Thursday, October 18, 2007

the world as a novel

Why is Moby Dick white? Lots of answers could be proposed. Whatever meaning Melville intended we assume he had some reason. When we read a novel we see significance in details because we know that an author chooses details in order to convey information.

The world, on the other hand is the way it is, "just because." But what if we read the world the way we read a novel? What if we noticed when some interesting, strange, remarkable, synchronous event happened, and interpreted it for meaning, the same way a careful reader reads a work of literature?

Theologically that presents a problem because it implies belief in a "single author" (God) capable of manipulating events in the world in order to send messages. That view of God brings up problems of free will, and the problem of evil and also invites the obvious question if God can manipulate the world in order to send coded messages why doesn't God just send obvious messages?

But a middle way is possible. God is not a single author of the world, but God is an active participant in the world. God cannot force the world to reflect God's intentions, but God does influence the choices of the co-creators of the world (you and I and every other existing individual). Thus messages from God can appear in the world, but most often in partial and obscure ways. The interesting event you notice during the day may be a message from God, or it may be the result of individual choices not influenced by God. Just as in Moby Dick the color of the whale may be significant if you can tease out Melville's intended meaning, or the whale may be white, "just because."

1 comment:

Joel Monka said...

It's not hard to figure out why Melville made the whale white. It had to have some kind of distinguishing feature, easily visible from long distance, so that Ahab wouldn't be asking other Captains, "Have you seen the whale that looks just like every other whale?" There are very limited possibilities to fit that bill; being albino fits the literary need, and is believable.