By Christian Winters
In the first century B.C., Caesar Augustus commissioned the Latin poet Vergil to write a national epic. Vergil’s poem, The Aeneid, served to form the national collective memory of the history of Rome. Aeneas, the hero of the poem, is an exemplar of the foremost Roman virtue: dutifulness. What did it mean to be a good Roman? To fulfill your duty, like Aeneas. Caesar Augustus’s hope for this national poem was fulfilled; Vergil and The Aeneid shaped the thoughts and imaginations of generations of Romans. The example of “pious Aeneas” was held up to be the premier example of what it meant to be a good Roman. The story of the exile from Troy shaped the Roman people to be inclined toward living a life after the model of Aeneas.
Shaped By The Stories We’re Told
Caesar Augustus, in commissioning Vergil, recognized a key truth about humanity and about communities. People are shaped by the stories that we tell. Groups are brought together by the tales told to one another. But what about today? To our dismay, the postmodern secular West has been spreading lies about God, Man, and Nature for years. We have allowed deceitful stories about the origin and purpose of everything that is disseminate into our everyday lives. We ask: Where did everything come from? and hear “Nothing.” What is the final end of all that is? “Nothing.” What is the purpose of man? “There is none,” we hear.
And so autonomous individuals are free to make up their own purposes in accord with their own personal preferences and desires. Science has supposedly disproven religion, and so now professional scientists are our prophets. They relate to us how we might appease nature to extend our own lives, or at least the life of our human race indefinitely. These lies are like poisoned candy delicately placed in colorful wrappers. Phrases like: “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re anything less than perfect;” or “Whatever you do and whoever you are is good and right, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.” Like the apple in the garden, these lies look appetizing: a delight to the eyes: “Live free and be yourself.” In the face of such enticing promises, what can Christians do?
Young People Need More Than Rationalizing
First, Christians must be aware that rationalizing alone will not be enough to keep young people in Church or ward off the Enemy. Reason is good and helpful, but human beings are not “brains-on-a-stick.” As James K.A. Smith has pointed out in You Are What You Love, human beings are first lovers, and only second thinkers. We are defined by what (or whom) we love. How are loves shaped? – or re-shaped? By prayer, and by stories.
We must tell of Dante’s trip through the horrors of hell to the happiness of heaven. We must read of the courage of William Wilberforce to fight against the slave trade in Britain. We must hear of the wisdom of Gandalf and Elrond and the friendship love of Frodo and Sam. We must hear the roar of Aslan and learn to long for our true home, like Reep-a-Cheep the mouse.
Thus, second, Christians must tell stories that mold people to love the good and hate what is evil. We must share tales where evil is depicted as evil and the good is depicted as good. We must tell of Dante’s trip through the horrors of hell to the happiness of heaven. We must read of the courage of William Wilberforce to fight against the slave trade in Britain. We must hear of the wisdom of Gandalf and Elrond and the friendship love of Frodo and Sam. We must hear the roar of Aslan and learn to long for our true home, like Reep-a-Cheep the mouse. In 1966 an essay was written by C.S. Lewis published in the volume On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. In it, Lewis says that “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” How true this is.
Third, Christians must tell and re-tell the story, that is, the One Great Story to which all the good tales point. We must be a people who read and speak and preach and sing the story of Scripture to one another. We must tell of Abraham, that great man of faith, who went out, not knowing where he was going, because God had told him “Go.” We need to be shaped by the story of Moses, who considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. The true tales of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Samuel, David, who conquered kingdoms and obtained promises need to be what form our imaginations and constitute our thoughts. The overarching story of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, crushing the head of the serpent and rescuing his bride, the Church, for the sake of our redemption and his own glory, needs to be the singular story from which we make sense of all the other stories. We, as Christians, need to live in light of the Cross and for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. Only by telling and re-telling this story can that be accomplished.
We, as Christians, need to live in light of the Cross and for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. Only by telling and re-telling this story can that be accomplished.
Telling A Better Story
How do we combat the circulating current of Lucifer’s lies? What can Christians do when up against an age that finds us fools? We must tell a better story – the Christian story. We sing, marching onward, victors in the midst of strive. We bind the Lord’s commandments on our foreheads, and we delight in all of God’s creation, knowing that He made it. We form havens in local communities in which to do these things and to educate our young. In Jackson, Tennessee, at 1171 Old Humboldt Road, I am thankful that the little Augustine School is one such place.