STORYTELLING, TRUTH, AND “THE GOD PROBLEM” — IS BRET WEINSTEIN WRONG?

  • Fiction writers and storytellers, as purveyors of “metaphorical truth,” have a responsibility to behave like scientists and theologians. [Read more in Part 2. Basically: scientists observe, hypothesize, and then test those hypotheses, just like writers should. And theologians study the Divine. Storytellers should combine those two mindsets when telling a story that intends to reveal the truth.]

The stories we tell today will either help us become better as a species or ultimately bring about our demise.

The God Problem

What if the conclusions that Bret Weinstein and Jordan Peterson have hinted at are correct, but what if the building blocks of their arguments are completely wrong? What if the highest form of truth isn’t “metaphorically true, but literally false”?

  • They have formed a hypothesis: Delayed gratification separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom.
  • Their discussion begins to test this hypothesis. Notably, Bret has already considered this. And he has a suggestion: The ultimate form of delayed gratification, a belief in the afterlife, seems to have separated human beings from animals. We construct stories in order to avoid “sinning,” and by doing so we delay gratification and help our species thrive. Except Bret Weinstein says that belief in an afterlife, while extremely beneficial to the species, is: “metaphorically true, but literally false.”
  • That prompts Jordan Peterson to present another question: Can metaphorical truth, if it’s the highest possible form of truth (i.e., abiding by said truth produces the best possible outcome for humanity), be considered Divine?
  1. These hypotheses and theories are onto something, but they’re not complete. Partially flawed.
  2. These hypotheses and theories are Divine truth. Flawless.

If These Hypotheses Are Bullshit… (Completely Flawed)

Before we continue, I’ll address the first bullet point: that their theories are completely flawed. This is fairly simple. Maybe everything Weinstien and Peterson have suggested is utter nonsense. Human beings may not be as different from other animals as they suggest. Maybe. Or maybe we are different, but it has nothing to do with delayed gratification. Maybe. Or maybe delayed gratification is only one variable in a far more complex equation. Maybe (probably).

If These Hypotheses are at Least Partially True (or Partially Flawed)

Now, let’s assume that Weistein and Peterson are onto something, even if only partially. I’m only going to focus on one way their argument could be flawed, but the reality is that there could be thousands of ways. My focus: “the God problem.” How we get there:

  1. Then, let’s assume the second hypothesis is also accurate: The ability to delay gratification is one of the more significant ways humans are different from animals.
  2. And finally, let’s say the third hypothesis is also accurate: Delayed gratification has led to the formulation of belief systems that include rewards in the form of an afterlife.

More Thoughts to Come

As writers, I think we should test these hypotheses in our stories. We should explore characters who gain faith in something bigger or who lose their faith in something beyond themselves. But I would caution against Bret’s conclusion. He could be right, but what if he’s wrong? How would a story test those belief systems?

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Jay Sherer

Jay Sherer

I love storytelling. I write novels and screenplays. My latest book, DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER, is out now!