Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Does Story Telling Explain Religion?

Bill Moyers asked a great question of Margaret Atwood in his interview series On Faith and Reason. He noted that religious people point to a god of some form as the cause for the rain falling and the flowers blooming. Specifically, he quoted a hymn by Franz Josef Haydn putting the issue quite poetically. A scientist, he said, would not have used poetry to elegantly describe these things, but would simply offer a physical explanation. Then he asked, "We need the poetry, don't we? Are we hard wired to seek that kind of meaning in life, that only poetry, religion and writing can give us?" Atwood intelligently replied in the affirmative, noting that we are a "symbol-making" race. "We seem to need, create and exist within structures of symbolism of one kind or another."

It occurs to me that our ability to communicate verbally with each other is a fundamental part of our humanity. We tell stories in order to communicate with the most complicated entity in our world - another human being. We are hard-wired to recognize faces and to view the world through the lens of the shared experiences that we collect via stories. Stories make, use and foster analogous thinking. As we tell stories which use analogies, we invent a world view which, poetically, describes the world around us. That is as close to a definition of religion as I have been able to create.

Does that make sense? That is my story, anyway, and I suppose I'll stick to it until someone tells me a better one.

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