Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Anyone who writes should read Campbell, and anyone who has read Campbell will agree that writers are the chroniclers of the sentiment in that statement. As writers, we have the ability to look outside ourselves, to pull from our own experiences and values and worldviews, and incorporate them into myths of our own making. The subject matter of these myths is irrelevant, for when you drill down in every tale, you eventually arrive at the same foundation: the hero myth.
This is the basis of every morality tale, of every myth, of every religion in human history. It is constant and everlasting because at its base is the true nature of the human experience. We are born reluctantly, thrown into a life rife with challenges, and must either rise to the occasion to triumph or refuse and condemn ourselves to failure, all with the knowledge that the reward for our sacrifice is certain death. The point here is, it's the not the reward we care about, it's the actual experience of living itself, that is important. Or to put it more simply, it's not the destination, it's the journey that matters.
I recall a conversation I recently had with my sister-in-law. We were in an antique shop, of all things, looking at some Chinese tea sets, and I made a comment about the ritual of tea and how we, as humans, need our rituals. This lead to a discussion on different forms of ritual, which eventually brought us around to religious rituals.
Now anyone who knows me knows I'm not a religious person in the traditional sense. I'm not a joiner. So when I said, "I recall, when I was younger, going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and while I didn't consider myself a Christian, I still couldn't deny that I was moved by the experience," my sister-in-law responded with "I thought you were an atheist."
When I told her no, she asked me what I was, religiously speaking. I had to think about that for a minute. I hate labels. Each of us is a unique collection of experiences, beliefs, and interpretations that makes us different from every other person on the planet. Why should we be pigeon-holed into a rigid spiritual doctrine? I have studied all the major religions of the world, as well as the so-called pagan beliefs of nomadic tribes, agricultural societies, and Native Americans, and when you get past the differences in names and locations, it's all the same story. A way to imply morality on the human experience.
So my answer would have to be, just because I don't believe in religion doesn't mean I'm an atheist. I believe in something, if not a creative spirit, then a creative spark. Science can explain the mechanics of evolution, but something had to light the match to all that kindling. Something had to create the soul. Whether you believe that something is a bearded man sitting on a throne in the sky or a force of nature personified is irrelevant. Like the old saying says, just because you don't believe in it, doesn't mean it isn't real. The important thing isn't what you believe, but how your life reflects that belief. I see too many religious hypocrites forgetting that one golden rule: To thine own self be true.
As I said, I've studied the religions, myths, and folktales of the world and absorbed the truths that fit with my life's experiences, which is, in the end, all any of us can do. These have become my doctrine. My religion, if you will. And the most important thing that has come from this is the belief that we are all here in this particular life for a purpose, and while the purpose may be different for each of us, we are born with the necessary tools to succeed in that purpose. It's up to us whether or not we use them.
A writer has the unique ability to recognize the story and to use his or her imagination to tell it. That may not seem so important in the grand scheme of things, compared to say a police officer or soldier who lays down his life every day, or a doctor who saves lives, but think about this: without the writer--the chronicler--where would we get the myths that define our cultures? Where would we get our religions? Someone had to interpret their experiences into a tale that would resonate with the mass consciousness. Someone had to put to paper the words that inspire faith and define history.
Which beings me to my point. It doesn't matter if what you're writing is considered a timeless literary masterpiece. What matters is that you are using the talents and abilities given to you in this life to create something from nothing. To bring to life a world and a story built from your own experience and honed by the fires of your own imagination. It's a part of you, a story no one can else can tell because no one else has walked in your shoes.
So tell your story. And when you're done...tell the next one.