Thursday, December 01, 2005

On Storytelling...

I have been thinking a great deal about stories versus facts the last several weeks. Part of this stirring in my imagination began with hearing Douglas Rushkoff speak.

He made this comment that those who tell the best stories captivate and compell the people. He referenced the Ewoks. Remember that when boys landed on their planet with R2-D2 and C3PO in tow, the Ewoks took them prisoner. But by the time they were done telling stories (mainly C3PO and R2-D2), they had new allies in fighting the "evil Empire"? Rushkoff asked, "What if Darth Vader and his cronies arrived on the planet first? Would the Ewoks have been compelled by their plight to join them? After all, the Republic had become unmanageable and the rebels were causing such a stink. Would the Ewoks have served the Dark Side instead?"

This got me to thinking about how people change. I have always felt that truth might have the strongest potency in helping people live their lives. That is, I always thought truth would be the most compelling thing to people simply because it is...well...true.

So I gathered scattered facts (thinking that fact and truth are the same...ha!) and presented my case to people. I never understood why telling people that thousands of people are dying in africa everyday seldom compelled people to live off less and give away more. I guess this also helps shed light on how–even after so many facts about the Bush cronies and their policies and the corruptions are presented–people are still behind their guy.

My point is that sheer fact does little to nothing in getting people to change their paradigms or lives.

But story does.

So Rushkoff said it's time to re-learn the sacred art of storytelling...and stop telling the same damn story. Allow your imagination to re-imagine and re-create the world, to frame the questions differently, to remind you that you don't need that... or perhaps even want that. Stop settling for what everyone's saying... that that's just the way life goes or that's just they way things work. Perhaps it doesn't have to go that way.

Stop swallowing their cliché, as if it's the only way, it's overplayed...

And support artists, writers, screenwriters, poets who are creative subversive art, who are telling new stories.


Nate Custer said...


Thanks for sharing this reminder about the nature of story. It reminded me of my fave Campbell quote:

Myths are truths that are bigger then facts

Myth is one of the longest surviving meme vehicles. In the words of Neal Stephenson, Myths are "stupendous badasses on the evolutionary stage."

I hope you can continue to master the craft of myth making and story telling, you already have eyes that see.

Mike Stavlund said...

Things Bono and Ryan have in common:

#238 They quote themselves in conversation. (uber cool)

AnaE said...

One more thing: I guess lil' ol' Christian Biola U didn't do a very good job educatin' you. Rushkoff, who has no background in either Jewish history or Jewish religious thought basically dismisses and distorts 3,000 years of Jewish religious thought in the service of an obviously left wing effort to promote "secular humanism" at the expense of Jewish tradition.
Might I add that Ruskoff borders Anti-Semitism many times in his under researched book. His errors and distortions are so obvious that one need not be well versed in Judaism to see through them. My critiques of this book have nothing to do with Rushkoff's criticism of the intellectual stiltedness of today's extreme Orthodoxy. Indeed, I agree with him on this. HOWEVER:

To start with, his use of language and contemptuous dismissal of Jewish tradition is actually VERY offensive (and uneducated). Remember this is not a history or anthropology book but a book about the Jewish religion. He refers to God as Yawheh. No Jewish religious writer of any stripe would do so (or any educated Christian). For one thing, scholarship does not agree that this is the correct pronunciation. For another traditional Jews, of all stripes do not refer to God's name as if he is just another ancient tribal god.

Another really strange thing to read in a book about Judaism is the term "Old Testament" as the name for the Hebrew Bible. I need not explain why Jews find this offensive. It should properly be referred to as the Tanach. But that would require Rushkoff to show a degree of reverence for Jewish tradition he is unprepared to demonstrate.

Rushkoff further denigrates Jewish tradition when he simply "assumes" that the entire Bible is a myth. Since it is a "myth", of course, it is worthless except to the extent it teaches the "progressive" lessons Rushkoff values. (Your ridiculous Ewok story was just so deep, dude).
So, for example, the Exodus from Egypt becomes history's first labor revolt (Umm socialism, anyone). Of course Jewish thinkers (just like Christian Theologians) disagree over the historicalness of the bible.

While Orthodoxy assumes it all to be literally true, not all streams of Judaism agree with this. But many Jews believe that the Bible paints a historical picture of the origins of our people.

Rushkoff dismisses ALL Jews as fools. And he presents no evidence to support his contention that the entire bible is a myth. (Ryan, if the whole bible is a myth, than so are the characters in the story--are you sure you want to cast Christ as a protagonist in a great story?)

Rushkoff's most egregious falsehood is his assertion that Jews, from the time of the prophets forward, in essence became atheists. NOT ACCURATE!!! True, he calls this "abstract monotheism" but he means this in the modern sense as a God who is not really there. You can believe in God or not believe in God. But to argue that the prophets and the ancient Jews were essentially secular humanists is patently absurd. Every word out of the mouths of the prophets, every prayer chanted by Jews is dedicated to the worship of a living personal God. Whether true or not, this is what Jews have always believed, including the Rambam, whose thought is totally misrepresented by Rushkoff. Maimonides was a rationalist but he was also a believing Jew.

Rushkoff constantly distorts Jewish history and thought without support or footnotes in order to fit his ideological thesis that Judaism is a progressive religion rooted in secular humanism. So, for example, the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism, an ode to the living unified singular deity, is called by Rushkoff a "declaration of the unity of the universe". To those who might not be familiar, the first line of the Shema is "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." While there is nothing wrong with giving ancient texts relevance and meaning to modern beliefs, don't pretend the Shema is not an ode to a living God. There are too many more examples of this to go into.

Of course much of Jewish law is concerned with issues of social justice. (Very similar to the immediate concerns of Jesue Christ in the Gospels). But that does not mean that the Torah is not concerned with ritual prayer and worship of God.

This is the essence of Judaism, whatever your theology. Traditional Judaism from time immemorial is based on the three "Ls" The Lord, The Law and the Land. Rushkoff dismisses all three of them not just from our modern era but from traditional Judaism as well.

Rushkoff distorts equally in his discussion of modern Judaism. One of his techniques is to find something about modern Jewish life he dislikes and call its practitioners "most Jews". So according to Rushkoff "most Jews" are told what to think by their Rabbis who simply urge them to accept the Torah as literally true. (Wow, this is starting to sound a lot like anti-Catholic rhetoric) I assure you, for most Jews this is not the case. Indeed, all branches of Judaism are looking for ways to make the Jewish religion more relevant to modern life. Rushkoff would have you believe this is not the case.

All in all his criticisms of modern Jewish life, no matter how much validity they seem to have, are ruined by his extreme exaggeration. All synagogues are not obsessed with fund raising to the exclusion of all else (That actually sounds like *most* Baptist churches I know!). All synagogues do not teach a literal fundamentalist version of the Torah (Would YOU be comfortable with someone making this claim about ALL Christians?) I guess Rushkoff has never heard of the Jewish Theological Seminary which teaches a modern critical and historical approach to the bible and Jewish history. Finally, as a good leftist, Rushkoff has a clear contempt for Zionism. (Historically, this as often been a socially acceptable way to express Anti-Semitism).

He doesn't regard the Jews as a people (despite the fact that all ethnically Jewish people share unique DNA strands), seems to hate any form of nationalism, rejects the idea that the Jews have always longed to return to Zion and condemns Israel as an excessively militaristic and unjust society.

This book should not be read by anyone seeking a solution to the problems confronting the Jewish world. It is not a legitimate criticism of Judaism of which their are many. It is to Jewish religious history and thought what Holocaust denial is to the study of the Shoah.

I sincerely hope that you will attempt to educate yourself and to read Ruskoff somewhat critically.
Anti-Semitism is just so 1935!


Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Um, first off Andrew, this is not a place to put your Amazon review (or someone elses). I appreciate your thoroughness, but your tone is very un-compelling.

I have only ever deleted one comment from my blog. But if you continue to use this space to toot your own horn about books you've read and what you think they mean, I will delete your posts.

If you want to dialogue about a book or idea, please feel free. But don't copy and paste some review to respond to my blog.

herosdialogue said...

Yes, plagiarizing a web-site is really very ridiculous. Shame on Andrew...are Amazon reviews copyrighted? (ha ha)...

After reading Nothing Sacred 2 times, I would not go so far as to claim that Rushkoff is some sort of Anti-Semite. BUT, I do think he makes sweeping generalizations about modern Jews that are unsettling. I think Rushkoff has some interesting points (and points that I think need to actually be directed at modern Christianity, too) But there are so many *factual* errors in the book it is just really distracting for me. (I have a Ph.D. in Religious Studies). Typically, when one sets off to write a dissertation or book in the academic world, it's expected that you make a contribution (something that enlightens or solidifies previous scholarship and historical ideas). Rushkoff fails miserably at this--it's never good to try to prove a 'negative' thesis. Negative dialectics tend to turn around on themselves and implode. I do think it's obvious that Rushkoff is starting from a particular ideological place (everyone does) but he never outwardly states his Anti-Zionist stance in relation to his claims. This sort of transparency combined with the overly negative tone of the book is where, in my opinion, the main problem lies. Yes, some of his claims are cool to think about, but many of these points could be made about any religion in the secular age, why does he feel the need to (erroneously) "expose" Judiasm? It something you might want to consider as you read the book.

R. Rohr