In a society and educational system focused on empiricism and the pursuit of knowledge, people have the most trouble distinguishing between that which is true and that which is truth. The values of the humanist Renaissance, empirical Enlightenment—and even colonialism and its attempts to replace the “old and backwards” with the “new and refined”—seep through virtually every aspect of our society whether we realize it or not. We are obsessive empiricists, attaching value only to that which we can “prove” and losing sight of our fluid reality in which scientific facts are no more real than spiritual truths. Worse, we train ourselves to read stories and religious texts with the same lens of empiricism. We attach meanings where they do not belong and dig so deep for meaning that we dig ourselves a hole too deep to climb out of. Beliefs are all we have—whether in gravity or in God. Our central problem, as empiricists, is that we treat our beliefs as facts and allow the word belief to have a connotation of inferiority in relation to fact or knowledge. We look at our predecessors with a smugness that is unwarranted. Our high school biology teachers laugh at the proposition that anyone could ever have thought that protein, not DNA, was our genetic material. It really is not all that ridiculous and was probably a necessary stepping stone of scientific revelation. It is only a matter of time before people ridicule our generation for missing out on seemingly obvious scientific “facts”. They may wonder why we obsessed about neurons when there are 10-50 times more glial cells in the brain. They may wonder why we ever thought our life-sustaining planet was some miraculous product that had never occurred before or was unlikely to occur again.
It sometimes doesn’t occur to us that people with less technology and text books could have possibly known more than us, which is funny because no one really starts out with the idealized tabula rasa. We stand atop millennia of hard work, insight, creativity, and wisdom. Wisdom that may date back as far as the human race does. But who cares about wisdom, right? We obsess over the idea and pursuit of knowledge. We obsess over that which is true and forget the value of truth or wisdom because ultimately it seems to carry more utility and is perhaps a more achievable goal. Getting a promotion at work may be difficult, but it’s easier than mastering humility or patience. Some may say, “Who cares for those things anyway? It doesn’t get you any farther in life.” But my grandparents would argue that such people don’t know the first thing about life and living. They simply know how to be, how to exist, how to persist. My grandparents’ beliefs would certainly garner some eye-rolling and snickering amongst my generation but I still hold these beliefs very close to my heart. I do not have the ability to reduce the idea of living to simply existing, given the wondrous capacity of the human being and my personal good fortune of having all of my essential human needs met. But even the poorest of the poor aspire for things beyond survival, for their children if not themselves. There is so much to experience and learn in the world that cannot be gleaned from a textbook. We are much more than the sum of our parts. But you won’t learn that from an anatomy textbook.
And that is why we need stories, epics, science fiction, comic books, and the like. To trick us into learning the things that we need to learn most but roll our eyes at if it comes in the form of lectures from our elders. We fail to recognize the value of the stories our parents told and read to us when we were little. We quantify our learning by grades on exams. We don’t think twice about why reading or watching movies is so enjoyable. Why do we enjoy reading or watching the human experience? Why do we read tragedies? What is their utility? “Entertainment” is an easy response, but it is not a complete response if one considers the characteristics of higher quality entertainment. We seek depth of character, psychological development, elements of tragedy, elements of comedy, and evil serving as a foil for good—reflections of our own life so that we can step back and experience life without experiencing its consequences. We ask questions like, “Why create?” or “If God is all-powerful, why is there still evil in the world?” but perhaps we already know the answers and just need to step back to see them. They answer our questions and allow for a type of experience that simultaneously lacks significant effort. A story is free knowledge that is accessible to everyone by virtue of being inherent in every culture, society, and individual. Stories—oral or written—are but thinly veiled trinkets of wisdom, the forgotten heroes, and food for our souls.