We only understand anything through language. We distinguish one thing from another through the words we use: Structuralism says that language is a system, one thing, and words relate to each other rather than to discrete things out there. Post-structuralism says I am born into a world of language, which defines what I might do or think. Orwell imagined Newspeak preventing anyone ever thinking an unorthodox thought: perhaps English does, too. Deconstructionism asserts that meanings are not fixed, but must always be ideological constructs, which attempt to make that which is the product of a particular culture or thought system seem natural, inevitable and objectively true. To destroy slavery, including slavery to concepts of masculinity, we need new language.
Back to that later, perhaps. Language comes before reality in the Bible: In the beginning was the Word; the Earth was a formless void until God speaks, and calls our world into existence. Yet in Christianity, God made revealed Truth. Human beings simply have to tune into revelation of this ready made divine order of things, and fit themselves into it.
Yet I believe in continuing revelation, human beings working things out, seeing things anew.
I have just been watching a television drama, Thirteen, in which a girl was kidnapped and imprisoned for thirteen years before she escaped. I don’t believe her post-traumatic responses, necessarily, it is a drama of events more than ideas, and one for the quotidian rather than extreme- couples split and reform, people choose between spouses and lovers; so as well as the threat of the Murderer- will he kill the ten year old he has kidnapped now?- I am offered a vision of what it means to be in a couple.
I have a choice of many such stories, in fifty-year soap operas or novellas, millions of versions, from four millennia of civilisation. They are hot, with strong threat and emotion, or cool and contemplative. There are great Myths, and English-speaking peoples are shaped by the King James Bible and Shakespeare. We have no sure way of relating the Jewish teacher, Y’shua, to the Jesus of the Gospels, but we have those stories, of being born of a virgin, changing water into wine, dying and rising again.
There are continual new interpretations of these stories. Humans use them for our own purposes. They do not trap us into one understanding but free us for greater understanding as we continually explore. Stories enable us to share glimpses of truth, as well as the clear detailed descriptions of truth in scientific papers; and to feel our way into empathy as well as thinking into understanding.
Different languages give different understandings of the world, divide it up in different ways.
I am not saying any philosopher considering language has a lesser view than this, but for me, language is a good enough tool to explore my world, and the cage is porous enough for humanity to stretch it: it is not a cage, but scaffolding, for us to create greater understanding. The stories can free us.
I started on this because I have been reading Derek Guiton who apparently fears that David Boulton will drive belief in God out of the Religious Society of Friends. Possibly no-one reading this has my precise interests, yet I hope you get something from it. Here I have looked at Boulton’s explanation of stories in The Trouble with God and found it compatible with belief in God as well as useful in understanding my world.