275. Power of Narrative

275. Power of Narrative

Modern people think morality can change, since what used to be wrong is now acceptable. But what actually changes is not morality, but our understanding of morality based on the changed “narrative” of the age. It is because we don’t think in a vacuum. We think ourselves as a character in a “story”. The same action can have a different moral conclusion based on the story.

For example, in a movie, traditionally, killing dragons is what a hero would do. But many who grew up with movies like “How to train your dragons” will view killing dragons something a villain would do, and some may even see it morally appalling. Because in this new narrative, dragons are “misunderstood” beings that naturally want to be humans’ friends, not threatening beings. What changed is not the morality of the action, but the narrative that provides the framework for interpretation.

The primary narrative for modern day is we are heroes that need to defy the norm and earn freedom, through discovering genuine self, a self that is psychological in nature. In this narrative, morality that is forced on us from outside does not provide guidance, but is an oppressive force that threatens our freedom to be “who we naturally are”. As modern as this narrative may sound, it has been building up since the 19th century, through thinkers like Rousseau. He insisted that we were only genuine before we became socially “cultured” through imposed morality, such chastity and the institution of marriage, which he viewed as oppressive in nature and goes against what humans naturally want, which is polygamy.

In this narrative, Christianity does not offer freedom, but it is a major hindrance to achieving it. Because Christian morality does not start with how we should feel, but how we should act, based on authority outside our domain of feeling. Regardless of how we feel about something, Christians believe there is God who exists outside us, whose standard exists apart from our input.

The Gospel provides an entirely different “narrative”. In this narrative, we are not the heroes who need to liberate ourselves from God to achieve freedom, but anti-heroes who have rejected the genuine freedom that was offered by God. In this Gospel-narrative, our human nature doesn’t lead to greater authenticity, but prevents it. It required external help. That is why the incarnation and death of Christ had to happen, so we would receive a new nature, God’s nature.

Understanding the narrative backdrop of our culture and its power will help us why many modern people find Christian values appalling, not appealing. Right action can be viewed as wrong in a distorted narrative.