History seems like a collection of facts, but in reality, most history is a collection of stories that we use to give context to the facts. Often the story details contain more conjecture than fact, but narratives or stories are the way we are able to understand and remember facts.
Without narratives, we don’t have history that matters. The problem with narratives is that it is easy for people to use them to decide that someone else’s facts are false.
Take the narrative of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. In describing the event, the witnesses stated it was not only physical, but that to withstand the presence of the angel they had to be strengthened spiritually adn that they saw both physically and spiritually. Their narrative meant to them that they did not just believe, they knew.
So how could people reading these statements conclude that the witnesses had denied belief or that they stated that the experience was less than real? Or why would anyone trust that sort of analysis? It is because of the narrative need that alternative story feeds.
Yes, one witness said “I do not believe” but he went on to say “I do not believe because I know.” Having knowledge instead of faith is not a repudiation. Unless, of course, one has needs that such a narrative would feed.
Some who construct such narratives are just dishonest, seeking to lie, as children of the one who loves and makes a lie. But, having deposed scores of witnesses and having tried a fair number of cases (four this year, for example), I can tell you that most people who are out of contact with consensual reality have gotten there because the alternative story fills a need and their belief causes them to embrace the story — and the necessary conjectures just fill themselves in.
So, what are standard narrative isseus:
1) You have a narrative, you emb race all the conjectures that fill in the gaps, even though they are unfounded (early edition Mormon Doctrine, anyone?).
2) You encounter a “fact” that does not fit your narrative, you then reject your narrative (which is what much anti-Mormon literature attempts to cause people to do). You don’t think to question the “fact.”
3) You encounter a fact that does not fit your narrative. You reject the fact.
4) You don’t recognize the conjectures in narratives.
5) You devolve into the belief that all of any narrative is mere conjecture and there are no facts.
You can see variants of these five different issues in action, over and over again. Often the “facts” and the conjectures obtain independent life, with people losing sight of the fact that they are dealing with a narrative, often based on the memories of secondary reporters who disagree with the primary actors (some common bloggernacle narratives are based on the comments of grandchildren of witnesses that disagree with statements by participants, for example).
Other times the “facts” fit the narratives of the primary actors, which complicates things. For example, Thomas B. Marsh had very critical things said of him by Brigham Young. However, Brigham Young’s statements follow Thomas B. Marsh’s narrative telling of Thomas’ story in the same terms. Do we criticize Young for agreeing with Marsh? If we do, why?
Narrative is an interesting topic. Too bad Nick never wrote his post on the weaknesses and issues in the narratives people tell about the Church. Even without Nick, the topic of the weaknesses and issues implicit in narratives applies from teh writings of Paul to discussions of whatever was in the news last week.
What narratives would you like to see examined?