Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

The Religious Narrative

Collapse
X
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Religious Narrative

    Something I thought to myself the other day is that I am not "moved" (I'm not sure convinced is the correct word here") by the narrative of religion. The basic Christian narrative is that the world is fallen. We are so weak that there is no possibility of recovering for ourselves. The world will inevitably continue to get worse until God himself saves us, which he did through Jesus. The only chance to escape from our fallen-ness is to accept Jesus and wait for Christ to restore/destroy the world and usher in paradise/eternal life/a non-fallen world.

    How would one be convinced of this story? How would one argue against it? I, for example, take Aristotle's narrative to be more plausible: Every being is an instance of a type. One's job or goal as a living being is to become the best exemplar of that type insofar as it is possible. Happiness consists in doing this, and we have most of the tools we need to achieve happiness insofar as we have the typical capacities and dispositions of our kind. How would one compare these narratives?

    One of the problems I sometimes have with theology is that this narrative is ignored in favor of arguments. But the Bible isn't a list of facts. And it certainly isn't a list of arguments pointing to a changeless, metaphysically simple Being. It's something like a love story. But what if I don't buy into that story? Surely, the story is an essential part of religion, and not just a story covering up a metaphysic, as some people hold Biblical stories. And surely, the story we tell ourselves isn't just subjective story-telling (in the pejorative sense) as an existentialist or a reductive materialist might hold. How do we philosophically deal with conflicting stories (maybe they're not conflicting?) that different religions or philosophies offer us?

  • #2
    Well, the Christian "narrative" as you put it isn't necessarily contrary to Aristotle's view that humans must seek to be the best kinds of humans they can be. Just, as I believe Aquinas observed, this natural goal for human beings does not exhaust the real ends of persons. Humans are born for eternity, yearning for perfect happiness and absolute goodness. We have a thirst for the infinite, desires for perfect love, goodness, justice, happiness. This makes a lot of sense to me; Aristotle's account of happiness just isn't sufficient for human beings in my view. Persons were made for more.

    In addition to that, I also agree with Chesterton's sentiment that most men realize that "man needs washing". It is strange to me that someone wouldn't recognize that 'something is wrong' with the world and we need - even crave - for some sort of redemption. That, combined with man's ultimate value and apparent destiny for eternity, makes Christianity seem like a very plausible account of God's relationship with mankind to me, even independently of miracles and such.*

    If someone *really* doesn't see how the Christian narrative would make any sense of reality and God, then I suppose they could only look for the evidence of miracles and special religious experiences. But I'd find it a little strange; I'd first recommend that person to read some Christian existentialists, perhaps.



    *I should add that here I only briefly mentioned the ideas of sin, redemption, and man's ultimate destiny, but I take the Christian story to have even more spiritual richness - the Incarnation and the Trinity seem to me to be some of the most sublime accounts of God and His actions that one can get. Couple them with the problem of evil and suffering and we have a very moving and plausible view of God, I think.
    Last edited by Atno; 03-03-2019, 11:00 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Perhaps I stated my case too strongly. It's not that I don't understand it, in fact I'm often sympathetic to it. But perhaps my sympathy to it is from exposure. At least apparently there are conflicting narratives out there. Maybe on closer inspection, they aren't. Or maybe these narratives are reducible to sets of smaller, more factual questions that could be approached with a typical philosophical approach. But is it this way? If questions of narrative don't reduce to questions about metaphysics or physics, then how do we discuss or compare them? Is there an irreducibly emotional element?

      Comment


      • #4
        Given a teleological worldview, is it necessary to have a religious/eschatological narrative in order to garner a sense of obligation to pursue the ends of one's nature and perfect oneself? I've often wondered that something like natural law couldn't even work as an ethical system if there is no transcendent obligation to pursue and not act contrary to one's teloi. I think the Christian narrative, vis-a-vis its emphasis on a fallen world and a need for redemption, a need for the perfection, may serve the practical purpose of bridging the ought-is gap with regards to our various ends.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Brian View Post
          How would one be convinced of this story? How would one argue against it? I, for example, take Aristotle's narrative to be more plausible: Every being is an instance of a type. One's job or goal as a living being is to become the best exemplar of that type insofar as it is possible. Happiness consists in doing this, and we have most of the tools we need to achieve happiness insofar as we have the typical capacities and dispositions of our kind. How would one compare these narratives?
          I did become convinced by the Christian narrative fairly recently--largely for political and moral reasons (and I suppose the Radical Orthodoxy crowd played a bit of a role), so it's certainly possible to shift from not seeing the world as fallen to seeing it in such a light.

          It seems to me that the only place where the Christian and Aristotelian narratives are absolutely at odds here is over the question of whether we truly do have the tools necessary to become exemplars of the human type and are morally free to use them. The first step to comparing the narratives would of course be to examine what precisely it means to be the best exemplar of the human type, and then we can ask whether there might be something in our nature that serves as a hurdle here.

          (I think there is. We are herd animals, for better or for worse. Maybe it's my Nietzsche-Sartrean background speaking, but I think social dynamics and the ways in which we either seek to impose our will on the group or unconsciously submit to the will of the group really do result in constant moral self-sabotage. I think there are any number of social phenomena that can serve as empirical evidence to this.)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by RomanJoe View Post
            Given a teleological worldview, is it necessary to have a religious/eschatological narrative in order to garner a sense of obligation to pursue the ends of one's nature and perfect oneself? I've often wondered that something like natural law couldn't even work as an ethical system if there is no transcendent obligation to pursue and not act contrary to one's teloi. I think the Christian narrative, vis-a-vis its emphasis on a fallen world and a need for redemption, a need for the perfection, may serve the practical purpose of bridging the ought-is gap with regards to our various ends.
            I'm not sure about this. I think natural law onky needs something like natures or essences to work, which don't have to be transcendent. An acorn growing into an Oak tree doesn't need any spiritual account at all, I don't think. As long as change and development are parts of the natural world a natural law/virtue ethics that includes teleology seems like the right sort of account.

            Originally posted by Hypatia
            ​I did become convinced by the Christian narrative fairly recently--largely for political and moral reasons (and I suppose the Radical Orthodoxy crowd played a bit of a role), so it's certainly possible to shift from not seeing the world as fallen to seeing it in such a light.

            It seems to me that the only place where the Christian and Aristotelian narratives are absolutely at odds here is over the question of whether we truly do have the tools necessary to become exemplars of the human type and are morally free to use them. The first step to comparing the narratives would of course be to examine what precisely it means to be the best exemplar of the human type, and then we can ask whether there might be something in our nature that serves as a hurdle here.

            (I think there is. We are herd animals, for better or for worse. Maybe it's my Nietzsche-Sartrean background speaking, but I think social dynamics and the ways in which we either seek to impose our will on the group or unconsciously submit to the will of the group really do result in constant moral self-sabotage. I think there are any number of social phenomena that can serve as empirical evidence to this. )​​​​​​
            I know that a change of worldview can happen, I'm curious whether a change of worldview is nothing other than coming to different answers about particukar metaphysical and ethicalquestions or whether the narrative itself is something that "convinces" us. Using Aristotle was a bad example so I'll use another. A traditional Theravada Buddhist would agree that "man needs washing" although he wouldn't mean exactly what the Christian means. He also wouldn't think that any god or outside power was required. The Buddhist nareative is that we forgot how to wash ourselves.

            Is the difference between the Christian and Buddhist narrative merely a concealed difference between various metaphysical, anthropological, and ethical questions or is the narrative itself, with it's emotional and end-driven qualities something that moves us or convinces us or plays a part in our conversion?

            Comment


            • #7
              Brian, an acorn tends towards its telos of flourishing as an oak, but it doesn't have a moral obligation to fulfill that telos. Why should we think human beings have a moral obligation to flourish as the kind of beings they are? I think religious narratives attempt to explain why we have moral obligations towards fulfilling our various ends and not acting contrary to them. I'm not sure the bare fact of just having a telos or essence is enough to prompt us to fulfill them. I don't see how having essence X means we ought to fulfill essence X. There seems to be an ought/is gap.

              Maybe a rough analogy would make this clearer. A book has a final chapter, a conclusion to the plot, but merely having an end doesn't obligate us to read to it. However, if it is assigned reading for some academic course, one might say we now have an educational obligation under the authority of the professor--and broadly the education system--to read it through. Likewise, human beings have certain ends but merely having those ends may not explain why we are morally obligated to pursue those ends. However, within a religious cosmic narrative, those ends are placed within a narrative of divine authority, and they ultimately draw us closer God, salvation, etc.

              My thoughts on this are unformulated, but essentially I think there may be an ought/is gap on a secular understanding of natural law that needs bridging.
              ​​​


              ​​​


              ​​​​

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Brian View Post
                I know that a change of worldview can happen, I'm curious whether a change of worldview is nothing other than coming to different answers about particukar metaphysical and ethicalquestions or whether the narrative itself is something that "convinces" us. Using Aristotle was a bad example so I'll use another. A traditional Theravada Buddhist would agree that "man needs washing" although he wouldn't mean exactly what the Christian means. He also wouldn't think that any god or outside power was required. The Buddhist nareative is that we forgot how to wash ourselves.

                Is the difference between the Christian and Buddhist narrative merely a concealed difference between various metaphysical, anthropological, and ethical questions or is the narrative itself, with it's emotional and end-driven qualities something that moves us or convinces us or plays a part in our conversion?

                I would say that it's considerably more common to convert for emotional reasons than for intellectual ones--to the extent that people here are different, it's obviously a very unique population.

                For me, it's definitely primarily about the narrative. Christian literature did me in, and that narrative itself has been knocking my metaphysics and ethics around ever since (though partly because I consider viewpoints I once wouldn't have). I lean somewhat more Platonic than Aristotelian, which may play a role in being more narrative driven, but I really don't see what else would draw someone to Christianity in particular. Its claims just strike me as far too radical a step to take on metaphysics and ethics alone.

                I don't think that all religious are equally narrative in nature, though. Buddhism does tend to be halfway between being a philosophy and a religion, so like the various Greek schools, is more easily reduced to a metaphysics. I don't know how you could do that with any of the Abrahamic faiths, though.

                Comment

                Working...
                X