Introducing our guest editor, Vanessa Gomez Brake

Introducing our guest editor, Vanessa Gomez Brake June 19, 2015

VC: What was your first exposure to NonProphet Status, and how would you like to see it grow?

VGB: I recall hearing about the “Share Your Secular Story” contest launched by NPS back in 2010. Unfortunately, I was in the Philippines when the due date passed, and had been unable to submit my own story. But here I am 5 years later, ready to write and share my perspective and own unique path to atheism, humanism, and interfaith work.

What is kind of funny is that, although I’ve never met Chris Stedman (or you Vlad, for that matter), I was in the same room with Chris at some point back in 2009. He had helped coordinate the Interfaith Youth Core conference at Northwestern University that year, and I was in attendance. (Oddly enough, so was Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard.) We’ve all come a long way since that time. I just glanced at the NPS archive, and it appears the NPS blog came into being in December of that very year.

I have been doing interfaith work as an atheist since I was in college, so when NPS popped up on the interwebs, I was immediately drawn to it. The content offered by Chris and other contributors was a breath of fresh air. Before this time, I had never engaged with the online atheist community, as I could not see myself reflected in its existing voices. But here came NPS talking about my line of work, and my passion for working across faith lines to bring about a better world. NPS represented my interests and values. I was so very grateful to have found atheists and humanists who shared my views. In fact, I think NPS writers seriously helped me find my own voice, as well as further craft my role in the interfaith field.

As I look to the future and my hopes for the blog, I know storytelling is integral to its growth. It is probably time that NPS hold another secular story contest. I can only imagine the number of voices that are missing from the current online dialogue for atheists in this diverse world. I want to hear stories from all over the world. I want to connect with rising atheists, and hear their perspectives and experiences. People come to atheism in many different ways, and that variety needs to be represented in the movement. NPS is but one venue where such voices could be highlighted.

From the beginning, NPS has been about how we secular folk can approach the topic of religion respectfully. How might we maintain our critical outlook on the world, but engage religious communities in a way that cultivates collaboration and shared action toward a common goal? That is still a lofty task that we are facing in the world. Especially if we are going to tackle issues of moral consequence, like the one discussed above. NPS has a very real role to play in overcoming barriers to progressive action on social issues. I’m so happy to be joining the blog as a guest editor, as there is still so much work to be done in the field of secular/interfaith engagement and activism.

VC: We’re very interested in the moral dimension of atheism and humanism at NonProphet Status, and I think it’s alway interesting to hear what people think are the most pressing moral issues of our time.

VGB: Have ever seen the Planet Earth mini-series that aired on the BBC?

VC: Ha, of course!

VGB: It is one of the most thoughtfully presented documentaries on the beauty of this planet, and the diversity of the species that our planet is able to sustain. I’ve always been in awe of our natural world, and I think most humans feel this way. Even as a child, I would flip through years of National Geographic magazines to admire all the interesting images. My feeling of awe is unfortunately tied to the heart breaking sadness I feel about how humans have treated this earth. The way humans exploit the planet as well as its inhabitants.

The most pressing moral issue of our time involves overcoming social and political barriers in order to save the planet. Science has long demonstrated the negative environmental impact that humans have contributed to. What is most amazing, is that humans have the technology, creativity and innovative thinking needed to overcome this most pressing challenge. Sadly, while we humans are capable of saving the planet, most are unwilling to give up certain luxuries, or change their behaviors to do so. It is a collective addiction we are all suffering from. No matter the negative outlook we know such behavior will lead to, we continue to take part in destructive activities.

Personally, I have made lifestyle choices that reflect my commitment to our planet. I am a vegetarian. I ride my bike and public transit to work 5 days a week. I rarely drive my car. I recycle in all the ways that California makes it possible. Despite all these choices, I continue to hop on a plane a few times a year to visit family and take vacations. Airplanes have a significant impact on our earth’s climate. Although I know the impact I am making on this planet, I can’t seem to give up the luxury of living in California or traveling internationally.

It is no wonder we’ve seen so many apocalyptic type movies released in the past few decades. Films like Interstellar, Mad Max, World War Z and every zombie flick. Humans have a very real fear of our future, which is why it makes for such great entertainment. We are already seeing the effects of climate change. But even in the face of such horrors, we continue on our usual paths, apathetic and resigned, determined to ignore this very real challenge the human species is up against.

Wow, that last question was dark. Can you ask me something more uplifting?


VC: How do you feel about dogs?

VGB: I think you know very well how I feel about dogs. Now enjoy this photo of Tofu and (Hercu) Lina on a tree stump in the forest.

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