Why is it that we all seem to be drawn into a story? Around the world, people spend billions of dollars every year buying books or going to the movies. We don’t just do that because we like to own pieces of paper bound together or watch lights and colors flashing on the screen. We do it because those pieces of paper or those images come together and create a story. They come together and create a form of reality. Albeit, it is not truly reality, but we are allowed to imagine what might be. We are able to think about what the world might be like if we were in a certain situation or had to overcome a variety of difficult obstacles.
Story gives us what has classically been understood as romance. It is not so much related to love as we often times associate romance with today, but it can also be understood as a sense of excitement or almost mystery that stems out of the ordinary circumstances. It is something that we often times looking in our own lives. Most of us wake up in the morning, go to work, come home, eat dinner, relax, go to bed and repeat. We fall into routines, and there really isn’t very much mystery, excitement or shall we say romance to what we do. Therefore, because we are lacking in our own lives, we want to find a way to insert romance back in. That is what stories can do. They give us something that we are lacking in our ordinary lives. We are missing romance, so we try to find it wherever we can.
G.K. Chesterton also recognized this void in our lives that people have been trying to fill in a variety of ways. In The Everlasting Man, he explored the idea of paganism. Obviously, paganism was representative of the attempt that men had made to find a way to God. Because they wanted to fill in that lack of romance, they started making stories that would answer the many questions that they had about the world around them. They wanted a world that was full of meaning, and they understood that the meaning had to come from without. It had to be injected into our world. That meaning would provide the romance. It would provide the excitement and mystery that made ordinary life worth living. Otherwise, it would just be as mechanistic as I described before. We would end up in a routine that had no mystery whatsoever, and after that, without this insertion of meaning, we find no romance at all. Therefore, if we can’t find it, we have to create it because we want it. It is very much like economics. There is a demand, so someone or something is going to supply that demand.
For some reason though, stories created by the human mind seemed insufficient. There was still a longing that Chesterton argued paganism could not satisfy. “To sum up; the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”
Romance and Truth United
This is a significant difference. Sometimes stories are not sufficient to fulfill this longing because they are not true. It is wonderful to hear that Will Robinson was saved from danger by an alien robot in Lost in Space, and by watching that story, I can certainly find some romance, but I fundamentally realize that that story is insufficient. If I was to frame my worldview on the values portrayed by a Netflix series, fortunately, it might work out okay. That series certainly embraced the value of family, courage, loyalty and trust. It frowned upon the vices of selfishness and sneakiness. A worldview built on these values does not seem like it would be such a terrible thing, but philosophically, I still understand that this is a Netflix series. It is something that is made by men and women. As a result, I know that it is fictional, and it does not provide the answers I need as a human who not only naturally desires story but also desires truth.
We require this unity. It is not just enough to have a story, but it needs to be a story that corresponds with reality. It needs to be a story that ultimately makes sense of the world as we know it. Chesterton explained that without this unity of romance and truth, “The picture-makers would have remained forever painting the portrait of nobody. The sages would have remained for ever adding up numerals that came to nothing.” Without the truth, any picture is ultimately meaningless. The portrait of a person is a very little use if it does not point to a real person. Doing mathematics doesn’t make a lot of sense unless we come to the answer. That is the entire purpose of mathematics after all.
Therefore, a story is not sufficient, but it is also a necessary part of any worldview. In the field of apologetics, I have seen it happen far too often where Christianity is reduced to simply a series of propositional arguments. Those arguments are true, but without a story, people do not find this romance. They do not find this satisfactory fulfillment of the desire that have, and the tragedy of the entire thing, as Chesterton points out in this passage, is that Christianity is indeed the only thing that can satisfactorily bring together romance and truth.
After all, think of all of the qualifications. Every world religion, like many of the pagan religions that Chesterton referred to, did a good job providing romance. They provided a sense of meaning and a framework for understanding why the world was the way it was. However, they had a very important flaw according to Chesterton. “That is why the ideal figure had to be a historical character, as nobody had ever felt Adonis or Pan to be a historical character.” Without truth, the story really does not mean all that much. After all, what does it really matter to me what happens in a fictional story? I cannot build my entire worldview on something that is not true. After all, all worldviews have to operate in the domain of reality, and within that domain, a worldview with any other reference point beyond concrete reality is going to fail. It was not make sense or fit into the world, and our philosophical desire to discover truth is going to remain unsatisfied.
On the other side of the coin, consider our modern-day obsession with materialism. There is ultimately no story or sense of romance from this perspective, but they claim to have possession of truth. In fact, more extreme forms of materialism that embrace determinism strip even free will from reality have absolutely no romance despite the fact that they believe that this is truly the way the world is.
How can there be a sense of excitement, mystery or story if all the parts are already in motion inevitably? There is no reason to be excited or no sense in wondering about anything because there is no way to avoid the powerful reins of determinism. The problem is of course that we have this innate desire to want story. Like Chesterton aptly noted, that is why religions have been so prevalent in practically every time and place. If we don’t have one, we create one because we want to have that overarching narrative that puts our entire world into focus and provides a level of understanding. For the deterministic materialist, that story does not and cannot exist. For materialists who might embrace free will, they have a little bit more to play with because they can at least appeal to people being able to define their own purposes. At least there is some kind of romance in that view, but even that romance is insufficient.
As I suggested before, a story is only good in so far as it aligns with reality. I am pretty convinced that for anyone who tries to come up with their own set of purposes that explain everything about the way the world is, there are going to be some spots where their own perspective is insufficient. Their own perspective will not be able to provide a comprehensive explanation of the way the world is, and that story is going to not fulfill that desire. Contrary to popular belief, no person has comprehensively developed a theory of everything. Of course, what else would you expect from finite human beings?
Therefore, this is where the materialists start playing games. Their worldview does not allow for sufficient stories, but they either claim they do not need them or kind of look the other way and ignore any insufficiency. The first problem is that, practically speaking, those who say they do not need any type of story or meaning tend to try to find it anyway. They want it, but they will not admit they do. For an imaginative example of this, you should read Rebekah Valerius’ recent contribution to the summer 2018 edition of An Unexpected Journal where she retells the myth of Arachne with a professor who espouses the worldview of Richard Dawkins. Those who said they do not need meaning often times still have a fundamental belief in something that demonstrates they do have this need.
On the other hand, there are obviously people who just ignore insufficiencies. Materialism does not provide a story, but there are people who will just kind of avoid the topic and try to move on. They probably realize their worldview is insufficient, but they like it and therefore do not want to admit that there is something insufficient about it. Every religious group has these types of people who will refuse to be convinced no matter where the evidence points. Materialists are no different in that regard.
Therefore, to come back to where I started this article, we are indeed drawn to story, but we are similarly drawn to truth. We want romance at the same time as we want to know the way the world truly is. We can try to run away from either of these human tendencies. We can deny that we need story or deny that truth even exists. We can deny that we want something more than mechanistic determinism, and we can deny that some things are undeniably false. Of course we can take all of these positions, but Chesterton suggests that all of them are insufficient. The only way to be truly human and to embrace that which we were created for, in the image of God, is to bring together these tendencies. We want to compartmentalize, but we ought not do that. Anything short of embracing Christianity will leave you with an untrue story or meaningless facts that do not fit into a greater picture. Like Chesterton said of Christianity, “It does not imprison us in a dream of destiny or a consciousness of the universal delusion. It opens to us not only incredible heavens but what seems to some an equally incredible earth, and makes it credible.”
This type of sufficiency could not be achieved by paganism, and it cannot be achieved by materialism. Only in the Christian worldview is one able to find a way to bring together a desire for story and the story that just happens to be true.
 G K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (No city: Wilder Publications, Inc, no date), 211, Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., 212.
 Ibid., 211.
 Ibid., 212.