I’ve been working on a series of short stories called “The Rembrandt Parables”. Its made me consider the nature of the parable. According to one definition I read, a parable is “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson”. I think that definition is too narrow. I believe a parable exhibits a world view. It need not speak to a specific moral, but an entire belief system.
In a modern context, morality has generally been reduced to moral relativism. In essence, a single moral expression is undermined for the sake of individual moral authority. But this is itself a moralistic world view, often referred to as postmodernism. The individualistic authority of this world view, as widely popular as it is, lacks the substance of communal authority. The need to exist within community is undermined by the radical moral rights of the individual. Where the community attempts to legislate some form of moral neutrality, it contradicts the philosophy upon which it is based. Legislation of equity denies the right of individual moral authority. What’s left is a morass of ambiguity.
Narrative becomes an essential corrective to that ambiguity. All narrative is didactic. The presentation of a particular world view through fiction creates a modern mythology. Even the creation of non-fictional forms of narrative, like “reality TV”, create a form of parable. Like so many, I watched the Youtube video of “Britain’s Got Talent” where a dowdy woman shocked the world with a stunningly beautiful singing voice. One judge made the comment that the contestant gave them all a wake-up call. That statement was the moral expression of the event. It might be expressed in a few ways: you should not write off a person until you understand their talent; or, you never know until you follow your dreams.
One of the questions asked through my stories is how to we understand ourselves through the stories we tell? We all want some form of moral certainty. In a world which eschews current moralistic systems, we need to rely on some sort of moral expression. I believe that all narrative serves that need. All the stories we tell are parables.