In Alan Mann’s Atonement for a ‘Sinless’ Society, which drew plenty of healthy comment yesterday, there is a big-time emphasis on narrative or story. Whether we talk like this or even think like this or not, “story” or “narrative” gives meaning to our lives. We make sense of our life and our world by telling a story of our life or our world — it structures the elements into a coherent whole. Atonement, according to Mann, is a story and being atoned for is to find the story of Jesus to be our story.
To be sure, Mann takes sides on this one: the rational world of the past is not as meaningful in the postmodern context as the storied world is. Here’s a good quotation: “Briefly put, the postmodern self prefers a good story to a good fact” (68).
Narratives create potential worlds of meaning for each of us. Stories stimulate the imagination. [McKnight: Let’s think about how the stories our world sees, in which we live and dwell — like Star Wars or movies of various sorts, etc., shape our sense of sin and atonement.] Counter-narratives challenge the storied world in which we personall dwell and such counter-narratives have the capacity to challenge our stories and create the possibility of another story to become our story (i.e., conversion).
What we learn is that for a story to be really meaningful requires the Other — and others. It means that the self learns to tell a story in which the Other and others exist and that they play a role in the meaning making a story can give. And Mann sees God as a “storied Being” and we are to learn to God’s story.
Thus: “atonement is ultimately about the restoration of human/divine relations via the re-storying of the storied self” (96-7).
And this too: “A story of atonement that orientates [that English for “orients”] itself purely and simply around the wrath of God, directed toward the self for sins committed against a divine law, which is absorbed by an innocent (Jesus), not only fails to map onto the story of the post-industrialized ‘sinless’ self in any meaningful way — it also fails to map onto significant chunks of the New Testament” (98).
Here the problem comes in again: the fear of exposure for the postmodern self silences the postmodern, but this silence (and fear) is not a sign of a lack of sin or even a lack of conviction of sin. Here we confront the major issue: the silence is the inability to find a story that makes sense of the person’s shame.
What do you think of this notion that the atonement message is a story and conversion is learning to tell that story as our story? And that the postmodern enters the story from a different location, and that the postmodern finds some elements of that story more meaningful than others?