chapter  47
12 Pages

Narrative

ByANTHONY RUDD

The telling of stories seems to play an important role in (almost?) all religions. One learns about the gods primarily by hearing their stories told. Even in religions with explicitly articulated systems of doctrine, narrative remains of central importance. In Judaism, to learn about God is not, in the first place, to learn that God is omnipotent, omniscient, etc., but to learn that He established a covenant with Abraham, led His people from slavery in Egypt, gave them the Law on Mt Sinai and so forth. In Christianity the story is continued; we learn more about God by learning that He became incarnate in Jesus Christ, suffered for our sins and rose from the dead. In Judaism and Christianity, then, narrative isn’t just a convenient form for presenting doctrines that could, in principle, be grasped abstractly; rather, the narrative of God’s actions makes up a crucial part of the content of those doctrines. In other religions, narrative might not be quite as central. The story of the historical Buddha, his quest for and attainment of Enlightenment, isn’t exactly a part of the content of Buddhist doctrine (it isn’t itself one of the Four Noble Truths) in the same way that the Passion narrative is a part of Christian doctrine; but, nevertheless, the story of the Buddha has been, and remains, of great value for Buddhists.