Only five days remain to submit an entry to our Share Your Secular Story contest! Below, two exclusive statements from some of our collaborators:

jettisonEmanuel Aguilar

Marketing and PR Director, Jettison Quarterly

Jettison Quarterly is an arts and culture magazine who’s mission is to provide a platform for the further development and progress of contemporary culture in Chicago. Though we primarly focus on Visual Arts, Music, and Fashion, it is our overall interest to explore an interdisciplinary practice that encounters all fields. It is our belief that true progress can only come from being informed. This is why we are ecstatic to support and be involved with NonProphet Status’ Share Your Secular Story contest. Jettison is composed of a family with various religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds and that is why we think it is important to not only support but also give a voice to all groups. Jettison is optimistic for the future, and the future is NOW.

Nick MattosNick Mattos

Writer / Share Your Secular Story Panel of Judges

On 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.

syssWhat 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.

For Nick’s full guest post, click here. For more on the contest, click here. Don’t delay — the deadline is only five days away!

The following guest post comes from Nick Mattos, a member of the Share Your Secular Story contest panel of judges.

wall“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 MattosNick 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.

Church FiresWondering what’s going on in the world of religion and secularism? Wonder no more — it’s time for your weekly religion and secular roundup! This week:

Church Burning and Atheist Learning: Reports this week on the ongoing investigation into a series of church fires in Texas prominently featured the fact that raids on one suspect’s home uncovered “books on demons and atheism.” What does it say that news reports are so strongly linking a suspect’s books on atheism to his alleged participation in church arson? Whether there is an actual correlation between the material he read and the crimes he is accused of committing, it is an unfortunate narrative on secular folks that we need work to change. Additionally, if these men are in fact guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, I’d be inclined to raise questions about what role narratives of fundamentalist anti-theism may have played in informing these actions and if anti-theistic motivations were involved. I strongly believe that one is innocent until proven guilty, but I also cannot help but fear that, if these men were in fact driven by totalitarian anti-theism to burn down religious houses of worship, their actions could have easily been prevented if only they had been exposed to a different, more pluralistic understanding of how atheists and religious folks can engage in the world.

Tiger Woods and the Need for Religious Literacy: The USA Today ran an intelligent reflection on Tiger Woods’ public apology, highlighting Woods’ appeal to his Buddhist commitments as a means for considering the controversy. The piece thoughtfully situates Woods’ apology within the larger context of American religious diversity. As Brit Hume’s controversial comments suggesting that Woods seek forgiveness in Christ exemplified, American society generally expects fallen public figures to offer Christian apologies and seek Christian redemption. Woods’ Buddhist narrative suggests that our country is in need of greater religious literacy. To quote the article: “Part of living in a multireligious society… is learning multiple religious languages. In a country where most citizens cannot name the first book of the Bible, we obviously need more Christian literacy. But to make sense of the furiously religious world in which we live, we need Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist literacy too.” This should be a keen reminder to secular folks of the importance of knowing about the religious beliefs of others. If we don’t know about the beliefs of others, how can we expect to try to understand them?

The Secularists Are Coming! The Secularists Are Coming!: This last week, representatives of the Obama administration hosted members of the secular community for the first time in American Presidential history. The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group representing secular interests, was briefed by the members of Obama administration in a White House meeting. As you might expect, this was met with shock and horror from some on the political right — Sean Hannity, for example, featured an inflammatory and outright false segment on his show about the meeting. But reports from the secular community indicate that it was a positive experience; check out Hemant Mehta’s The Friendly Atheist blog for an inside scoop. If nothing else, the meeting is an important symbolic step toward the recognition of a salient, cohesive, and growing secular community.

More Reflections on Religion and Millenials: Earlier this week I posted on the new Pew report on Millenials and its implications for Millenial secularists living in a religiously pluralistic world. I wasn’t the only one ruminating on this data — Politics Daily ran a piece called “Young Adults Doing Religion on Their Own? Blame Politics” that suggests that less Millenials are affiliated with traditional religious institutions while still retaining religious beliefs because many tend to be more politically liberal and see traditional religiosity as being aligned with political conservatism — which explains some of why religious affiliation is down among Millenials even though belief in god and that one’s own belief system is “the one true path to eternal life” are on the rise. Separately, the New York Times ran a piece by Charles M. Blow that posits that Millenials are more “spiritually thirsty than older generations.” He bases this claim in the Pew report’s finding that Millennials articulate a desire for “closeness to God” as a long term goal significantly more than previous generations have. Blow asserts that though less Millenials are religiously affiliated than members of generations that have come before, we value religious and spiritual commitments — perhaps even more so than other generations. Both pieces are well worth reading and I suggest you check them out.

Are There Secular Reasons?: The New York Times has a heady, thought-provoking opinion piece by Stanley Fish. In it, he challenges the notion that there is a distinction between “secular” motivations and “religious” motivations in public policy. He postulates: “Insofar as modern liberal discourse rests on a distinction between reasons that emerge in the course of disinterested observation — secular reasons — and reasons that flow from a prior metaphysical commitment, it hasn’t got a leg to stand on.” He makes an interesting point, and he makes it well. What do you think, fellow secularists?

Religion’s Role in U.S. Foreign Policy: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs task force, featuring Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, just released a new report called “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad.” You can view the full report here; the Washington Post has a good summary of it here.

Finally, if you missed them, I did my first “The Non Prophet” column for The New Gay, titled “All My Friends,” and gave a statement to Just Out Portland on the French anti-smoking ad controversy. Stay tuned to The New Gay every Wednesday at 1 PM (CST) for a new column, and thanks for reading!

share your secular storyWe’ve been hinting that something exciting has been in the works for the past couple weeks; well, folks, the day is finally here.

We are so excited to announce the Share Your Secular Story contest, a call for stories by NonProphet Status!

We’re seeking previously unpublished personal stories written from a secular (Secular Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic, et al.) perspective. The stories of secular people are scattered because we as a people are scattered. Because there is little cohesion among us, our voice is often not loud enough to be heard in the modern religious marketplace. The secular stories that do get broadcast are most often volatile – secular people taking swipes at religious people – and reflect a divisive “us versus them” mentality. What gets told less often are the stories of people, secular and religious alike, living alongside one another peacefully and secular people expressing their own values within a diverse society. We want to hear more of these stories. We want to hear your story.

PRIZES: We are thrilled to offer a wealth of exciting prizes, including a ton of signed gear (DVDs, CDs, and books) from Harvard University Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein, Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, filmmaker Ky Dickens and musician Ben Lundquist. On top of that, a couple of the winning selections will be eligible for publication in the Washington Post’s “The Faith Divide” and Jettison Quarterly. Visit the contest page to hear more about our awesome giveaways!

PANEL OF JUDGES: We are also so very enthusiastic about our esteemed panel of judges featuring Dr. William Schulz, former director of Amnesty International USA and 2000 “Humanist of the Year,” academic Dr. Sharon Welch, superstar slam poet Alvin Lau, Interfaith Youth Core’s Mary Ellen Giess, writer Nick Mattos and DJ Erik Roldan. Check out the contest page to learn more about this all-star line up!

You can access the full details of the contest here. Click here to download a PDF of contest details; you can download it as a Word Document here. The submission period opens in one week on March 1, 2010. Spread the word, and don’t hesitate to contact us at nonprophetstatus@gmail.com with any questions you may have.

Stay tuned here, at our Facebook page, and to our twitter for more updates on the contest. We can’t wait to read your stories!

Head on over to Just Out’s blog to read my statement on the American Prayer Hour and, while you’re there, be sure to check out “Remember to Breathe,” a deftly written column by Just Out’s Nick Mattos. Thanks to Nick for asking me to chime in on this significant event!

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