Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fiction as Truth: Ward Lecture

I attended the Ward Lecture here at LTS on 10/22 to hear Dr. Carol Hess present “Fiction as Truth: Novels as a source for (Paradoxical) Theology. It was a decent lecture and Dr. Hess articulated many things that i've been trying to say for a while now...

She began with Picasso’s quote “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” She then talked about how novels ought to be read alongside theory as novels do certain things that theory can’t. Novels make readers participators in lives of others different from themselves and make them sympathetic to characters they don’t interact with in their day to day lives. I completely agree with this. I couldn’t see racism through the theory, but through the history and reading novels with Black characters is how I started to understand.

I couldn't help but think of the difference between Gallielo's narrative presentation of his theories vs. Newton's mechanical and formulaic presentation. Gal is a hoot to read, and fun! Newton... not so much

Dr Hess then jumped to what makes good fiction and good theology and how they overlap. She stated that fiction and theology is set in time and place, it is provisional, it is paradoxical, ironic, and revelatory. I wish she would have spent more time here because I feel this is the core of the argument. We’re seeing this in our churches today with the “established” voice versus a more emergent model. This is not the usual Conservative versus Liberal theology that we have seen but something else due to the study of post-modern thought.
Many people ask me for my systematic theology and I state that I can’t fully give them one, and usually give them something close to this model. They then state that this couldn’t possibly be a theology that does any good and that even novels have a structure and plot devices. The problem with systems is they sanitize and simplify an ambiguous and complex world. No system ever contains the full picture.


Al said...

Although I can understand that the concept of systematic theologies worked well under a modern mindset, and that postmodern thought patterns don't flow that way.... Although I can see how my heart and mind seem to resonate more within a postmodern style... The way I came to see that my thoughts fit better within the postmodern paradigm was seeing it all laid out in a modern systematic kind of chart. Go figure!

Sabio Lantz said...

My thoughts:

* If you were born Hindu, you'd be a liberal post-modern Hindu.

* You'd be a perfect Unitarian Universalist but they are not your tribe.

* You are working hard to preserve your heart within your tribe.

I admire part of that. I am not a big fan of tribalism, but feel that the heart is mysterious.

PS - dear self-admitted lazy blogger, you really need to proof read and clean up grammar or not drink so much coffee before you write your posts. Seriously dude, read them at least once out loud before hitting "publish" !
Smile ! :-)

Sabio Lantz said...

Oh yes, fiction is very valuable and very powerful. Its misuse is dangerous. Think of all the girls who read romance novels and get false ideas of relationships. Or boys who watch Star Trek reruns constantly and expect science to be our savior.

The sword cuts both ways. That is why the discerning mind is so important.

Cody said...

I'll be coming back to re-read this in a bit (so much reading this week!), but the title alone caught me.

I just finished writing a massive paper about the function of Freud's "Moses and Monotheism" (which was AWESOME). The first chapter of Jan Assmannn's "Moses the Egyptian" proposes that even if the Moses text isn't true (as in historically accurate), the MEMORY of Moses is what counts as true.

I've always held that the novels you read as a kid influence you more than just about anything else. Those characters (for me, Matilda, the BFG, the Souls from "A View from Saturday") are part of my memory, and what they taught me was probably more true than anything I learned in Sunday school.

I'd love to hear a recording of the lecture should it exist somewhere!

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Cody
You said, " even if the Moses text isn't true (as in historically accurate), the MEMORY of Moses is what counts as true."

So, we can have different definitions of "true", that is no bother. You are proposing a definition that means "affects the way we live".

So here is my question. If we both agree that kids novels affects our lives, we probably agree that we should choose those novels carefully.

But if you believe that Moses' stories may not be factually true, then shouldn't we read them with discernment and not holy honor? Shouldn't you teach your kids, "Looks, King David was not a good guy. Look we don't think that you should slaughter entire nations because they believe something different than you."

Shouldn't you be clear about not only that much of the bible is fiction but also that it is bad in the same way as may parts of Homer's Odyssey is bad? (no matter how fascinating the great works of literature)

Luke said...


i'm conservative on a lot of issues. i've been labeled before, liberal fits more oft than not. mystic, esoteric, post-moderned, and undefinable have also been stuck to me as well. i just go with the Myers Briggs ENTP ;-)

i cleaned up some of the grammer. i hastely added this post from a paper and did a smash-edit on it and it didn't work.

fiction, like anything else is a dangerous weapon or a fab. window to understanding. humans can use anything as a weapon or tool. a hammer in the hands of some can build, while others, destroy.


looking forward to your comments. i need to check out that book, it's been getting a lot of press lately.

Anglican Gurl said...

I would go with esoteric mystic if I were to label you. Your seminary has trained you liberal, your Catholic background has given you structure and some conservative notions (like honoring tradition and what Sabio calls "tribalism") and how you fuse the two results in something that can't be fully explained when directly confronted. I can only get what you mean if I do not take it head on, but from a side or from a certain angle. That to me is true wisdom

Tit for Tat said...

Interesting, and here I thought Luke was just a nice kind of human being. But what do I know. ;)

Luke said...

John T.,

thanks... i'm unsure how to take all of this, so i'll just say "thanks!"

i find it so interesting to see how i affect others and also how i'm effected by others. i love this feedback loop i constantly find myself in! that's relational live'n, baby!