Our Sacred Stories

Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris

Droste Effect, image labeled for reuse, Wikipedia

For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 31:3

What is Consciousness?

What is consciousness? How does it work? These are questions we still don’t have a firm grasp of within the neurosciences. Some trains of thought divide consciousness into an observer and the observed (the thoughts, emotions, narratives etc. being experienced/created that the observer within us can observe). In fact, this approach to understanding the mind and consciousness is key to practicing mindfulness and meditation. Both with increasing proven health benefits. But the observer within us can ALSO be observed observing…. So where or when then does the observer originate?

Theory of Narrative Thought

Much of our thinking and consciousness is bound together by narratives which we create (and our internal observer observes, sometimes even “fusing” with the narrative and not realizing it is only being observed).

The Theory of Narrative Thought delves into this. According to this train of thought (which I agree with) our narratives, our stories, literally form a bedrock of our consciousness. Causative events are linked. Our very understanding of time, the fourth dimension, is thus grounded in narratives… Our narratives may be a map of an external reality, but they are only that. A map. A map that actually emanates chemically, physiologically and psychologically from within… not without.

That said, the internal chemistry that forms our narrative maps IS influenced and shaped by our cultures, our physiological and psychological states, our past experiences, etc. External factors CAN and DO influence the internal maps of reality (external and internal realities) we all carry and use.

Our Narratives in Therapy

Aspects of this reasoning are used under the guidance of qualified therapists in Narrative Therapy. It is not uncommon for victims of trauma for instance (physical, psychological, spiritual or otherwise) to have a disjointed narrative of their experience. One sign and/or path of healing can be the trauma victim forming a cohesive narrative of the event(s) that frames the traumatic event(s) in a manner that allows the trauma victim to move on/overcome or progress in life.

Inherant Biological Foundations

I personally believe there are probably intrinsic and inherent psychological archetypal moral biological foundations that our narrative maps are built upon… and even spring up and grow from. I believe the many commonalities we see with narratives throughout the world within our species are some evidence of this. I believe our cultures, unique products of our narratives interacting, in turn influence and shape our narratives.

Our stories or narratives are as old as humanity. We see the same stories and narratives again and again. Just wearing slightly different clothing. That said, to my knowledge it has not been proven that our various types of narratives stem from or are hung upon deeper pre-programmed biological narrative archetypes. This is still an area of research that in many ways is in its infancy, even though Carl Jung proposed psychological ideas based upon inherited “archetypes” in the early 20th century.

The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

Christopher Booker spent decades studying thousands of the stories of the world from myths to folk tales, plays and novels. He was convinced these can almost all be characterized as seven basic plots… or combinations of these seven plots. He wrote about this extensively in 2004 in “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” The first third of the book is spent discussing the seven basic plots. The last two thirds of the book is spent sharing his thoughts about how these stories relate to Jungian psychology. A weakness of his book is far more stories from Western cultures are examined than Eastern cultures, so some his conclusions may not be generalizable across cultures.

I personally found the first third of his book very useful. The last two-thirds was much more speculative and seemed much less evidence-based to me. What does seem self-evident to me is that for whatever reasons (I personally believe there is likely a strong biological basis in this) the same types of stories seem to spring up again and again in our myths, our folk tales, plays, novels and in the way we portray and understand our actual real life events.

MR. Q. VCTR is a useful acronym of The Seven Basic Plots

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

1. Overcoming the Monster

The Hero/Heroine of the story overcomes a Monster. The Monster’s arrogance almost always produces a “blind spot” which then becomes key to the protagonist overcoming this Demon.

Scriptural examples include Moses and Pharaoh, Nephi and Laban, and Jesus and Satan.

2. Rags to Riches

The Heroine/Hero acquires wealth, riches, fame, glory, etc. Often this is initially through little effort on the Heroine’s/Hero’s part. The protagonist often loses it all, only to then acquire these again later, building character, etc. in the process.

Scriptural examples include the tale of King David, the tale of Nephi, and Jesus’ life.

3. The Quest

The Hero/Heroine pursues a challenging destination or goal. A wide variety of dangers and obstacles are encountered and overcome along the way.

Scriptural examples include the missionary journeys of Paul to the Gentiles, culminating in Rome, the journey to the promised land by Lehi’s family and Jesus living to fulfill every commandment of the Father.

4. Voyage and Return

The Heroine/Hero leaves home on a long journey to ultimately return home. Much is learned during the journey and obstacles, etc. may be overcome as well. When the protagonist returns home, she/he are a greater benefit to those she/he initially left. Some similarities to “The Quest.”

Scriptural examples include the family of Israel from Jacob to Joshua, the multi-generational journey of the family of Zeniff and Jesus’ descent from and ascent back to His Home.

5. Comedy

We typically think of Comedy as being funny. And it can be. However, Booker uses the word “comedy” in a more classical sense. There are misunderstandings and misperceptions between characters with various events, etc. Confusion. Ultimately, the confusions and misunderstandings are rectified.

Scriptural examples include the story of Jonah, Moroni and Pahoran, and the life and mission of Jesus Christ. (None of Jesus’ disciples understood the spiritual nature of His mission as Savior until after the Resurrection, then the prior misunderstandings were made clear).

6. Tragedy

The Hero/Heroine has a blind spot that ultimately leads to the unraveling of his/her character. In some ways, this is similar to “Overcoming the Monster,” except the protagonist IS the monster (in many ways) and like the monster also falls due to a blind spot, a moral deficiency that the main character is unaware of and can’t or refuses to see.

Scriptural examples include the life of King Saul, the course of the Nephite nation and the fall of Lucifer/Satan.

7. Rebirth

Some life altering event or series of events changes the heroine/hero’s outlook, perspective or world-view. Literally becoming like a new person or a new person. Resurrection narratives fit powerfully within this category.

Scriptural examples include the story of Naaman, the story of Saul/Paul and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I have Personally Found Booker’s Findings to Largely be True

Since learning of Booker’s Seven Basic Plots, I have kept these in mind with most stories and narratives I have personally viewed or read since. I have found that in some shape or fashion, nearly all of these narratives can be represented as one of these plot archetypes or a combination of these archetypes. I can also frame my own personal life narrative(s) into these plot frameworks as well.

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell (raised Catholic) spent his life studying the religious traditions of the world. He believed that the sacred stories of the world were myths and could be condensed down even further plot-wise than Booker. Campbell believed all of the religious myths or stories of the world were united by one grand monomyth. “The Hero’s Journey.” He discussed this extensively in his 1949 seminal work, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

In this journey, the protagonist leaves home, crossing a threshold, encounters challenges which eventually lead to a death or rebirth/resurrection of sorts, at which point the hero is transformed into a more glorious figure and returns home with honor, to share and benefit those the hero left from. And the cycle continues.

To me, Campbell’s Hero’s journey sounds an awful lot like the LDS Plan of Salvation as taught by Joseph Smith.

Imaged labeled for reuse at Wikipedia

My Views on Scriptures

Literal Interpretations

So what then does this have to do with my World-View after Mormonism? Well, I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is history. I don’t believe the Book of Abraham is history. I don’t believe most of the Bible is history. I think the evidence is absolutely overwhelming against most of the concrete literal historical claims of these works. And I DON’T believe in a lying God running around deceitfully planting evidence to “test faith.”

Given the Mormon Church has made many literal historical claims of the LDS scriptures the bedrock of their claims to Divine Authority, to literally speaking for and on behalf of God, I also can’t and don’t support their claims to speak for God. This is not even to mention the many ways I believe dogmatic literalistic Mormon theology has also served to harm others… e.g. Racism, Polygamy, Sexism, Homophobia, etc. Yet another set of reasons I can’t in good conscience support the Mormon Church’s claims to being God’s mouthpiece on earth.

Non-Literal Interpretations

But, just because I don’t believe these works of scripture are the literal pieces of history they claim to be also doesn’t mean I believe there is no inspiration or Divinity within them. In many ways, I believe these works HAVE helped bind humanity together and move humanity to a higher plane. In many instances, I believe these works DO contain goodness, Divinity and Inspiration. There are many stories and narratives throughout these works that I believe convey deep and profound truths.

For instance, literal or not, I can’t think of a better example than the story of Jesus that binds together and represents all of these narrative archetypes (except for tragedy) in a powerful and moving fashion. Given I believe we psychologically structure many of our internal narratives in similar paradigms, I can’t help but believe patterning our lives to “follow Jesus” can’t help but have a profound effect on our psyches (and behavior) in more ways than one. (As an aside, to be clear, I personally believe many “non-Christians,” to include many “Atheists” are “following Jesus” far better than many Christians.) Literal or not, I believe the life of Jesus as told in the Bible is arguably one of the best examples in the literature of humanity of a “Divine archetype.” I personally believe there are a number of profound reasons this story continues to get told and retold… shaping nations and civilizations in the process.

What happens in the life of Christ happens always and everywhere. In the Christian archetype all lives of this kind are prefigured and are expressed over and over again or once and for all.

Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

My Post-Mormon World-View

I believe the narratives of scriptural stories are manmade and are projections of the psyches and narrative maps of the authors. I believe these are in turn influenced by the cultures and societies they grew and developed within and in some instances (in the Bible) have also been influenced by actual historical events.

Observers of the observed. Which observers can in turn be observed. Narrative Archetypes. Consciousness. The backbone of humanity. Reflections of the image of God.

Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.