The Story Telling Animal

Walt Whitman sang The Body Electric. Let us sing The Mind Electric for its soaring imagination. Nothing distinguishes our species more than our creative capacity and need for story telling. Stories can be grounded in fact and history or wildly fantastical. Both avenues define our culture, our selves, and our species. They are tools for passing down learning and expressing our hopes, desires, needs and are the major source of entertainment. For millennia, they were told person to person, or person to persons, especially around campfires and hearths in the evening. The invention of writing not only aided their spread but also their saving. In the modern world, story telling is the staple of radio, movies, television, and the internet.

Its important to keep stories of fantasy, conjecture, and real events separated from fabrications which are purported to be true. Propaganda and confidence games are especially egregious because the perpetrators know that what they say is false with the intention to misinform and mislead. Fox News being an obvious example. And isn't it revealing that each of the Western faiths that originated in the Middle East rejects the stories and dogma of all other religions including their dozens of divisions and thousands of splinter sects? 

The stories told by the Abrahamic religions are, on the whole, presented as literally and historically true, but there is little objective truth in their Holy Books, according to experts like Carol Meyers. The Old Testament is, at best, a sketchy history of early Jewish tribes, more a retailing of tribal myths. And while some of the mythical stores are inventive, as moral lessons, they can be appalling. Is there anything in the Quran that is as blatantly xenophobic as the Book of Exodus? The stories told in the Book of Exodus, for example, and the characters are total fabrications. Nothing in Exodus is true. None of it happened. Further, the God depicted in Exodus is a jerk at best; at worst, mad. Why did he bring the plagues on the Egyptians while “hardening Pharaoh's heart” after each plague “so Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go”?

[Carol Meyers in her commentary on Exodus suggests that it is arguably the most important book in the Bible, as it presents the defining features of Israel's identity. . . . Meyers is a feminist biblical scholar. She is the Mary Grace Wilson Professor of Religion at Duke University. Meyers studied at Wellesley College and Brandeis University. -Wikipedia]

Do the departments of religion at the best universities degrade those institutions when publishing sham tracts pretending scholarship? Is religious scholarship a contradiction? Society suffers when untruth is given an academic imprimatur. What is mostly going on at these universities is careerism. Young people from religious cultures who go into religion as a career often do feel the “Call”. But those who learn better as they continue now have career investment. Reference The Clergy Project which is a support network for mostly older religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. 

So, lets keep telling our stores while remembering that the proper place for fiction whether Swan Lake, The Sixth Sense, or Star Wars is in the arts, not in science, politics, nor religion.  

Tell me a story.


Image credit: Charlie Dees, Flickr 


Timothy Fortner Travis was on the board for WASH, the Washington Area Secular Humanists, until moving to North Carolina where he is a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle, the Triangle Freethought Society, and is active with the Eno River UU Humanists.

Travis is on the board of the Dozenal Society of America, , and The English Spelling Society, . He has a dozenal webpage at . He is the founder of Five Candles LLC, , which produces a candle holder for the unity candle-lighting wedding ceremony. He is also involved in the start-up of the Humanist Party of NC.


This article does a good job of debunking stories that are presented in a True/False binary mode. However it should also bring out that stories are the language of truth whether or not they are true or not. There is a truth in the story of Pandora in that no matter how many troubles you may find flying towards you, there is always hope.

Even many stories in the Bible, or the Quran, or the Hidu scriptures may contain truths. The language of science, logic, math, etc are used to describe that which is true or false. This is how we deal with defining our relationship with our outside world. However story and metaphor are the languages of our experiential lives including love, emotions, joy, etc. These truths may be multiple and some truths may even be opposite of each other. There are many truths about compassion - and some may be opposite.

So the warning of this article is not to view these stories in terms of true or not true, but rather look for truths that resonate within each of us.

David Kimball