Teasing the Faultline: Giving Secular Humanism A Heart and a Body
March 10, 2010
The following guest post comes from Nick Mattos, a member of the Share Your Secular Story contest panel of judges.
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” famously asked Muriel Rukeyser. “The world would split open.” The poet Rukeyser – and countless college freshmen, gay people newly out of the closet, and confessional memoirists – assert firmly that it is honesty about individual reality that paradoxically dismantle the structures of the world and ameliorate them at the same time. One of the most potent fields, most ready for the breaking apart and the fixing, is religious life; this is perhaps why history is overwhelmed with tales of prophets who insist upon speaking their personal spirituality reality to change society at whatever cost.
Frankly, I love this sort of thing with a perverse intensity. I’m the sort of guy who dives into whatever churches are silly enough to keep their doors open during the day, glides into the Christian Science Reading Room to pick up the free magazines, gladly invites the Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a cup of tea. If it’s a personal story of people interfacing with the huge mysteries of the world and whatever may lie behind it, I probably dig it. However, I also say this as an out gay person, a fairly confessional columnist, and a one-time college freshman; phrased another way, in my day I’ve seen the world split open a time or two, and I find it fascinating to watch other people tease the faultlines.
However, in my garnering a degree in Religious Studies and my ongoing experience as a writer of religion, I began to see a great void in the literature – where were the examples of true personal narratives about Secular Humanism? There are plenty of anti-religious and counter-religious stories – one simply needs to look at the massive canon of “ex-cult” literature to see that there’s no shortage of one-time converts who are compelled to share their personal truths. However, what are not present in the discussion are religious narratives of the non-religious – secular stories.
Why is it important that secular stories get shared? Part of the real importance of religious narrative is to provide examples of what it means to live out spiritual or moral truths in the world. In this way, the stories serve a didactic purpose – they take abstract moral values and demonstrate them in a way that makes them real. Remember The Book of Virtues? Almost twenty years ago, conservative pundit-slash-former Secretary of Education-slash-Catholic activist William Bennett ripped off the title of the Tao Te Ching to provide a set of stories to orient the moral compass of a new generation. Why was it vastly influential? For all of the right-wing hamfistedness of the anthology, it insisted primarily upon showing and not telling – demonstrating what ethics and morals are, rather than detailing them.
What we’re looking to do with the Share Your Secular Story contest is not to create The Atheist’s Book of Virtues. We’re not even looking to make The Agnostic’s Book of Human Folly. What we are looking to do is to make the world split open. We are looking to give a growing presence in the landscape of spirituality – Secular Humanism – a place within our society’s narrative of virtues. The stories we’re looking for are stories that illustrate Secular Humanism’s heart, yes – but they’re also stories that give Humanism a body, hands to move in society, a face. We’re looking for stories of people exploring a world made meaningful, not by tradition or dogma or mysticism, but by the stark and elegant poignancy of just being human. We’re looking for you to share your secular story.
Nick Mattos is a freelance writer, blogger, and columnist. Described by celebrity blogger Byron Beck as “the best gay writer in Portland, if not the Pacific Northwest,” the young author’s prose and fiction work has appeared in such publications as Mercury, New Queer Media, On Uneven Ground, and Out Spirit. His column “Remember to Breathe” runs biweekly in Just Out and on justout.com. He is currently completing his first novel, tentatively titled The Place We Were Promised. A graduate of The Evergreen State College, Mr. Mattos resides in Portland, Oregon.