Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Amazing Stories

"Master narrative" is the term used to describe the story that forms the foundation for a culture. I've been in a discussion most recently about this concept regarding how it relates to the Jewish people. The classic master narrative of Judaism is the Exodus. It forms the plot of four of the five books of the Torah and it reverberates in every way that we pray and, well, exist as a people. Its themes of optimism, freedom, and social justice have been the impetus for the Jewish community's survival over thousands of years and many threats to our existence. One of the hot topics of conversation within Judaism right now is the threat of the Exodus being supplanted by the Holocaust as our foundation. Do we want triumph or victimization? It's the reason that maybe the Holocaust is mentioned a bit too much. But, that's a (very controversial) topic for another time.

The question I want to get at is this: What is the master narrative of the United States of America? What is the one story that forms our foundation and, to make it harder, that all of our society's members know? The legends about George Washington that teach honesty and strength? The Boston Tea Party that teaches a love of democratic representation and a free spirit? Paul Revere riding the countryside tirelessly to help the rebellion? The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, showing the importance of our Union? I honestly don't know. I'm not sure that I have faith that all Americans know any one story and I bet that people from different parts of the country would have different answers. I'd say the Boston Tea Party. Someone in the South may say the "War of Northern Aggression." Do we have one story that keeps us together as a country?

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