Stories change the way people view the world. Stories are emotional– they don’t tell us facts so much as they tell us the value of these facts, tell us how we ought to feel about them, tell us where we stand in relation to them. Stories don’t give information, they assume it. Stories take place in a certain kind of world, and so implicitly affirm the truth of that kind of world. If a story were to end, say, happily ever after, then we would assume that this is the way the world works.
If a story is good enough, and that story implicitly tells a lie about the world, it makes the lie so much easier to believe. To deny the lie at that point is to deny the story. This is what made The Shack so popular– who wants to criticize a story about a man who reconciles with his daughter’s killer? Sure, it’s got horrible theology, but the ending was just perfect.
I saw an example of this today. The post said this: “Imagine you’re playing Minecraft. You have a friend that’s been playing on a server for several months, and tells you just how awesome it is. His branch mining technique has effectively mined out every piece of iron, gold, and diamonds in a 2km radius from spawn. He’s hunted every animal, except for the ones in his private farm. He’s already killed the Ender Dragon, and keeps the egg in a room made of diamond blocks. When you join the server, you’re unable to find any ore, since he has already collected it all. You ask for some from him, but he refuses. ‘I managed to start with nothing and I have all this stuff now. You’re just being lazy.’ That’s what Baby Boomers are like.”
I’ve never played Minecraft and don’t understand most of this, but the message is clear. Baby Boomers came into this pristine world of ours and took everything for themselves, and now we, the newcomer Millennials, are left with nothing. It’s a good analogy, and the responses which I saw were very much along the lines of “Yea!” and “You tell ’em!” If only this little argument relied on some kind of data.
I’m not out to defend Baby Boomers, criticize Millennials, or make a statement about economic theory. I think, were we to start handing out blame, we might have to say that there’s enough to go around, no matter which side of the generational fence you hurl your insults over. No, my point is that arguments like these are dangerous. They have little basis in reality, yet aid in levering apart the great divide between me and mine enemy. Arguments like these are the ones which always shift the blame from us (whoever us is at the moment, be assured that us is the good guys) to them (and since we’re the good guys, them needs be the bad guys). There can be no conversation here, because conversations imply that after I’m done talking, you get to talk and I have to listen. And maybe you have a point, and maybe I’m wrong about something. Nope. Can’t have that.
This kind of an approach to societal conflict is endemic, and it occurs on all sides of every divide in our cracked and blistering culture. And it gets perpetuated by stories.
Christians have an obligation to be a witness in the world. I’ve said before that part of the way we do this is by telling good stories, stories that envision our worldview. But it isn’t enough. In telling stories, we’re telling a story about the larger story in which we find ourselves. If I make up a story about an interaction I had the other day with a belligerent atheist, I might think I’m rightly envisioning my Christian worldview. But I’m not just telling a story, I’m living in one. By lying, unduly exaggerating, or making things seem different than they are, I’m obscuring the truth, not displaying it.
The Bible not only mandates what we tell our stories about, but how we tell them.