Narrative Trains Our Emotions Which Conditions Our Perception Of The World

Much of our action is not the fruit of conscious deliberation; instead, much of what we do grows out of our passional orientation to the world- affected by all the ways we’ve been primed to perceive the world.[ 65] In short, our action emerges from how we imagine the world.[ 66] What we do is driven by who we are, by the kind of person we have become. And that shaping of our character is, to a great extent, the effect of stories that have captivated us, that have sunk into our bones- stories that “picture” what we think life is about, what constitutes “the good life.” We live into the stories we’ve absorbed; we become characters in the drama that has captivated us. Thus, much of our action is acting out a kind of script that has unconsciously captured our imaginations. And such stories capture our imagination precisely because narrative trains our emotions, and those emotions actually condition our perception of the world.

Here we need to appreciate the recent insights of cognitive science and neuroscience, which then help us see the importance of the imagination and story. We are not disembodied choice machines who somehow end up in bodies that are embedded in a material milieu. No, we are actors, doers, engaged makers and muddlers in a material world that is our home, our environment, our milieu, our dwelling. A nuanced liturgical anthropology will need to displace the functional intellectualism that tends to dominate both philosophical accounts of agency and our everyday “folk” conceptions of choice and action. Even those Christian communities we usually criticize for their anti-intellectualism are, in fact, intellectualist in their implicit philosophies of action insofar as they believe that changing what we think will change what we do. But what if we are actors before we are thinkers? What if our action is driven and generated less by what we think and more by what we love? And what if those loves are formed on a register that hums along largely below the radar of consciousness- but are nonetheless acquired products of formation and not mere aspects of “hardwiring”? Then any adequate account of Christian formation and discipleship- and hence any holistic vision for Christian education- will need to appreciate the dynamics of habituation that make us the sorts of actors we are. This book aims to articulate a Christian philosophy of action that takes seriously the creational conditions of human action: our embodiment, our finitude, our sociality, and the complexity of our being-in-the-world- the different ways that we “intend” our world. At the heart of my argument is the conviction that our incarnating, accommodating God meets us in and through these creaturely conditions. Just as God’s revelation accommodates itself to the hermeneutical conditions of our finitude, so the transforming Spirit of God meets us as the finite creatures of habit we are. The sanctifying Spirit condescends to meet us as narrative, imaginative, ritual animals, giving us practices and liturgies for our sanctification.

James KA Smith – Imagining the Kingdom

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