No poison without an antidote
Published: Fri, 10/14/22
Reality is an interesting word to use here. The reality about Covid is that there was a pandemic in the sense that the World Health Organisation, an international body, supposedly concerned with health matters, told governments that there was one and that certain actions had to be taken all over the world. The face coverings, lock downs, travel restrictions, and the injections seemed to be a real enough experience for those who participated. I wish I had just dreamed it all happened and then woken up, but I don’t think I did. Likewise with the nasty little war which is taking place in real time in Eastern Ukraine. That conflict on the borders of Russia seems to be real too. I have not been there to see for myself, but I am content to accept that the killing and destruction is a reality.
I do not consider myself removed from reality. However, I do my best to keep myself at a remove from prevailing narratives and what I was critiquing in my last post were the stories of pestilence, war, and famine which dominate our world.
I see is a process at work here. There is objective reality, then there is the story or narrative which is told about that reality, and then there is the belief which takes root through following the narrative. This belief then leads to a response to the original reality which may take the form of public health measures, mobilisation for war, or restrictions for the purpose of ‘environmental protection’.
You might think that a narrative is always built upon a reality. Often the narrative comes first. For example, a few years ago someone had the bright idea of encouraging people to write ‘Jedi’ in the ‘other’ religion box of the national census which is carried out every 10 years in the UK. As I recall the idea was that if something like 10,000 people wrote the same thing in the ‘other’ box it would be included in the list of actual religions in the next census 10 years later. ‘Jedi’ would then be classed as a ‘real’ religion. (And just in case anyone reading this isn’t clear what I am talking about the Jedi were an order of mystical warriors in Star Wars. Star Wars was/is a franchise of fantasy films and various spin-offs.)
All religions are based on a story which is then believed in by members of that religion. I grew up in the Methodist Church and I am still and active member. However, my father joined the church when he married my mother. He thought that organised religion could be a force for good in the world and therefore belonging to and supporting to such an organisation could be beneficial to him personally, his family, and the wider society. So, I was raised to believe not so much in the story which had created the church, but in the value of the institution which had grown out of a response to the story. I guess I grew up asking the question: ‘What is the benefit of participating in this belief system, as it exists in the here and now?’ Rather than: ‘Is the narrative upon which this belief system is based literally true?’
I took a degree course in Religious Studies in the 1980s. The accademic study of religion, especially the theological component, is very much about critiquing the narrative upon which religion is based. For me this approach seemed perfectly appropriate. However, quite a few of my fellow students came to the course as enthusiastic 18 year old Christians and by the second year were professing themselves to be agnostic, if not actually atheists. There was a flourishing Christian Union at the college, but it seemed that few of its members were making an academic study of religion.
Even now, as a preacher I find myself walking a line between getting a congregation to really think about what they believe, and not being accused of undermining a simple faith in the doctrines of the church. Why bother with the preaching at all? It makes me read, study and think, about what I believe and why. Then I process those thoughts into a communication. Also, members of congregations often do tell me that I have given them a new perspective on their faith.
One of the aspects of Stav which appealed to me was that I wasn’t expected to believe that any of it was literally true. Those that do make a religion out of Norse Mythology, especially if they use the Eddas as their ‘Holy Scripture’, don’t seem to realise that Snorri was largely constructing a fiction acceptable to a Christian readership. However. when I share and teach in a pagan context I usually feel able to explore ideas which I might have to moderate a little in a Church situation. However, this year I was not included as a facilitator at a large event which I had taught at for the previous 20 or so years. The reason? I had made it clear that I don’t believe in the Covid narrative and there was fear that this attitude might cause offense.
We may like to think that our beliefs originate from an experience of reality. However, even a cursory understanding of conventional religion reveals that belief is built upon a narrative, then the belief becomes a reality in its own right through the culture, organisation, infrastructure, and membership of the faith which is a response to that narrative.
Law enforcement has a similar basis. The first step in investigating a crime is to respond to the report of a crime. However, that report is just a story until it has been properly determined whether or not a crime actually took place at all. Even if the incident is considered worthy of investigation the next stage is to formulate a ‘line of inquiry’, which just means another story of who might have done what and why. The investigation will then seek to gather evidence and testimony which either supports that line of inquiry, or destroys that particular narrative and formulates a stronger one until there is grounds for arresting and charging a suspect. Even a subsequent court case is really just a piece of theater where a story is presented to an audience (the jury) as the basis for a guilty verdict while the defence do their best to convince the same audience that the narrative is not believable. Conviction or acquittal will
depend upon how convincing the narrative of the case proves to be in the minds of the jury. It is no wonder that crime based entertainments, from Dixon to CSI, are so popular.
We live in cycles of narrative, belief, action (action often simply means colluding with those who act on our behalf), resulting in real world consequences. A war may be a reality in terms of death and destruction, but every conflict starts with a story and further narratives keep the fighting going.
Religions have been manufacturing reality from narrative via belief for thousands of years. More recently we have had advertising, marketing, media, party politics, news, commentators, mass education, sport, etc etc. Those who seek to control our world through narrative and belief learned their tricks from religion and they learned it well. However, religion, also provides us with the principles of theology, the skills to challenge and critique the narrative. It is said that no poison is without an antidote.
PS Ivar Hafskjold used to tell me that Stav martial training was much more important than worrying about the spiritual aspects of the runes. Martial training requires a commitment to reality, at least in effort and practice, even if you never get involved in actual combat. The 2023 Stav Camp will explore the realities of martial training with the emphasis on what we can learn from our practice rather than just learning to practice. Please see www.stavcamp.org
PPS On Saturday I passed my black jacket grading in Lee Style Kung Fu. I originally started training in this style when I was about 18 so it has only taken me about 45 years to get to black!
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Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN
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