Living Without the Metanarrative

Living Without the Metanarrative November 10, 2015

lanawideopengroundby Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground

When I left evangelicalism, I got depressed. It was a living nightmare.

After I wrote my post on how the Duggars are not crazy, it hit me head on that I actually left a part of me that was extremely meaningful. Also, the homeschool positive series on Homeschoolers Anonymous made me a bit homesick.

That may come as a shock because I can’t look back and say, “oh, well doctrine of hell is meaningful.” or “save the kiss lessons helped me in relationships.” “Or I learned a lot of social skills as a kid.” rrrrr no. definitely no.

But, but, there was a heroic purpose in fundamentalism.

See, people in the west wake up every day, go to work, and then go home, and then maybe they watch TV, or maybe they don’t. When I meet some high school students, they will say, “oh, I’m going to college so I can get a job and a house.” “And? And what else do you want to get out of college?” I will pry. “To get a job!” They will edge on.

Only to get a job? That’s it? That fog is depressing. What about so we can impact the culture or raise the next president or learn so much we create new dialogues or so we can make meaningful friendships, or just about anything else that might be interesting in college?

Dare I say “get a job” was not the way I grew up?

When I grew up, I believed that we learn because learning is awesome. And I thought that we could grow up and get the nation behind us.

You might say that’s a bit naive. You also might say that is prideful, or crappy, or whatever else. Personally I just laugh that we homeschoolers ever thought we could take over the world.

But, but, look, we had value and purpose right there.

I can’t tell you how many insane looks I get regularly, all the freakin’ time when I say I’m studying in graduate school for pure pleasure. It’s like madness to some people, and for me, it’s just life.

Also on meaning: Christianity gave a metanarrative to our lives, that is, a story that defines and explains all other reality. Western civilization doesn’t have any. The end of the cultural narrative stopped in the later 1950s, the death of the last “hurrah.” What holds the world together today? What is our glue? What is Truth with a capital T?

Is there even any novel ideas anymore? Because with the Facebook generation, I see that we are bombarded with everything, and yet nothing at the same time. We can’t forget anything because everything is documented, but at the same time, we lack narratives to tell.

We are living with a hangover.

I’ve grown to accept that hangover to a degree. I was naive to believe there was one metanarrative.

But back to the whole why leaving fundamentalism depressed me, most people can’t comprehend what it’s like to grow up with a metanarrative. The cultural metanarrative has been dead for decades now. The fact that Billy Graham could draw crowds day after day in the 1950s? Heck, we don’t have that today, anywhere. I’m not even sure if a pop culture band could draw crowds to the same park 40 days in a row, let alone any form of speech. We live in a world where we are bombarded with 100s of ideas, not one overarching idea.

Yet as a kid I lived with just one narrative.

I grew up reading Christian books, memorizing the Bible, and studying what the Bible said. Nightly conversations were stimulating and intellectual. I had no idea what was going on outside our house. This was just my reality.

And so I’ve  come to see that leaving fundamentalism meant not only losing that metanarrative, and not only met jumping into a culture I could barely swim in, but also, and most importantly, it was like jumping back premodernism. I was a child living under the enlightenment idea that the world was progressing, that history was divine, and that God was unfolding himself into a big hurrah moment when he’d claim back his church. History was a narrative.

Then the bomb hit, and I met a world with many meanings but not one Meaning, and many purposes but not one Purpose, and many narratives, but not one Narrative, many truths, but not one Truth.

Suddenly I stepped into a world where time is history, a world where people are conscious of their fate, working to make the world better, but embracing the illusion that we are going forward.

And I became Nietzsche. Nietzsche so wisely said that we get depressed when we finally realize that it’s all an illusion, when we realize that we are reinventing the same dang lies over and over and over again.

When I was a fundamental undgrad, I mocked Nietzsche. “See what happens when you don’t  believe in Jesus?” I repeated to myself. Now I see that I was naive and ridiculous. History is not linear. We are reordering the past to bring us to new horizons, but swallowing our own history at the same time. We are going around in circles.

But the reason that is depressing is because we were disillusioned to believe otherwise. I thought the world was progressing (not in a technological sense, but in a sense that God’s elect were growing behind scenes), I thought there was a metanarrative that explained my reality, I thought Jesus was the way the truth and the life, and therefore, nothing else was truth, even if Buddha also said love your neighbor.

Tonight I’m back to my roots in one sense.  I’m here to say that we do need an imagination, and we need to see ourselves as one of Nietzsche’s supermen. Look, I know I have no hegemonic powers. But there is something to be said for the young person in her 20s who dives head first into the waters (NOT LITERALLY, please no broken spinal cords) and innocently believes, “hey, the whole country might back me up?”

This is what Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschoolings Invisible Children are doing. Do you know how odd it is to tell a new narrative in our culture? Many people tell the story after it comes to media attention (example, we talk about gay rights after Chickfilla makes media spot light), but Homeschoolings Invisible Children is telling a new story, a story about kids who died or were severely abused while homeschooling.

I want to see more of this. I want to see people  delving in a world beyond themselves, telling new stories, believing that Truth will be heard.

The point is that what I liked in fundamentalism – believing we could impact the culture – I still love.

And furthermore, what I loved about God, I still love. As a guy name Amos Wilder said, “We need to move beyond the death of God.” That is, we need to cultivate an imagination, because that’s how we cease from growing sick.

So if you are leaving fundamentalism, please don’t become cynical. Find something worth dying over, otherwise you’ve never truly lived.


Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy.  She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog


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  • Mel

    I think the amount of metanarrative within a community and within a nation has always been patchy. Within the small rural town I live in now, the graduate school students I am a part of and the urban blue-collar area I grew up in, the amount of metanarrative in each person’s life is very different.

    Some people have no strong metanarrative. They live – more or less for the moment – and deal with what happens as best they can.

    Some people have too much metanarrative. In the towns I’ve lived in, it’s been Christian Reformed Church-taken-to-a-CRAZY-extreme. These are the folks who can’t have a conversation without dropping Jesus in the mix. In my graduate program, it’s actually the newly-liberated-atheists who get annoying as hell. In both situations, their metanarrative interrupts the current time.

    The remainder have a healthy dose of metanarrative. For me, I feel grounded within liberal Christianity. The teachings I grew up with that we should help others who need help AND allow others to help us when we need it have made the time since my recent brain injury go more smoothly because I can ground my struggles and frustrations in a larger context.

  • Jane

    It is possible to raise your children to believe that they may become part of history and enrich our society in meaningful and valuable ways. These privileges do not come with the criteria that you must believe in one God in order to accomplish those goals.

  • persephone

    The whole live to work attitude can be placed at the feet of Calvin, and was part of the Protestant sects that founded the U.S.

  • SAO

    This was thought-provoking. I grew up in a family where academic and career success was important, that I wanted to go to the Peace Corps and “save the world” was considered a bit of a hippy, drop-out thing. A phase I had to go through, not a core meaning in my life. I worked in development for 10 or so years, before becoming disillusioned.

    I’ve been pushing the career success thing on my kids, rather than how do they want their lives to have meaning. I think I’ll have to talk about this.

  • Aloha

    I just saw this on FB — example of the metanarrative that gives Christian life some extra meaning.

  • Astrin Ymris

    It seems to me that there are enough real, palpable causes in the world to meet anyone’s desire for a heroic purpose without needing a metanarrative. Human trafficking and slavery. Income inequality and poverty. Environmental degradation. War. Illiteracy. Racism. Fatal genetic diseases which kill children.

  • Melody

    It’s strange and sometimes a little difficult to no longer have a metanarrative like that. On the one hand, it is a huge relief: I don’t have to carry the extra burden of being responsible for the souls of others anymore which is great, on the other, it is also really like your foundations are being shattered. When you’ve grown up and believed in this whole cosmic battle between good and evil, God and the devil, your whole life, and that falls away, there is this huge shift in how you perceive things: my own life, the fate of the world, humanity’s purpose etc…

    I still catch myself often thinking something Christian and then realizing I don’t believe that anymore… I can understand a little better why some Christians think that losing your faith will lead to some sort of nihilism. Most of the time, I really like the idea of making/finding your own meaning in life, creating your own purpose, and I think that’s great and really important, but if you come from a place where all the answers were served on a plate and suddenly there are no definite answers anymore, it can be little scary…

    As a Christian, I didn’t understand the chaos, sadness, horror of this world when there’s supposed to be a good, omnipotent, benevolent God in charge of it all, now as a non-believer I do miss the narrative of serving a higher purpose a little. I guess life has become more finite and more random in a way. So, yeah, that’s a bit of a loss for me when it comes to there no longer being a plan or divine purpose, whereas there is more freedom and responsibility at the same time.

    It’s very strange because on the one hand there is more safety: no hell, God, devil, divine judgement etc., but on the other there is less: no god looking out for you, no friend in the sky fixing your life… making life seemingly more fragile.