To get started, let’s have a clear definition of what we mean by “metanarrative.” I will be taking my definition, and much of the following information from Understanding the Times by Jeff Myers. He defines our term as follows: a Metanarrative is “A single, overarching interpretation, or grand story of reality.”
We all love a good story, whether it’s through books, movies, or in person. If you just stop and look at the different ways that we humans have found to tell stories, you will quickly realize just how much we all desire a good one. Stories take us deeper into our own lives or into the world around us, and the most successful tales typically have a happy ending.
We want to know that our struggles, desires and work are meaningful, and when we see that they matter in the books we read and movies we watch, we feel a certain assurance of hope. Good stories help us know that life matters, and that good will eventually win in the end.
Anyone who denies that we all want happy endings clearly hasn’t looked at the box office in recent years. Even with more and more people saying that nothing really matters in the end, we still see that the only movies that really make any money are the ones that say that life does matter, and that no matter what happens, good will eventually win. If the end of a story is total defeat, we don’t like it.
Not unlike our literature, we ourselves are living in a story here and now. As Christians we would acknowledge that a story is being told by history. People from many other faiths would agree that there is a narrative there that explains the world, but ours as Christians will differ drastically from what others think.
So in this column, let’s compare and identify the elements of several different metanarratives as held by various Worldviews. For our purpose here, I’m going to split each one into three parts:
1. Origin: Where did we and everything else come from?
2. Problem: What’s wrong with the world?
3. Solution: How is that problem solved?
First, let’s look at the SCRIPTURAL story.
1. Origin: Personal Creation
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This simple verse makes many statements about what we believe and how we perceive the world. First we see that there is a God that created everything we see in the world and beyond. In verse 18 of the same chapter we observe that the creation was deemed “good” by its Creator “and it was so.” The world was created perfect by a personal God who cares about it and is all powerful.
2. Problem: Sin
You read any story and you expect something bad to happen sooner or later. There is often a peaceful beginning, but that doesn’t last. We expect that eventually evil will invade any given story. We expect that, because that is what happened to us. In Genesis 3 the problem begins. The serpent tricks the woman into sinning, and the man willingly follows her into sin as well. And with that, sin enters the world. Our perfect beginning was invaded by an outside force that has caused a countless amount of woe, death, and pain for the whole of the human experience. And the worst part of it all is that we brought it upon ourselves. We are, in a way, one of the villains of our own story. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”
3. Solution: Redemption
In this story of reality, we are hopeless. We cannot save ourselves. We are trapped, dead in our transgressions. We openly and defiantly betrayed the only One that truly loved us, and have become His enemies through sin, and the wickedness we inherited. So we are not the solution.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). Because of His great love, and despite seeing that mankind had become His actual enemies, God said, “I will die to save them; I love them.” We did not deserve His love, but He gave it anyway, to the point of becoming a man and dying in our place so that we no longer have to be enemies of God. Instead, through Jesus, we can be sons and daughters of God.
In the Biblical worldview sin is the problem, and we got ourselves into this mess. But we have a God who loved us so much that He decided to die and rise again to save us from sin, from the devil, and from ourselves. We are not the heroes of our story, God is, and we are now His Children. His solution is Redemption.
Now let’s examine what stories other Worldviews are telling.
I. SECULAR HUMANISM
This is a naturalist worldview that only believes in the current life, and views religion or faith in God as either unusual or harmful. Here is its story:
1. Origin: Evolution
In this view, we came about by hitting the evolutionary jackpot. There is no mover or God who created the world, life in the universe just got very lucky with the roll of the scientific dice.
2. Problem: Religion
While there may be some debate about what our real difficulties are in this view, most humanists would agree upon one main problem. In their view, the main problem with the world is religion, and in the West most specifically Christianity. These exclusionary religious beliefs cause hatred in general, including hate speech and racism. Religion and outdated beliefs in God are causing our world’s problems.
3. Solution: Atheism
The elimination of belief in God. Once we move past this, we will be able to finally work toward some sort of human philosophy leading to an earthly Utopia.
II. NEW SPIRITUALITY
New Spirituality is a bit of a catch-all for what most Western people mean when they say, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.”
1. Origin: Energy
We are all “energy”; there was no real beginning, we just are.
2. The Problem: Inner Disconnection
We are all god, and everything is god. Problems occur when we are caught up in this physical world, and out of touch with our inner “godness.”
3. Solution: Inner Awareness
You just need to get in touch with your inner god, and realize that you are god, along with everyone and everything else. Being an individual is really a made-up concept that holds you back.
1. Origin: Creation
This one is actually quite similar to Christianity (most likely because early Islam had a good bit of influence from Christianity). This worldview holds to the belief that an all-powerful, all-knowing God created the earth and every creature on it.
2. Problem: Rebellion
We are all born Muslim, but some decide to rebel against Allah and become something else.
3. Solution: Conversion
Getting people to become Muslim once again, and follow the Four Pillars of Islam. Or, to put it simply, we all must submit to God. After all, “Islam” means “submission.”
1. Origin: Unknown
There is no knowable origin. Even if there was a knowable beginning of life, we lack the proper ways to communicate it.
2. Problem: Truth Claims
The real problem with humanity is that they adhere to Metanarratives in the first place. It’s these “truth claims” that cause problems, intolerance, and hate.
3. Solution: Relativism
We need to abandon this idea of “Truth,” and each person should “live his own truth.” Then conflict will be eliminated.
Marxism is a view which has come back from the dead after falling out of grace. When the U.S.S.R. fell, people supposed that the ideas of Karl Marx were laid to rest. Yet they are alive and well on many our college campuses these days, disguised in the growing popularity of Socialism.
1. Origin: Evolution
This view holds to evolution and materialism much like Secularism does.
2. Problem: Class Struggle
The ruling class (the bourgeoisie) hoards resources for themselves, all the while oppressing the working class (the proletariat). The ruling class makes our world unfair and unbearable.
3. Solution: Imposed Equality
Take resources from the bourgeoisie and give them to the proletariat by any means necessary. Set up a completely classless society where all have equal access to resources and can basically do what they want with them, as long as they don’t try to get more than someone else.
These are all the views we’re going to look at for now, since they are the most common stories we find in the West these days. Of course there are many more nuances that we could not go over here, but I hope that this gives us a good general idea about other Metanarratives concerning the world we live in.
Of course the Biblical view is the only one that is accurate and true. It makes the most sense with the world we see. Only Christianity can properly explain the pain and joy we experience so often in this life. Which is why we love self-sacrificial stories: Because deep down, we all long to know that we are so deeply loved by someone, that they would be willing to die to give us life.
Thus, we all want the love that Jesus, our Hero, has to offer. Only that can explain the longing we have for a world beyond us. Only the true view can explain why so many of our stories end with the hero dying for those he loves.