There are muggle stories and there are muppet stories. Muggle stories are the ones we constantly tell ourselves about our lives. They tend to be rather mundane and parochial and although of great interest to us, are usually boring for other people, much like our dreams. These are the stories we pay psychotherapists to listen to and that our nearest and dearest have to constantly put up with. They are our personal soap operas.
Muppet stories go beyond our personal dramas in an attempt to make sense of the world. They are metanarratives which impose a single interpretive frame on the world, giving us a sense of reliable meaning and control. Ultimately, they are all examples of reductionism, reducing all complexity to one simple master narrative or theory of everything. They are totalising, veering towards totalitarian, dogmatic, ideological, fundamentalist, often characterised by passionate zealotry and activism. Current examples are militant atheism, rationalism, reified postmodernism, Marxism, fascism and religious fundamentalism. These examples derive their metanarratives from science (scientific materialism/ neo-Darwinism), philosophy (analytical philosophy and critical theory), politics and religion.
In the upper half of the Tibetan Wheel of Life, there are muggles (the human realm), muppets (the titan realm) and divas (the deva realm). So what about the diva/ devas? What about the stories of the gods? Well, the motto of the diva is; “neither a muggle nor a muppet be”. They see the limitations of our little, personal stories and their reflections in popular culture. They see the limitations of our fundamentalist stories and the way they inevitable embroil us in culture wars. They understand that we are meaning-seeking animals and story-telling creatures and that the best way to approach our lives and the world around us is through a rich tapestry of stories, not through the narrow lens of our own personal story (our “life script” as Eric Berne would say) or a single totalising grand narrative. Instead, they have multiple maps of meaning. They read old books, go to art galleries, theatres and concert halls, even occasionally to church. They are well educated, erudite, witty, sophisticated, cultured, refined. They resist simplistic and reductive visions of reality. They know how stories work. However, they cannot avoid being somewhat elitist and even snobbish, which is what gives them their veneer of diva-ness.
Matthew Arnold, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Dorothy L. Sayers, F.R. Leavis, Northrop Frye, Iris Murdoch, Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Jordan Peterson, Pinkola Estes, Alister McGrath, to name a few, are some of the more insightful and well-known advocates of the “storied life”. They divide their time and effort between reaping the imaginative benefits of a deep and serious engagement with culture, with “the best that has been thought and said”, and criticising the short-comings of muggle and muppet story-telling (which is when they get pulled into culture wars – remember that the titans and the gods on the Wheel of Life are perpetually at war).
Christianity is interesting in this regard, because it is such a central story, if not the central story, of Western culture and consciousness. Some of the writers I listed above, such as Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers and Northrop Frye, saw Christianity as a kind of meta story or Ur text, a great archetypal blueprint, “the greatest story ever told” to which all other stories must ultimately refer. Frye called it “the great code”. Whether the story is literally true is besides the point. It appeals to the deep-seated mythos of human consciousness, which goes far deeper than logos. (Karen Armstrong makes this crucial distinction between mythos and logos in her seminal book, The Case for God). However, it is not really good enough to be a thorough-going mythicist when it comes to the Christian story, since the whole thing turns on the coincidence of myth and history, of archetype and person, of the ideal and the actual, the Word made flesh and God made man.
The deep appreciation of the nature of art, myth and story and of how they interpenetrate the real world, is the essence of the deva realm. In the Christian context, this is best characterised as “Renaissance Humanism”, “Christian Humanism” or in its more recent incarnation, “Romantic Christianity”. Representatives of this imaginative religiosity are the English Romantics, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge and the German Romantics, Herder, Schiller, Goethe, Novalis, Wagner. This type of creative, mythical, poetic sensibility gave rise in the twentieth century to works of imaginative fantasy such as The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia Chronicles. The fact that they appeal to children is not accidental (think of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience), since children have not yet had their innate mythos beaten out of them by the James Mills and Mr Gradgrinds of rationalist modernity.
So there we have it: there are muggle stories, muppet stories and diva stories. There is muggle Christianity, muppet Christianity and diva Christianity. However, true spiritual freedom is to be found beyond the Wheel altogether, where all our stories are transcended in a cloud of forgetting and a cloud of unknowing.