Stories We Tell Ourselves

Stories are at the heart of human culture.  Stories are the basis for entire industries.  Stories are the foundation of all fiction writing.  Stories are what we tell our kids, what we tell each other, and most importantly, what we tell ourselves.  We never seem to run out and we never tire of telling the best ones over and over.

When a group of people tell each other the same stories over and over, they grow closer.  They find they have commonality.  There is plenty of grease for the wheels of their society.  When they tell each other lots of conflicting stories, tensions rise; divisions occur.  When they tell themselves one story and tell others a conflicting one, they are generally criminals, liars, or hypocrites.

We tend to think of stories as trivial things, entertainment.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s one story we tell each other.  We’ve told it for hundreds of years.

God created the heavens and the earth.  In five days he created them.  And then he created man.  In his own image, he created man.  He created man from the very dirt of the earth itself.  And he gave man dominion over the earth and everything on it.  He didn’t create women in his own image.  Women he created from the rib of a man, a man made in God’s image, out of dirt.  The woman was so man wouldn’t be lonely and have to do it with goats and zebras and the other animals because that would be bad.  Later the woman disobeyed God and convinced the man to disobey God by learning something, and God was not happy.  Bad woman.

God cursed the woman and caused her to bleed and bear children in pain.  Apparently, before the fruit and snake episode, God had planned for there just to be two people in the huge universe he had created. But still, God loved his creations, and so much did he love them that some of his own biggest supporters revolted and the war between God and Lucifer supposedly continues to this day.

Now I am a man, and god created me in his image, therefore I look like God.  And I am white, so God is white.   (I am also old and fat, but let’s give the deity the benefit of the doubt).   And God gave me dominion over everything on earth, so I can do whatever the hell I want with this earth because God said I could.   I can mine its ore, kill its animals, or dump oil in its oceans.  God said so.  I have dominion, damn it.  And since I was created in God’s image, those people who don’t look like me were either not created by God or they are some sort of degraded version of man and therefore not really God’s creations.  They are degenerate versions of me.  Soiled.  Spoiled.  Wrong.

Women also are lesser beings.  They came from my body after all.  I mean figuratively, of course.  Not my actual body.  The first woman came from the first man’s rib; after that all men came from women’s wombs – I know that.  But that’s punishment, not biology.  Women are essentially a McRib.  They are a HELPMATE; an after-thought.  They are also lesser beings and therefore servants.  They should never cut their hair short or wear pants (that would make them harder to fuck than the goats. Bad women!  Go back to the hut at the edge of the village until you are done with that disgusting blood thing for another month).

And I can prove all of this. It’s all in a book written entirely by God in his very own words as told to a whole bunch of people in a number of languages over hundreds of years, retranslated over and over, edited at the Council of Nicaea, and you can read it for yourself.  There’s even a new translation just out that anyone with a fourth grade reading level can get through.  Except the begats.  No one can get through the begats.

This is a great story we tell ourselves.  It’s so much better than the one where the Wolf or the Coyote create the humanity.  Why would a wolf create men so they could invent guns and shoot wolves?  Or the one where Gods that look like cats and birds create things and then help their people build pyramids we still can’t believe they did without Red Bull and a diesel crane.

And if you like this story and tell this story about the God and the garden and the rib and the goats, you belong to a specific tribe.  Just telling the story makes you a part of the tribe.  No membership fees; no entrance exams, none of that.  Just tell the story and you are in.

Tribes are as important as stories.  Stories define tribes.  Tribes perpetuate stories.

Literally, the first people to tell this story were tribes.  There were supposedly thirteen of them, but one got lost and then there were only 12 skins of wine on the wall.  But these tribes were a minority and they were not well loved.  They were enslaved.  They were persecuted.   They suffered.

And that made the story even more powerful.  We all love stories about the downtrodden and the suffering – as long as it’s not us doing said suffering.

The people who told each other this story knew it to be true.  They knew their God was the greatest God ever.  He was so great that you only needed to worship one of Him.  They knew that mostly because they lived apart from everyone else and told each other that on a daily basis and because others mocked them for believing it and you know you’re right when other people tell you are wrong, right?  Not to mention the frogs and the locusts and the death of all the first born.  They looked down on all other gods.  They didn’t invite the Baal tribe to dinner.  They didn’t marry those Isis and Horus people.  The men marked themselves to set themselves apart from the others by cutting off a part of their whang dang doodle with knives before knives were even made of steel that could be properly sharpened.

Did I mention that this is very long story?  All the best stories are.  They have lots of characters and cover long periods of time.  They have lots of plot lines and plot twists and internal contradictions.  Think Game of Thrones – on steroids.  And as they are told over and over again, things get added along the way.  Sometimes those things stick and get rolled into the story.  Sometimes they are dropped soon after they appear.  This story is no different.

But before we move on to the next part of the story, this would be a good place to point out that if you know the work of George Lakoff, you are probably recognizing this story as the root of his concept of the strict father figure in the modern American family.  If you haven’t read Lakoff’s books, you might read “How We Got to This Point – Part II” as an introduction and then you might want to start with Don’t Think of An Elephant.

Lakoff is a cognitive linguist.   He studies how we come to know things and how language and the brain combine to make that happen.  That’s another way to look at story telling.  Stories are metaphors for life and we come to accept them (or not) as the road map for our lives and our futures.

One of the metaphors in the story I’m telling today is that a man is the lord of his castle as God is the Lord of his creation.  From this stems thousands of years of fiefdoms, kings, cardinals, bishops and popes, abused altar boys, martyred Templers, and hundreds of years of colonialism and slavery.  Eventually, as we shall see, it leads to a reality show mentality elevated to a level capable of destroying all life itself.  Now some of you may think this is an exaggeration or oversimplification.  It isn’t.  It’s not possible to overemphasize how this particular story has shaped and molded cultures around the world and ours in particular.

The Yahweh Saga, as outlined above, not only tells of an authoritarian father figure, but a downright vengeful God.  It might be worth mentioning that the God of Abraham is also the God of Mohammed.   Same guy.  This is a God who visits plagues on entire countries, destroys humanity, except for the chosen few, of course (there HAS to be a chosen few), in a flood, and tortures a man named Job just to win a bet with his archrival, not necessarily in that order.  He is an “eye for an eye” sort of God who encourages war against your enemies.  He sends Moses down the mountain with “the Law” writ large on stone tablets, destroys cities because he doesn’t approve of how they treat His angels, and turns women into pillars of salt, not to mention demanding blood sacrifices of goats, lambs, and the occasional first born son.

That’s just harsh.  Coyote was never like that.  (We also shoot coyotes.)

So the time came for one of those additions to the story.  Something new.  Something different.  Something not so… doom and gloom.   It was time for the new and improved part of the Yahweh Saga.  We can call it the Game of Thorns.  We’ve been telling this part of the story now for over 2000 years, and it has produced another big damn tribe.

So it came to pass that the God of the abbreviated whang dang doodle tribes was (again) displeased with them.  Rather than send them another flood, this time He opted for plan B.

Here’s where the story gets complicated.  One of the stories the tribes told each other was that God would send them a messiah – a savior – someone who would deliver them from the hands of their enemies and persecutors (currently the Romans).  They were expecting a man who would lead their armies to glorious victory, but that’s not quite what they got.

What they got was God Jr. and he was nothing like his Old Man.  He was so much not like his Old Man that most of the members of the tribes rejected the idea that he WAS the messiah or even God Jr. for that matter.  Instead, they called for the authorities to put him to death.

But there were those that followed this man and told stories about him.

There is a wonderful story about his birth and how God Sr. created him, not from dirt, but from the womb of a woman without the crass intervention of the common biological methods of reproduction.  This was the first of many miracles to come.

He was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn.  Everyone was in town to pay taxes to the current overlords, the Romans.  The story is replete with all the necessary ingredients for a long run: humble birth of the hero; angels and whatnots up in the sky; a virgin mother; a confused husband; a weird star that seemed to be in a parking orbit over the manger; a few wise old men who saw the star and decided to bring gifts.

EVERYONE knows this story, and the important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter whether it is true or not.  It has been told so many times, there are so many references to it throughout western literature, that it has profoundly changed human culture whether it is true or not.  Some people believe it.  Some people don’t believe it.  Some people don’t know what to believe.  It doesn’t matter.  The power of the story has shaped the world.  Words have created truth for many.  Perhaps the Book of John says it best. “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the number of Jr’s followers grew, the number of stories surrounding him grew as well.  He cured people.   He fed multitudes from a few loaves of bread and some fishes.  He turned water into wine.  He raised the dead.  Now, none of these stories were written down during the man’s lifetime.  It wasn’t until about a hundred years after he died that we begin to see these little episodes in our Game of Thorns written down.  That doesn’t matter either.  These stories that help flesh out the larger story have been told for hundreds of years.

It turns out that in retrospect, God Jr. was quite a guy.

But he was nothing like Senior.

Yahweh said things like “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth.”  Jr. said things like “love your neighbor.”  Yahweh asked men to kill their sons to show how much they loved Him.  Jr. went out and cured lepers and washed the feet of prostitutes.  They were very different these two.  Yahweh was a blood and guts and veins in your teeth sort of guy.  Junior – who went by the name of Jesus – was a common carpenter who preached that you should love your neighbor, never show off by praying in public, and always care for those poorer and weaker than yourself.

Again, if you know Lakoff’s work, it is no stretch to see this Jesus who preached love and compassion as the basis for what Lakoff calls the “nurturant parent” family.

And as Lakoff points out, the divide in America today is basically a divide between the “strict father” family model and the “nuturant parent” model.

Jesus was so different that most of the descendants of Abraham simply could not bring themselves to believe – either in him or in the new gospel he preached.  According to one part of the story, Jesus went to the temple and tipped over the tables full of coins belonging to the money changers and merchants and drove the animals for sale there for sacrificial purposes out of the temple.  That’s just bad for business.

Jesus was not well liked by the merchants.  He was not well liked by the religious leaders.  He was a Jew that preached that both of the prominent Jewish sects of the day, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were wrong.  He said the Sadducees knew neither God nor the scriptures.  He said the Pharisees were hypocrites.

When his followers started calling him “Christ,” or “anointed one,” they all got together and demanded that Herod execute him for blasphemy.  So they put a crown of thorns on his head, marched him through the streets, nailed him to a Roman cross, and stuck a spear in his side.  He died. End of story.

Except it wasn’t.  That’s a terrible ending.

So the way the story got told was that three days later, he wasn’t dead anymore and went to heaven to live with Sr.  But, when the time comes, he’ll be back.  And when He does, you just might live forever.  Now that’s an ending, right?

The more this story got told, the bigger the new tribe of Jr’s followers became.  They called themselves Christians, not Jews.  In fact they came to dislike the tribe into which Jesus was born and joined the rest of the tribes in persecuting the Jews whenever possible.

And the more the story was told, the more it was told differently in one place than in another.  By 325 AD there were all sorts of ways to tell the story.  There were all sorts of “gospels” floating about.  Some said Jesus was the Son of God.  Others said, no, he was a great prophet but not divine. Some said he rose from the dead; others disputed that.

So in 325 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine convened a council at Nicaea, near what is now known as Istanbul.  It had become clear that no matter how fast the Romans fed Christians to the lions, this new tribe was growing faster and faster, and Constantine knew that if they kept arguing among themselves over what plot element to believe, he was going to have trouble ruling.

He got together as many of the various church leaders as he could and they set about deciding what they, as a unified church, believed.  They sorted through all the various versions of the story and picked out the ones that best fit their needs, the ones best suited to making a church grow.  They argued over whether Jesus was eternal.  They argued over whether He was co-equal to Sr.  And then they took a majority vote.

They decided which texts to include in the “New Testament” (there were a number of versions floating about), again, by majority vote.  The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John got in.  The books of Judas, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and Phillip did not.  All these decisions, again, by majority vote.

They canonized the idea of the Trinity in what became known as the Nicene Creed.  Essentially it said that Christians believe that God, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit are equally one and the same thing.

But they didn’t make a clean break.  They kept the Old Testament as part of their faith.  Without it, the new story made no sense.  You have to have the beginning of the story to understand the later part.

That’s a real problem, though.  Just as God Sr. and God Jr. were very different, so are the Old and New Testaments.

One of the stories told in the Old Testament can be found in the book of Samuel.   God tells Saul to attack the Amalekites, descendants of Esau and enemies of the Israelites.  Not just attack them, but “utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.  But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

When Saul didn’t do that, God took away his kingdom.

That’s a far cry from  ”love thy neighbor as thyself.”

You cannot tell this story for thousands of years and then condemn a “Christian” president for talking about killing not only the terrorists but also their families. He has only to point to the Bible for justification.

But it’s the “old” part of the story; the part left in to explain what happened in the end; the remnants of the history of the original tribes of Yahweh.  Jesus Christ, the man upon whom the Christian religion was supposedly founded, said nothing like that.

Throughout the history of Christianity believers have had to cope with the obvious contradictions presented them by the Biblical text they consider the ultimate authority.  At the same time, both they and the church have always been able to find a passage that will justify their position.

Moses brought God’s law from the mountain and the law said, “Thou shalt not kill.”  And then God said, “kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child.”  So, don’t kill… unless it is your enemy… then commit genocide.

There are many stories we tell and retell.  The more they are told, the more power they have.

“In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Today we are hearing words like:

The press is the enemy of America.

Immigrants are the enemy of America.

Liberals are the enemy of America.

And you know what God said to do to your enemies.  Ask any Native American how that works out.

And you know that no matter what the story says about what the carpenter preached, the Church claims that Jr. and Sr. are the same guy and that as a Christian, you are obligated to believe that.

Perhaps it’s time for a rewrite.


Your Humble Servant,

Roger A. Shipley

The Willowbrook Curmudgeon


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9 thoughts on “Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. Fantastic Roger. Not too long. In fact almost ending before I was ready. In particular, your first 2 paragraphs are masterful and I am going to steal them for legal briefs.


  2. Pingback: Tribes and Sects – One Nation, Under Siege | The Curmudgeon's Lair

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