I plan to respond, at some point, more comprehensively to Bernard’s recent post found here. But specifically, for now, here is something that, I hope, speaks to Bernard’s reference to story-telling and its importance to him. I too share this love of story-telling. Bernard writes:
“Agnosticism also elevates story in a way that I find deeply satisfying. If I can not know, then I must understand my world not through knowledge, but through speculation. Agnosticism frees me to embrace the essential romanticism of the story teller, loving the story exactly because of its pragmatic appeal, of the way it resonates, sings even, makes my life richer. It is to embrace that aspect of the self that is the inventor, loving the product no less because it is an invention. Indeed, perhaps loving it more, for how glorious is our capacity to invent?”
Just as an aside, Bernard leaves out another possible source of knowledge besides speculation. Unless ruled out a-priori, there is also the possibility of revelation. Indeed, such is at the heart of the entire Christian narrative. The incarnation is the reflection that God came to us and was revealed in Jesus. The experience is that of responding to something outside ourselves. Yes, perhaps we are responding to nothing more than our internal psychology, but that just begs the question of God’s existence in the first place. Besides, it is always possible the atheist and agnostic are also just responding to an internal psychology—and such an argument of “you too” goes nowhere. It remains that knowledge or speculation are not the only two options. I think a more complex understanding would show that all three are involved (knowledge, speculation, revelation) and they work hand-in-hand. Unless, of course, one rules one of them out, a-priori.
From the essay:
“For Lewis, a myth is a story which evokes awe, enchantment and inspiration, and which conveys or embodies an imaginative expression of the deepest meanings of life – meanings that prove totally elusive in the face of any attempt to express them in purely abstract or conceptual forms. For Lewis, God authorizes the use of myth as a means of captivating the human imagination and engaging the human reason.”
“Lewis thus declares that human beings construct myths because they are meant to. They have been created by God with an innate capacity to create myths as echoes of a greater story or ‘story of a larger kind.’ Early Christian writers spoke of the logos spermatikos, a ‘seed-bearing word’ implanted within creation by God, preparing the ground for the definitive revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Tolkien and Lewis both – though in slightly different ways – work with the notion of mythos spermatikos, a ‘narrative template’ embedded within the human soul as part of the created order. Once more, these prepare the ground for the definitive revelation of God in the story of Jesus Christ. This approach is not about Jungian archetypes (although they may perform a similar function); it is rather a fundamentally Christian insight about the deeper structure of reality, and the best ways of representing and experiencing it by those who bear the ‘image of God.’”
“The ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ are an imaginative re-telling of the Christian ‘grand narrative,’ fleshed out with ideas Lewis absorbed from the Christian literary tradition. The basic theological themes that Lewis set out in Mere Christianity are transposed to their original narrative forms, allowing the deep structure of the world to be seen with clarity and brilliance. A good and beautiful creation is spoiled and ruined by a Fall, in which the creator’s power is denied and usurped. The creator then enters into the creation to break the power of the usurper, and restore things through a redemptive sacrifice. Yet even after the coming of the redeemer, the struggle against sin and evil continues, and will not be ended until the final restoration and transformation of all things. This Christian metanarrative – which early Christian writers called the ‘economy of salvation’ – provides both a narrative framework and a theological underpinning to the multiple narratives woven together in Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia.’”
“In one sense, the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ are just a story. Yet to the initiated, they are a retelling of the greatest story of all, which no human story can ever articulate adequately. Lewis’s remarkable achievement in the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ is to allow his readers to inhabit this metanarrative – to get inside the story, and feel what it is like to be part of it. Mere Christianity allows us to understand Christian ideas; the Narnia stories allow us to step inside and experience the Christian story, and judge it by its ability to make sense of things, and ‘chime in’ with our deepest intuitions about truth, beauty and goodness.”
It is the Judeo-Christian narrative that has inspired and provided the themes for some of the greatest works of literature in the world. The very idea of the king figure or the hero figure sacrificing himself (or herself) for the weaker, a theme so prevalent throughout the West both in popular culture and high culture, is a nod to the Gospel story. The themes of redemption for the fallen and the hero who was thought dead but rises again to fight another day are clearly Biblical themes. Most people forget that before Christ, in pagan culture, it was the strong, the mighty, the rich, and the powerful who were the hero. The gods only blessed the “winners”. The one who conquered the weaker was the hero and mythic figure. That changed after Christ. No one had ever heard something quite like, “Blessed are the poor, for they…” The knight took up arms, not for himself or to conquer the weak, but to protect and defend the weak even if it were to cost him his own life. This mindset was fairly unknown in pagan antiquity. These themes are woven into the very fabric of Western Culture and are reflected in every conceivable form of artistic expression.
Something to consider: Where historically, or presently, is there a community of agnostics that have produced the amount of literature as the Judeo-Christian narrative or literally changed a culture’s mentality through story-telling or the specific story it tells? The Christian narrative explains why we would love stories and tell stories in the first place. It is hard for me to see how agnosticism would do (or has done) likewise. And I don’t think Bernard is claiming that it should or does; I think he means it just does for him personally. My reaction to that is, “Well…good for you.” I’m not sure what to say beyond that. However, if he is holding it out as something he thinks stems from agnosticism in general, and something he thinks it would do for anyone, then, again, I would have to disagree.
This is to say nothing critical about the merits of agnosticism per se or whether it is the better philosophical approach to life. It may be the better approach. I just don’t see its influence or merit as far as helping us to appreciate story, or inspiring us to tell and write stories. I think if we were to claim it did those things we would see a wide and significant body of work showing the connection—and I just don’t see that.