The Common Good

An Ever-new Narrative of Good News

My friend Bob Carlton sent me this link to a Guardian piece by Madeleine Bunting, "Market dogma is exposed as myth. Where is the new vision to unite us? (With religion outmoded and society fragmented, it will require a different kind of moral narrative to inspire change)."

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The twentieth century presented us, she suggests, with two types of narratives - collective and individualist. The grand collective narratives were primarily economic: Market forces shape our lives and promise a better future. But once-promising economic narratives, whether in their communist, socialist, or capitalist forms, she suggests, have lost their luster -- tarnished by a series of events including the current economic crisis and the longstanding environmental crisis.

Individualist narratives, she says, are still popular, but they are ultimately unhelpful. She quotes documentary film-maker Adam Curtis:

What we have is a cacophony of individual narratives, everyone wants to be the author of their own lives, no one wants to be relegated to a part in a bigger story; everyone wants to give their opinion, no one wants to listen. It's enchanting, it's liberating, but ultimately it's disempowering because you need a collective, not individual, narrative to achieve change.

Curtis' analysis reminds me of a conversation I had with philosopher/theologian Pete Rollins in a Belfast pub a couple weeks ago. We were talking about a shift we were both sensing in the postmodern philosophical community -- a reappraisal of the importance of big stories or collective narratives. (I won't call them "metanarratives" because I think that term is largely, though perhaps unconsciously, associated with the narratives of empire ... which include the dominant Christian narrative, sadly ... which is a subject I grapple with at length in my upcoming book, A New Kind of Christianity.)

Bunting explains that for Curtis, collective narratives

... shape our understanding of the world and of who we are, and how we make sense and order experience. Powerful, grand narratives legitimize power, win our allegiance, and frame our private understandings of how to measure value and create meaning. They also structure time

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