Writing Our Secular Stories

Those who tell the stories rule the world – Plato

What I love about this blog is the stories. I’m a bookworm, but serious reader or not, I believe the best introduction is always: “Let me tell you a story.”

Now it’s true, secular people might lean toward the facts. Charts and data please, not anything too poetic. But as much as we love the facts, we’re looking for clues about making our own stories turn out all right: with adventure, friendship, and positive solutions to the tangles we find ourselves in.

The Power of Stories. I know from my own experience what stories can do. I was a painfully shy teenager, practically afraid of my own shadow. But I loved historical adventures. Reading about characters who overcame obstacles through cunning and bravery lent me a little backbone of my own, and eventually I found my tongue in part because of that borrowed courage.

When I settled down with a family and career and realized that it wasn’t always possible to sneak through enemy lines and return home with the treasure, that daily life could be plodding or disheartening, but not exactly an epic adventure, I found slower-paced, more realistic fiction. These novels showed me the joy of living an imperfect life: the beauty of giving a child their bath after a hard day, the neat precision in lining up the ledgers when there wasn’t money in the accounts (yet) and the tenderness that could take place even in hopeless marriages.

Books showed me the way when no one else could. They became my personal counselors, mentors, tutors, philosophers and coaches.

The Role of Stories in Religion. Story, or the lack thereof, is also what kept me from leaving religion, long after my faith had been dismantled. In the Bible, I’d had wonderful stories to look to. There was shy Moses standing up to Pharaoh. There was widowed Ruth, willing to follow her mother-in-law to a strange land because of their friendship. And Jesus taking time to talk to prostitutes and other pariahs of the day, while his disciples tried to hurry him along to more “important” business. We had modern stories too, of Christians hiding Jews in their attics during WWII or dedicating their lives to caring for orphans. Parable or truth, they gave me a good framework for my own life.

The Role of Secular Stories. When I looked at the secular life, all I saw was a void. Who were the secular heroes? Who could illustrate secular wisdom, courage or the transformation of darkness into light? What would my secular story look like?

When religious people do something it’s all about God, so we hear about it in the context of religion. When a secular person does something story-worthy, it’s rarely in the context of being atheist or humanist. It just is what it is. So it’s taken time for me to see that secular lives can and do look almost identical to their religious counterparts. There is nothing uniquely religious about standing up to injustice, looking after the neglected or being a loyal friend. And with a different narrative underlying the action, secular lives can be more honest.

The Role of Oasis Stories. This is where our Oasis blog shines. It’s not just about people leaving their faith because of data points x, y and z (as important as those data points are) or taking a stand on public issues. It’s about people living out secular lives. It’s about our members finding friendships and healing from grief, making a difference in our communities, being good parents, teachers and working out meaning. It’s about the books that sustain us (Aristotle to Yuval Noah Harari) and it’s about historical figures who have made a difference with or without religion.

Our blog may be an effective marketing tool, a way for Oasians to get to know each other better or to hash out who we are as a community. All good goals. But in the end, my personal hope for the blog is this: I want our readers to come away, feeling that they can picture meaningful secular lives for themselves just a little bit better than they could before. And that so often begins with my favorite phrase: “Let me tell you a story.”