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Ever watch a movie, TV show, or read a book that made you think about life? Sometimes we ask if we have false memories like in Total Recall or Inception and sometimes we wonder if we are worth the cost paid for us like in Saving Private Ryan. Stories can touch the mind and impact the heart.

C.S Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity that “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists”. Basically, the desires we have must have some sort of way of satisfying them. We hunger and that desire gets satisfied when we eat, we get tired and that desire is satisfied when we sleep; Lewis writes that this works for all desires, even non-physical ones such as justice, love, peace, and so on. According to Lewis we cannot desire something that does not exist or could not exist.

Let’s take a look at stories themselves:

Observation 1 – Every society tells stories and every story must end.

One could call these ‘myths’ in the sense that these are the stories that can teach direct lessons such as the fables of Aesop but not necessarily so. These could be done in a theater showing of the massive explosions that only a Summer blockbuster can or around a campfire about ancestors in a tribal setting. No matter the venue or length of the tale, there is still a story being told and by the nature of time itself every story must stop. This can be the chapter ending before you tuck your child into bed or the conclusion of a giant epic that resolves every plot line. It is as Aristotle said

“A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well-constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.” [1]

Basically what Mr. A is saying in fancy philosophical language is that there are three parts to a whole story: beginning, middle, and end; and each part is directly linked to the other in the order in which they are – beginning first, then middle, which leads to the end.

Observation 2 -We desire stories to be resolved when they end.

What do storytellers do with this impending ending? They find a way to end it well. Read your child a story and stop in the exciting part and they will beg you to finish it before the light goes out. Television and movies make money by leaving threads unresolved until the next episode or movie. I am not saying that every story ends well, but we still desire them to be resolved. We like unresolved stories as much as things or characters from outside the story fixing things such as a Deus Ex Machina.

For examples of this think of any cancelled TV show that was not resolved and the outcry on that: Firefly got a movie to resolve things, Farscape got a TV miniseries years after the show was cancelled, and even regarding shows that ended (like Lost), people argue that it did not resolve things to their liking.

Observation 3 – Even though stories end and we want them to be resolved, we still want them to continue.

At the same time even when all things are resolved we still hunger for more. Sherlock Holmes was “brought back from the dead” in the form of prequels/sequels because the public demanded more after his death at the Reichenback Falls in “The Final Problem.” Hollywood makes sequel after sequel of films that try to resolve things. If not sequels then remakes – where the same story is retold. Even after everything is resolved in a story, we want more.

Conclusion – We both desire resolution and the continuation of stories.               

This is a paradox! How can we both want resolution and then non-resolution? Yet, if this argument/observations follow then this paradox is something we desire. If C.S. Lewis is right in his argument of desire then how can we desire something that is seemingly contradictory?

So now we have an issue: if these observations are true then we are of a split mind when it comes to stories.  If stories are written to for our desires, then there must be a place where resolution will happen and where the story will continue.

Answer – This desire only be satisfied by Christianity.

To my knowledge only the Judeo-Christian religions sustain this desire [2]. Let’s take a look at the other major world religions [3] of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Folk Religions, Unaffiliated and then at Christianity:

Islam – Islam’s view of mankind acknowledges no depravity or a rebellion against God; instead, man’s fundamental problem is weakness and forgetfulness. In this view of mankind, there is no assurance of salvation in Islam [4]. According to Islam, there cannot be free will, and this determinism has many other problems such as Allah would be the author of evil.

With no assurance of salvation, there cannot be hope that Allah will select an individual.  If there is no free will, there cannot be a story because we are trapped in the resolution and we would not be active participants in any continuation of the story.

Hinduism – According to their cosmology, we are currently in the fourth, and most decadent, age: the Kali Yuga where Vishnu is expected to incarnate one final time as the avatar Kalki to set the groundwork which will lead to the end of all things. The end of the Kali Yuga leads to the destruction of the universe – but this destruction is also a renewal, for the new world created from the old begins again, in the blessed golden age of the Satya yuga [5].

There is a resolution; however, it is not final as the cycle of the 4 Yuga’s will repeat over and over again as the universe repeats itself. Because this ‘story’ continues forever, there cannot be any final resolution because it has to cycle forever.

Buddhism – the goal of Buddhism is the ending of the cycle of suffering which is linked to all desires. With the cessation of being as the end goal, there may be a resolution but there cannot be any continuation of a story. The goal of Buddhism does not satisfy that desire. The desires for the continuation of stories about or of the Buddha would seemingly contradict the removal of desires that Buddhism aspires to.

Folk religions – This comprises of all the ancestor or spirit worship in the world. While it would be impossible to talk about each there are some common attributes of which one is the appeasement for a physical need or value such as justice through a ritual or sacrifice.

However, these rituals need to be performed again and again to keep the favor of the ancestor, spirit, or force. This does not offer the lasting resolution that we all long for. The value would either be commanded by the ancestor, spirit, or force and could change on a whim or the value would be above the ancestor, spirit, or force making them pointless to worship or follow. This is the issue that Plato wrote about in the Euthyphro.

Unaffiliated – This category is for those who self-identify with no religious group and includes atheists. For them, while there will be an end, there cannot be any sort of resolution let alone a continuation of the story: when the great cooling of the universe happens, or when mankind dies out.

Christianity – For the Christian, there is both an ending/resolution when God judges the world; but the story will continue for those who want to spend eternity with Him. The story continues when God makes the new Heaven and the New Earth.

The resolution does not invalidate our choice here and now, but in fact is dependent on the ultimate choices we make. The continuation of the story is not a grand reset but for those with God, it will take who we are and then let us live forever in a glorious state with God.

This article originally posted on https://apologers.wordpress.com/ on October 22, 2015


[1] You can read a good translated version of the Poetics here: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.html.

[2] If we define Christian in a sociological grouping rather than a theological grouping then Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism would be classified here like as what was done in the Pew research survey link. For this argument they are not classified that way. Taking that, they are not in the main argument because even if we combine Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons then they are less then 1% of the world religious population.  For the sake of this argument they do not satisfy the resolution criterion because they can receive new prophecies that can invalidate the old. This cannot lead to any satisfactory end due to the fact that it is possible that their god is mutable and can change his mind – no resolution is possible if that is the case.

[3] I do apologize for the rudimentary generalizations of the belief structures listed below. I only do so to prove the point about the desire of the paradox not being fulfilled; any mistakes and misrepresentations are mine.

[4] Geisler, Norman  and Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002. P 124 – 128.

[5] Geoffrey Parrinder, Ed., World Religions, From Ancient History to the Present (Facts on File, New York, NY 1973) p. 222-223.

 

 

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