I should say that at the very least it has made me think and will go on doing so for a while. I think you've posted something rather profound and I have no wish to trivialize it by opining on it. I just want to think about it. I bet others think so too.

    1. Thank you Pastor. I should say that it was John the Lutheran who was posting profound things. And his tweet stream was more coherent than the piece above. I do have a bit more to say on the subject, now that I've dealt with that rather unfortunate incident that arose this morning with Burton, the glue and the adding machine. (Suffice it to say he'll not try and do the accounts while building scale models of Hawker Hurricanes again).


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