The World as Narrative

The world is a narrative, not a science project.

I’m aware there exist those who think science is the only path to knowledge. I don’t believe them even as they are saying it: there are too many things they do and believe that tell off on them. They love. They hate. They laugh. They cry. They thrill to a piece of music. They consider some things beautiful. They consider other things ugly. And they use logic to explain to me why science is the only path to knowledge.

The world comes to us as narrative. We watch the seventy years or so allotted to us unfold as part of the grand tale. People do not watch the news for nothing; there’s enough conflict in this worldly tale to keep the audience glued to their seats.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Hegel understood this—the Spirit of history creating the ages through the dialectic. Marx understood it—class warfare as the engine of the narrative. Nietzsche understood it in the struggle between Apollo and Dionysius. Nearly all, or arguably all, philosophy, theology, religion, science, conventional wisdom, common sense, and in general abstract thought is in some sense at least a partial attempt to describe or interpret the narrative. That’s just the way it is.

In the West, there are two old foes still at each other’s throats after two millennia, both vying for supremacy in the interpretation of the narrative. The first is a sweeping tragedy, older than its competitor, that conceives of the narrative as a tale of two nothings. Between the nothings, the narrative recounts life’s temporary rebellion against purposelessness, meaninglessness, and, of course, nothingness; a rebellion woefully outgunned, undersupplied, and pitted against a natural army of unrelenting and ultimate devastation.

This view was historically a minority report, at least by those who dared disclose it. Since the 19th century, however, it has surged in popularity with the advent of evolution and the successes of the sciences. Its ascendancy, though by no means settled, is now a viable possibility, and no competing philosophy succeeds in the mind of man without incorporating some of its elements. In this tale, life begins by chance through natural causes, rises from the mire, and ascends to sentience, only to one day in the far future (yes, I split infinitives, happily) witness its own death alongside the universe itself in a cosmic heat death. Nothingness to nothingness. Darkness to darkness. Meaningless to meaningless. Vanity of vanities…the narrative is authorless.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Its primary western competitor, Christianity, interprets the narrative quite differently. There was never a nothing, because God is. There never shall be a nothing, because God is. Under Christianity, the narrative is not a tragedy; it is a plotline told by an author, the author of life himself.

Does not this alter our view, not only of the narrative, but of our own roles as characters within the narrative? Do we not now have purpose in even the most mundane tasks? Does our pain, even enduring pain, not now have an eternal significance? Does not the right and wrong that we do really have meaning for time and eternity?

It does. The contrast between the two could not be clearer, and never the twain shall meet. And, as we see the narrative unfold, do we not really know deep down that all stories have authors?

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

~Heb. 2:10


Contributed by MS Quixote, neighborhood cowboy philosopher and general charognard