I have been giving quite a bit of thought lately to stories. I am not talking about plot, structure, character development or anything else that might bore you to death. No, I have been thinking of the power of stories, and how, no matter how you might try to avoid it, they manage to take a life of their own and become something more than what you had intended. As I thought along in this fashion, I ended up back at ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’… Yes, that of Jesus.
Let me give you an example first. Hell, let me give you two.
First, let’s start from personal experience. A few years back, before the release of the final Harry Potter book, I happened to mention to a guy I wouldn’t usually strike up a conversation with that I was looking forward to the book coming out. A few months later I met that guy again and he asked me, with complete seriousness, if I had waited in line with a bunch of children at midnight, outside a bookshop, dressed as Dumbledore, awaiting the final book to be released. It’s amazing, how in a few short weeks, a casual comment could somehow have wound it’s way around to the falsehood that I had dressed as Dumbledore.
Secondly, I want to refer you back to Star Wars. One of the most famous movie quotes of all time, often quoted by children and drunk men on a night out. ‘Luke, I am your father.’ In fact there is no such quote. The actual line is ‘No, I am your father.’
And so brings me to the point I am trying to get to. The story of Jesus. The story itself is two thousand years old. Now, my Harry Potter story managed to warp itself into something ridiculous in the space of a few weeks. This is understandable. Everyone loves a rumour or a good piece of gossip. Especially ones where the protagonist is left looking foolish, even if in their heart of hearts they know it to not be true. Truth has little power in a juicy piece of gossip.
But, the Star Wars story is far more interesting. Here we have a story that should not be manipulated. With the written word, there is room for interpretation and visualising a character in your own fashion. Yet, with a movie, it does your imaginations work for you. Yet still, a movie quote that has worked its way into popular culture, is a quote that never existed. What does this say of the human condition. That although the movie is there for us to see anytime we want (any many of us have watched it countless times) how is it that ‘Luke, I am your father’ has not only survived, but flourished? Simple. It fits better. It feels better. It’s more comfortable. It falls off the tongue better. Basically, if we don’t like the story, we change it to suit the shape we want it to take.
And that is the important point. We change the story to suit the shape we want it to take. With the story of Jesus, two thousand years old and with humankind’s obvious need to change, shift, manipulate our stories, we cannot take the story of Jesus as we know it today as, pardon the pun, ‘gospel.’ To do so would be the greatest fallacy of all. It is blatantly obvious that the story of Jesus was polished, changed, changed again and probably a hundred more times in the past two thousand years to suit the world we lived in at each time period. This is not a condemnation, just a statement. Yet, I also think to discount the story completely is an equal fallacy. Yes I believe there was a person, in that part of the world, in that period of history, who did something that was worth writing down for future generations to know about. Was his name even Jesus? More than likely. The rest is impossible to know for sure. For the world loves a story, yet sometimes, making the story fit to how you might like it to sound is a more outstanding trait of out race than preserving historical accuracy.
Stories have the power to change and to alter the reader(s). They are wonderful things. Beautiful things. Sacred even. However, to take ANY story as ‘truth’ is a very, very dangerous thing indeed. Stories are personal. We all take our own meanings from any story we read or tell. The story of Jesus is no different. Yet it holds a special and sometimes fanatical place in peoples hearts and minds. So much so, that people have gone to war over it. People have died because of it. People have killed because of it. This is where things get crazy. Stories should inspire, ignite and make people think. It is when we ourselves make the fallacy of confusing story with truth or fact (even history is written by the surviviors, usually the winners of a war) that things become dangerous. In the case of religious stories, dangerous on a global scale.
So for the love of stories everywhere, please don’t hold them up to be something they are not.