Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike 3/26, Story and Truth

I love the fact that you introduce the idea of story here, and raising it along with the question of what is truth is vital.

A central function of the ego is to take the facts of its existence and weave them into a narrative that provides it with purpose and meaning. A story is “true” in so far as it provides purpose and meaning, and “false” if it does not.

Obviously “true” and “false” in this context are necessarily subjective. Christianity is true for you in that it provides you with a compelling narrative that gives purpose and meaning to your life. Other religions are less true or perhaps even false in that their respective narratives are personally less compelling, purposeful, and meaningful.

In my own case, there is no one compelling religious narrative. There are parts of many religions that I find meaningful and which provide me with purpose, and I sew these together in a patchwork narrative that speaks to me, but not necessarily anyone else. The thread that holds my quilt together is panentheism, the notion that God is both source and substance of all reality.

The value of story is its gift of myth and metaphor. When you note that God speaks creation into being I assume you take this figuratively. God doesn’t “speak” the way you and I do, but there is something about the nature of speech that lent itself as a metaphor to the mystery the author of this passage of Torah was trying to articulate. Our job is not do defend a flat literalism that insists God has vocal cords and speaks Hebrew; our job is to explore the nature of speech to see what meaning we can glean from the metaphor.

For me the giving of the Ten Commandments is a story. The question I ask is not, “Did it happen as the Torah says,” but “What meaning can I find in the story itself.” In this we are in perfect agreement: “lay aside other matters, and listen to the story. Imagination may well be God's surest path to one's deepest self.”


AaronHerschel said...

Just a thought. Let's say, rather than the ego employing narrative to provide it with purpose and meaning, it's narrative which produces the self, and selfhood which produces meaning and purpose.

When God speaks the universe into existence, he puts it in a specifically linguistic order. An order which, by its nature, breaks the universe into parts, creating at once sequential time and the illusion of distinct and fixed identity. Language cannot function without these, since to decode a string of letters into words and sentences requires that A is not equivalent to Z and that "words" are not the same as a "sword."

To take this a step further, any narrative necessitates a narrator, and that narrator's authority (indeed his very ability to tell his tale) is derived from his assumed status as witness. Whether in first, second, or third person narrative structures, there is always an implied eye/I which observes, records, and makes sense of the events of the story. Without this linguistically manufactured self to give it voice, there can be no story at all.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

Aaron raises an intriguing point. If I am understanding you correctly, the narrative creates the narrator even as the narrator imagines she is creating the narrative. What we have is an endless feedback loop of creative possibility. A fine symbol for this might be the Taoist yin/yang circle or Escher's drawing of a hand drawing a hand which is in turn drawing the hand that is drawing it.

This would make for the basis of an interesting theology: God and Creation co-creating one another.

AaronHerschel said...

Yes, that's it exactly: God and Creation co-creating one another.The Escher drawing is an excellent metaphor, or to riff on another of your favorite metaphors: if God is the ocean, self is the tide.