Truth in story

Alan Hurst, who writes his blog from a Mormon perspective, has a fascinating essay up about the ways in which story hold meaning in faith contexts. He’s noticed that there are some powerful science fiction writers in the Mormon community (my favorite, Orson Scott Card, among them) and muses on the roots such storying. Here’s an excerpt, but read his whole piece:

The answer to the first question is easy: our religion is a fairy story, or as Tolkien would have said about Christianity more broadly, a fairy story that really happened. The factual truth of our beliefs is of course crucial: if Jesus is not resurrected, we are of all men most miserable (see 1 Corinthians 15:12–19). But the mythological content of our religion is if possible even more important: the assumptions it conveys beneath the surface about what is real, what is true, what is good, and what it means for something to be real, or true, or good. Those with the time and talent can wrestle with these issues in a philosophical manner, but it takes a keen mind and substantial training to understand, for example, the theological accounts of God’s nature. On the other hand, the stories in the scriptures about God’s dealings with humanity bring him to life in an instant, for anyone who cares to look.

Once we understand that our religion teaches as much through its stories as through its truth claims, it becomes clear how dangerous it is—Tolkien would say “perilous”—to hear a well-told fairy story and be brought face to face with its vision of the depths of reality, a vision our intellect will never fully understand. And yet for that very reason fairy stories give us a way to explore those depths of our religion that we also never fully understand, and to incarnate our beliefs again and come to know them again, giving our faith new life and vitality. We can borrow others’ fairy tales for these purposes, but these will usually capture only those parts of our beliefs we share with others and obscure or distort the rest. To understand our own faith clearly and whole, we need our own stories, fairy stories holding a prime place among them.