Rami Shapiro on Post Modern Thinking and Separating History from Story

I would like a Christian response to this foreword by Rami Shapiro, (author, teacher, and speaker on the subjects of liberal Judaism and contemporary spirituality) in “A Palace if Pearls”…

“We are the stories we tell. Stories provide us with identity, meaning, and purpose. Story is how we make sense of the world, and find a place for ourselves within it. In the pre-modern past we believe that our stories were not stories at all, but facts. To draw from the stories with which I am most familiar: God created the world in six days – fact. Humanity began with a single couple, Adam and Eve – – fact. God spoke to Abraham and chose his and Sarah’s descendants as his chosen people – – fact God plagued the Egyptians, split the Red Sea, wrote the 10 Commandments, deeded His Chosen in perpetuity with a land flowing with milk and honey – – all facts. For pre-modern thinkers story is history, history is the will of God… Modern Thinkers claim to separate history from story, relegate story (including theology and religion) to the sidelines, and argue that if we can only get beyond our stories – – religious, ethnic, national, tribal, etc. – – We will create a world of peace and harmony based on facts alone. Perhaps, but at what cost? Of course the modern world isn’t bereft of story; it simply relegates story to the domains of entertainment and advertising. The heroes journey is the stuff of movies and theme parks. In the entertainment universe the heroine/hero wins by acquiring the proper weapon; in the advertising universe, the heroine/hero women’s by acquiring the proper deodorant, smart phone, or app. Outside of entertainment and advertising, however, the heroine/hero doesn’t win at all and is merely a cog in the military-cyber-financial complex that convinces us that being consumers is the highest human attainment, while in fact reducing us to the consumed. Like pre-modernists, postmodern thinkers understand that there is no getting beyond story: story is who we are. Unlike them, however, postmodernists know that story is not history, and suspect that even history isn’t history, but merely the story told to explain why the winners won and the losers lost. This does not mean there is no reality transcending our stories, only that we cannot step outside of story to experience it directly. If we could see reality without the lens of story, what we would see is so profoundly beyond our ability to understand that it would in all likelihood drive us insane. So even scientists tell us a story to provide the unalloyed chaos of the universe with a veneer of meaning and purpose. The postmodern condition is about knowing that we cannot know, and this not knowing is profoundly liberating because it is deeply humbling. When you imagine that you know the truth – – the modernist, or worse, that you somehow own it – – the pre-modernist, you are easily seduced to cruelty and violence in defense of your story. Where the pre-modern doesn’t recognize story, and the modern denigrates story, The post modern celebrates story. I cannot live without attending to fact, but I cannot thrive without attending to story, the product of imagination. Story carries archetypal truths from the unconscious to the conscious.”

Thoughts?? What is Shapiro really trying to say? What is a Christian response to this thinking?

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On the whole I agree with the Rabbi. 2nd Temple Pharisees believed they were part of this narrative of God and that they were actors in the story a story that would end with that rescue of God’s creations and his people. This was precisely the issue that Saul faced before his encounter with the bodily resurrected Messiah, Jesus. That fits with his statement :

About the time of the enlightenment modern thinkers started separating the idea of God (story) from history (event) and presenting history as a series of events (facts) events that just happened and there was no need to find God directly or indirectly involved in these events. I believe that this is what he is saying in this clip:

Today we see history as events but with tasks in other words “I am doing history” NT Wright puts in this way in the 2018 Gifford lectures: ( you can view the series here this is from my notes on lecture 3 of 8 here.

  • History is going somewhere, It’s important to be on the right side of history. If you think on that you have ask which side is right and who says so.

  • History will judge you. Again an interesting thought but by whose standard.

  • History will be kind to you because we write it.

  • History as a teacher

  • History with meaning. when we take events war, science, politics and natural disasters and define its role in this larger narrative of events.

I think this fits in with Rami’s statement:

I also think that Paul actual experienced the sudden realization that reality was a resurrected Messiah and it was this reality that made him rethink Torah as it pertained to Messiah and arrive at the Truth that Rami refers to here:

One of the things that I have learned over the years, like Paul, we are living in the story of God and his story will end with his rescue of his people (believers) and his creation (what we call the new heaven and the new earth).

As an aside if you are interested in a contrasting view you can find it here. The link will take you to Yuval Noah Harari. Be advised he is a secular humanist but will certainly offer contrast and by definition clarity.

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Lisa,

I think Jimmy’s post brings out a very important issue - it’s God’s story and He is the one who structures it and defines it, as well as what it means. We can tell the same story but have differing interpretive narratives that support our views and our interests versus someone else’s. Destroying the past narrative that applied God’s perspective to the historical story is critical, if an important goal is to unanchor the future from the continued application of that narrative. And, it’s nothing really new. The bible includes passages that have interactions that at a base level indicate: “Did God really say that ____?” or “God said that for a bad reason - He doesn’t have good intentions for you but restricting ones that are actually bad”. But, apart from His transcendent narrative, it’s all up for grabs.

God’s story is continuing to unfold before us but the narrative to interpret it hasn’t, regardless of how badly the postmodernists want to change or silence it.

Good post! Thought provoking.

Thanks for sharing, jimmy!

Kevin

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Rami is a Postmodernist and proposes all religions are essentially the same at their core. So I am suspicious of what he says since relativists want to posit that there is no absolute truth. He seems to be insinuating that you can’t know Biblical truth, its all just a nice story that can help us but not a true story. However his words are very nice sounding and I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly what he is trying to say and whether it is a Christian viewpoint or relativist. I have a friend who said this passage resonated with her and I wanted to give a thoughtful response.

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I never heard of Rami until your post. I did a little look see and from what I can tell he is not a Christian in the sense that he needs Jesus for his salvation. For the record the base line is Christ crucified and Christ Glorified as I understand scripture.
What struck me about what you shared was how closely in paralleled NT Wright’s Gifford lectures and Yuval Noah Harari worldview all going in the same general direction i.e. story, but are miles apart in their conclusions.
For the record I particularly like the idea of story, the story of God and his people, a story of redemption and rescue of his people (believers) and his creation all wrapped up in his mercy and love in the person of the resurrected Lord Jesus.

After thought: What passage are you referring to, the one you posted? Is your friend a believer? If not want attracts her to this particular worldview versus epicureanism as an example? These might be good question to throw out there.