The number of secular authors is growing. This is good! But there’s no denying that the majority of secular authors focus on writing nonfiction. There are a number of books about science or religion (or denying religion like The God Delusion) and self-help books for humanists (like Parenting Beyond Belief). Even narrative secular books are usually nonfiction as they retell the stories of the author or other individuals (like Hope after Faith and The Young Atheists Handbook). The first kind of book helps us understand the world better or form better arguments when dealing with theists. Self-help books guides us as we navigate through a religious world.
The last kind of book helps to share what is very likely common experiences. Sharing experiences binds people together and helps them to feel less alone. It also can help show people how to solve problems. We can use fiction to do the same thing. Fiction becomes useful because we don’t have to try to tell someone’s exact story. Instead, we can create a story that could very likely happen and show possible outcomes. It still has the same bonding affect by building on common experiences.
Fiction can do more, though. Fiction can tap into the emotional state and thoughts of the main character or all of the characters. In this way, it allows readers to examine the motivations of a character, thereby creating an even greater understanding of a situation.
Secular fiction doesn’t have to be just for adults. In fact, I think it’s more important that it’s available for kids because kids cannot always find other secular peers to play with and work out common problems with. This is because children make friends through school, family connections, and activities. However, a child’s peer group is controlled by their parents. Even laissez-faire parents can unintentionally control a child’s peer group by not being able to drive a child to a social event because they had to work late or had another commitment. Because of this, a child’s peer group usually consists of the other kids who are readily available to play with.
Adults have a greater ability to create their peer groups. They can make friends at work, by volunteering, via the internet, or through activities that they enjoy. But because they are more free to choose how they spend their time, an adult’s peer group doesn’t have to be restricted to who is readily available.
Some secular parents recognize this as a problem for their kids and are good at networking and creating secular peer groups for their children. But this can be problematic because a child might not have regular contact with their secular peer group. In the case of my children, none of their secular peer group attends the same school as they do. As a result, secular children rarely have other secular children to talk to. So in their world, they very well could be the only child of an Atheist or Agnositc parent. That combined with the insurmountable amount of religious messages a child gets can make it hard for them to resist the prostelytization of other children.
Secular fiction can do all of the same things it does for children as it does for adults and more. It shows kids that they aren’t the only one of their age with Atheist or Agnostic ideas. It shows secular kids that other kids who are like them have the same questions and have drawn some of the same conclusions. It shows kids how one person dealt with a particular situation that they could very well find themselves in.
When I wrote Aurora and the Secret Friend, I thought of my children, my daughter specifically. I also thought about myself. What kinds of issues did I have as child that would be considered normal? I added to those “normal” problems the element of struggling with religion. Or in the case of Henry in my next book, Henry Gets Picked Last, the element of struggling to NOT deal with religion, meaning religion is not important to some children, but they have to learn how to deal with people for whom religion is important.
After I came up with the idea for the Aurora book, more ideas flooded in. How about dealing with holidays? Death? Morals and making good decisions? There is some children’s fiction on this, even some from a secular viewpoint, but since when has one book been enough? We also need to address the multiple age groups, interests, and backgrounds of our secular children.
Is there a need for secular children’s fiction? I think there is. I guess that’s why I’m going to keep writing it. I hope that you will keep reading it and encouraging your children to read it. Also, here are two great lists of books for secular parents from Parenting Beyond Belief and Evolve Fish.