share your secular storyAs I mentioned last week, the new issue of Jettison Quarterly is out. But my article on the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN)’s Takin’ It to the Streets is just the tip of the iceberg of Jettison‘s diverse content. And all the more, Jettison offered to publish the last of the amazing winning entries from our Share Your Secular Story contest in their latest issue! Joseph Blaha’s submission, “Learning to Love the Religious,” was selected by our panel of judges as the winner of the “Youth” category. Below is an excerpt of his entry; it can be read in full on pp. 46-47 of Jettison Quarterly:

Religion has always been a tricky subject for me. It always confused me that something so apparently influential could be considered almost taboo to bring up in general conversation. Because of this, other people’s theological beliefs used to rank pretty low on the long list of things I’ve spent my hours thinking about.

As I got older and began to build my own support community of other like-minded twentysomethings, I found that the people I’d become close enough with to approach the subject candidly tended to be just that; like-minded. This caused me to drift even further away from a common thread with the more dogmatic individuals I’ve encountered, making it easier to dismiss their motivations whenever our ideas seemed to clash. This misunderstanding of religious motivations more or less set my state of mind until I developed a deep enough relationship with a group of people who had religious beliefs. Continue reading at Jettison Quarterly.

jettisonMany thanks to the Jettison team for running this story. For more secular stories from our contest, check out Jeff Pollet’s submission that was featured in the Washington Post’s Faith Divide, Corinne Tobias’ entry on Killing the Buddha, Vandana Goel-LaClair’s submission on Killing The Buddha, runner-up Rory Fenton’s submission and Nate Mauger’s example story for NonProphet Status.

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peopleHey folks! I’ve got a few big projects in the works right now (how vague and ambiguous…), so, to keep NonProphet Status fresh amidst my busyness, I’ve recruited a few worthy guest bloggers to populate it with content over the next few weeks. In the past, I’ve been honored to feature some pretty incredible guest posts from the likes of Tim Brauhn, Jessica Kelley, Nick Mattos, Sayira KhokarRory Fenton, Nate Mauger, Kate FridkisAndrew FogleMiranda Hovemeyer, Nat DeLuca, Mary Ellen Giess, Jeff PolletJoseph Varisco, Corinne Tobias, Vandana Goel LaClairNicholas Lang, and even my own Mom! We’ve also hosted original writing by Eboo Patel, August Brunsman, Hemant Mehta, Erik Roldan, and Emanuel Aguilar.

We’ve featured so many guest posters because NPS was never intended to be “Chris Stedman’s platform.” Rather, I wanted to create a forum for an alternative secular narrative. It’s why I initiated, organized and ran our first Share Your Secular Story contest. Featuring an amazing panel of judges that included the former head of Amnesty International USA and 2000 “Humanist of the Year” William Schulz, the contest inspired an influx of submissions from all across the United States and even across the globe, with entries from Ireland and Kenya and a story from one entrant’s childhood growing up in India.

In hosting the story contest and featuring so many guest bloggers, I’ve hoped to make NPS a place where a multitude of voices help define a new narrative for the secular community: one that respects the religious identities of others while remaining authentic to our own identities (be they secular, religious, or somewhere in-between).

I can’t wait to read along with you as this next diverse batch of guest bloggers continues to show us all a new way forward. I’m on the edge of my secular seat!

share your secular storyTwo of the brilliant winning entries from our Share Your Secular Story contest have been featured on Killing the Buddha (“a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches”)! The first was by Corinne Tobias, a 20-something lost and found in Northwest Arkansas who blogs at Will Work For Food Girl. Tobias was selected by the judges as the winner of the Moral Imagination category. Below is an excerpt of her entry; it can be read in full at Killing the Buddha:

Mistakes Have Been Made, Lessons Will Be Learned

His top hat jilts to the left as we make another turn in the curvy Ozark road. Glancing cautiously at him again, I think he resembles Slash of Guns n’ Roses fame. It’s uncanny and bizarre, sitting in a pickup truck next to this character. The top hat wrapped in a skull-and-crossbones scarf isn’t where the resemblance ends. His dark hair is long and thick with curls. His skin has a sallow olive tone and his eyes are as weary as if he had spent the evening prior to this afternoon smashing things against the walls of his hotel room to impress groupies. His raspy southern accent breaks my concentration from mentally observing him. Even though I’m no longer looking at him, it makes me feel as uncomfortable as if he had caught me staring. “My mom drove us off the road right here,” he says almost optimistically.

My eyes follow the tip of his finger to a ledge with a considerable drop off. The tops of trees peek over a guardrail that I assume wasn’t present at the time of the accident. “Me and my brother. We were in the back of the truck,” he says. I brace myself for what I know is going to follow. “Call it a miracle or an act of God…” he begins, and instantly I feel myself beginning to tune him out.

I don’t want to hear him talk about Jesus or how the experience brought him to appreciate all that God gave him. I don’t want to hear about divine intervention. I start to think about something else. I can’t help but compare the mountains to the flatness of home. Continue reading at Killing the Buddha.

The second entry featured on Killing the Buddha is a submission by Vandana Goel LaClair, a Chicago-based freelance writer, filmmaker, and photographer who tied with Jeff Pollet (whose submission was featured in the Washington Post’s Faith Divide) as winner of the Interfaith category. Below is an excerpt of her entry; it can be read in full at Killing the Buddha:

The Day Mumbai Unraveled

This is a story that begins in Mumbai, India. You see, Mumbai, my birth city, is a place where cultures, religions, languages, and opinions collide as unapologetically as the wild, untamed streaks in a Jackson Pollock painting. Within this mosaic of a city, I was raised in a household where the devotional prayers we sang to Lord Krishna on his birthday were so convincing that before I knew it, I was stealing out of my covers in the middle of the night and using a stepping stool to retrieve and dive into slabs of butter with nothing more than my fingers and a strong sense of camaraderie for a god known for mischief and love of butter/buttermilk. Somewhere between being egged on to bathe the statues of gods in our mini-temple at home and living eight years away in several different places with spiritual axioms I’ve picked up along the way, I’ve found that my wide array of experiences has replaced a sense of religious affiliation with that of an equally powerful one: a love for humanity and belief in the human spirit.

My most impacting experience dates back to several years ago. Soon after I turned 8, religious fundamentalists destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. This set off the Mumbai riots of 1992 in which approximately one thousand Muslims and Hindus were killed. One afternoon as we were being rushed home from school, I heard a comment amidst the chatter that my neighborhood had been bombed. That afternoon we drove home in an indescribably fearful and disbelieving state of mind. There are no words to describe driving towards your home not knowing if it exists anymore. Continue reading at Killing the Buddha.

For more secular stories from our contest, check out runner-up Rory Fenton’s submission and Nate Mauger’s example story for NonProphet Status.

Today’s guest post is a profound and powerful essay by Rory Fenton, a young man who grew up in Belfast and now studies undergraduate Physics at Imperial College London. Fenton, 20, cofounded ICAN (Interfaith Charity Action Network), a new movement across London. This essay is his submission to our Share Your Secular Story contest; it was honored by the panel of judges with the runner-up position in the interfaith category, and Fenton has agreed to share it here. Since I was not a judge for the contest I can be as biased as I’d like and say that this amazing essay was truly among my favorite entries — I’m so honored to run it on NonProphet Status. Without further ado, take it away Rory.

roryGrowing up as a Catholic in Belfast gave me many experiences I wouldn’t have had elsewhere. I remember our car being searched by the British Army every time our family went shopping. I remember my little church being burnt down and my Catholic school petrol bombed — twice. I remember the fear when our school was closed early during riots and being in the back seat of the family car, aged 7, when a man was shot dead by the IRA outside our flat. Living in a city split in two by a 25 foot tall wall, I never really met a Protestant of my own age in my first 18 years of life and that only when studying in England.

These days I would associate my beliefs with those of Secular Humanism. It would be reasonable to assume that it was these experiences that turned me off religion, leaving me eager to ‘wash my hands’ of the whole thing; but it would be much too easy, far too tempting, to justify my disbelief by blaming the Northern Irish “Troubles” (as they are euphemistically known) on religion itself.

In truth there was neither a shot fired in the name of the Sacrament of Confession nor a petrol bomb thrown in defiance of papal authority; rather, violence was a product of people allowing religious difference to be all consuming. Here were people who believed in the same God, in the one Saviour. People who believed in common “do unto others as you would have done unto you” and “turn the other cheek.” But it was their differences, their tiny differences, that were allowed to cloud this wonderful fact of agreement, amplifying the political differences between the two sides and plunging my small country into a continuation the longest civil war in known history. But there was a time when there was no violence. Tension, yes, but the bombs and shootings had yet to come. It was here that political and religious leaders had the opportunity to quell these tensions and draw on what united the two communities but instead of reaching out to fellow Christians, to brothers in humanity, they chose to create straw men and saw only division.

Leaving home for university in London, I was eager to leave that situation behind. I was delighted to meet many more people who too were Atheist and who too shook their heads in disbelief at the dreadful conflicts caused by religion. However, I soon found that the grass wasn’t quite so much greener as I had first thought. I was encouraged by fellow non-believers to view religion and the religious as “the source of all evil” with the unanimous verdict being that unrelenting bible bashers would stop at nothing to spread unreasoning thinking and fear; people who, if they showed any real goodness, only did so in hope of reward in the hereafter. I was hearing caricatures of religion that reminded me of the most bombastic of Northern Irish political speeches. I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to the divisions and the inhuman and false caricatures of pre-Troubles Belfast.

Such a hard line approach, it seemed to me, failed to learn the lessons of the past; the lessons that I had learned firsthand. There can be clearly no reconciliation between the theological beliefs in conflict in Belfast but there is, equally clearly, more to a person than their answer to the question “What do you make of the Pope?” Likewise, it is patently obvious that Atheism and Theism are incompatible as definitions of the world, but there is infinitely more to a person than their response to the question, “Is there a God or not?” Humans are deeply more complex and varied than that — a fact that forms an essential part of my Humanism.

Today in Northern Ireland, thousands of deaths later, we find ourselves in a period of peace. Neither side has won; far from it. Neither side has been proven “right.” Perhaps the biggest and hardest lesson of the Northern Irish conflict was that no one had to be. Humanist philosopher John Gray offers an excellent definition of totalitarianism as a system in which “conflicting judgements about the human good are seen as symptoms of error.” There was no doubt in my mind that this summed up quite succinctly the worst of the religious bigotry that I had experienced firsthand — only to be conquered when people finally saw beyond their differences. If modern atheism is to play its role in securing a flourishing future for all, it is my belief that we too must reach out and see more than just the one issue. Let those of faith be seen by more than just their religions and so let us too be more than just Humanist; in this way, let us be human.

share your secular storyWhen we put out a call for stories just a few months ago, we received an influx of submissions from all across the United States and even across the globe, with entries from Ireland and Kenya and a story from one entrant’s childhood growing up in India. This great diversity of submissions made judging these and determining a batch of winners a difficult task for our esteemed panel of judges made up by the former Director of Amnesty International and 2000 “Humanist of the Year” Dr. William Schulz, the highly regarded author and academic Dr. Sharon Welch, the highest ranking Asian-American slam poet of all time Alvin Lau, the brilliant interfaith activist Mary Ellen Giess, the respected and poetic young West Coast writer Nick Mattos, and the renowned blogger, community activist and DJ Erik Roldan. But they rose to the occasion and the votes are in; we’re pleased to announce the winners of the Share Your Secular Story contest!

Interfaith

Winners: Jeff Pollet and Vandana Goel LaClair (tie)

Runner-Up: Rory Fenton

Moral Imagination

Winner: Corinne Tobias

Runners-Up: 1. Beatrice Marovich | 2. Jonathan S. Myerov

Youth

Winner: Joseph Blaha

Runners-Up: 1. Stephen D. Goeman, II | 2. Kyle Morgan

Congratulations to all of our honorees! You should be receiving your prizes (depending on the category, a signed book by Eboo syssPatel or Greg Epstein, a signed DVD by Fish Out of Water director Ky Dickens or signed CD by Ben Lundquist, per the contest description page) soon. And a special congratulations to our winners Jeff Pollet, Vandana Goel LaClair, Corinne Tobias and Joseph Blaha — your submissions will be eligible for publication in the Washington Post Faith Divide, Killing the Buddha, and Jettison Quarterly. More information on that to come.

Thank you to everyone who submitted to our contest for demonstrating that secular stories really do matter. Thank you to our panel of judges for donating your time and wisdom, and to our partners who donated prizes and publication space. But more than anything, I cannot wait for everyone to read what our honorees have produced.

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