Rod Dreher has a great piece at The American Conservative today that offers some inspiring and useful insight on the importance of metanarrative, the sterility of postmodernism, and modernism's failure to write a metanarrative without God. I found the piece timely for us in our context, as Dreher’s basic points essentially explain our motivation to do our “Foundations” series.
The post looks at the “narrative collapse” caused by postmodernism. Where once the West believed in a “narratable” world, it now exists in a directionless story of our own making. Dreher quotes the theologian Robert W. Jenson:
… the way in which the modern West has talked about human life supposes that an omniscient historian could write a universal history, and that this is so because the universe with inclusion of our lives is in fact a story written by a sort of omnipotent novelist.
That is to say, modernity has supposed we inhabit what I will call a “narratable world.” Modernity has supposed that the world “out there” is such that stories can be told that are true to it. And modernity has supposed that the reason narratives can be true to the world is that the world somehow “has” its own true story, antecedent to, and enabling of, the stories we tell about ourselves in it. …
If there is little mystery about where the West got its faith in a narratable world, neither is there much mystery about how the West has lost this faith. The entire project of the Enlightenment was to maintain realist faith while declaring disallegiance from the God who was that faith’s object. The story the Bible tells is asserted to be the story of God with His creatures; that is, it is both assumed and explicitly asserted that there is a true story about the universe because there is a universal novelist/historian. Modernity was defined by the attempt to live in a universal story without a universal storyteller.
The experiment has failed. It is, after the fact, obvious that it had to: if there is no universal storyteller, then the universe can have no story line. Neither you nor I nor all of us together can so shape the world that it can make narrative sense; if God does not invent the world’s story, then it has none, then the world has no narrative that is its own. If there is no God, or indeed if there is some other God than the God of the Bible, there is no narratable world.
In postmodernity, the world is not narratable. There is no transcendent storyteller. We are the authors of our own lives, and the results are as we would imagine. Dreher offers an assessment to the situation —
If we cannot conceive of our lives as a journey, or rather, a story, then we are well and truly lost, because we will have lost any way to measure our progress or regress. We live in the eternal present. We live under the tyranny of the eternal present, because if the only guide we have to how to live is our own passions, then we are slaves; our freedom is an illusion.
— and a stirring rebuke/wake-up call to the church:
… the church is in an unprecedented historical situation, and it had better first get a good handle on telling its story to itself. I’m told by friends who teach at Christian colleges and universities that it’s shocking how little their undergraduates who profess to be Christians know about the Christian story, and why it matters as a guide to truth. Hence Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: the idea of God as cosmic butler and personal cheerleader.
Dreher’s piece is long, academic-y and (clicker beware) flavored with Eastern Orthodox spices, but it is worth your time and you can read it here.
Two things in closing: First, the Fort Collins Museum of Art has a major exhibit of Andy Warhol pieces on display through March 16. Warhol’s art conveys better than most postmodern art the narrative-less reality of this philosophy. If you want an up-close-and-personal exploration of and acclimation to a non-narratable world, get ye to the MOA.
Secondly, I guess it’s good at this point to point out that our world is “narratable” because the God of the Bible is “narratable.” He is approachable, relational and understandable — and yet he is transcendent, “other” and beyond our comprehension. And these paradoxes are what make him the best of all possible authors. Let’s rejoice in this reality — his reality — and make the most of “Foundations.”