Religious Naturalism offers a meaningful and authentic spirituality rooted in science and reason, yet also capable of providing a unifying narrative, moral insights, and accounting for spiritual experience in our increasingly secular age.
A RELIGION FOR A SECULAR CULTURE
Religious naturalism may be compelling, coherent, and tidy in principle,
but in fact it is also ragged and a bit unruly. Having said all this, I fully expect the day to arrive when religious naturalism will prevail as the most universal and influential religious orientation on the planet.
– Loyal Rue
As we have discussed in the previous essays, religious naturalism is the blending of spirituality – understood as the search for meaning and the cultivation of awe, gratitude, wonder, empathy, and compassion – with naturalism – understood as a philosophical worldview grounded in evidential reasoning.
Religious naturalism allows us to engage in ritual, celebration, reflection, meditation, community building – activities many associate with religion, but without the supernaturalism, superstition, institutionalism, and unjustifiable theologies that are motivating increasing numbers of people to abandon traditional religion.
THE BIG PICTURE
From an evolutionary perspective, we can speak loosely about the meaning of life as about obtaining happiness, thriving, and reproducing – and helping others do the same.
Religion in most of its forms appears to be a natural human adaptation to promote individual thriving and social cohesion.
How does religion do this? By offering tested wisdom on how to obtain the above. And this wisdom is communicated through cultural, moral, symbolic, mythic, and ritual means.
Let’s summarize how religious naturalism communicates its particular wisdom.
A PRACTICAL SPIRITUALITY
My religion is nature. That’s what arouses those feelings of wonder and mysticism and gratitude in me.
– Oliver Sacks
Mythic Narrative – instead of the bible or Koran or other religious texts, the central narrative for religious naturalism is evolution understood broadly to include all forms of cosmogenesis – the Big Bang and the formation of the universe as well as biological evolution that has produced all life.
The Epic of Evolution is such a story, beautifully suited to anchor our search for planetary consensus, telling us of our nature, our place, our context. Moreover, responses to this story what we are calling religious naturalism can yield deep and abiding spiritual experiences.
– Ursula Goodenough
While we don’t experience evolution directly, we see it’s dynamics at play in the natural world, in the patterns, rhythms, and cycles of nature and our own lives, and the changing of the seasons.
Evolution as mythic narrative (grand core story) is everyone’s story, transcends cultural and ethnic differences, and unites everyone and everything in a world view of interconnectedness and interdependence. It also has the added benefit of being true.
Moral Wisdom – religious naturalism promotes moral understanding grounded in reason and not religious texts, claims of revelation, or pronouncements by religious authorities.
It is rooted in a rational ethics that relies on human flourishing as the arbiter of moral truth and benefits from reasoned reflection on human experience as well as the collective findings of social science, psychology, and other forms of human learning.
The centrality of interconnectedness orients our moral vision toward mutual cooperation, empathy, and care for all living beings. As part of one, unified, ecosystem we realize we can only thrive when others thrive too, that our well being is interdependent on the well being of others and the planet.
Ritual Practices – religious naturalism’s status as a new spiritual system requires that we creatively develop meaningful rituals that express and reinforce our vision of the world.
Any ritual is an opportunity for transformation. To do a ritual, you must be willing to be transformed in some way. The inner willingness is what makes the ritual come alive and have power. If you aren’t willing to be changed by the ritual, don’t do it.
These practices are various forms of meditation and reflection, family and communal celebration, time in nature, and experimenting with art, music, chant, candle lighting, religious symbol and props, to develop rituals that speak to us, our friends, families, and communities.
Community Building – the earnest effort to overcome the continuing fragmentation of our culture and local social networks by gathering people together to discuss, read, and study, to socialize, celebrate, and connect, creating alternative networks of social support locally and beyond.
Our community building efforts can involve the formation of religious naturalist circles, study groups, community service projects, as well as experimenting with various forms of naturalist-based liturgies and life cycle rituals.
Compassionate Service – advocating care of one another and the environment by increasing awareness, lending our time and support to various social justice movements, individual outreach and care for the needy, lonely, and marginalized around us, and leveraging social and political energies to address climate change, structural injustice, radical inequalities, poverty relief, and other humanist concerns.
Celebration – recognizing the power of hospitality and the sharing of food together at table to celebrate milestones in our lives as well as cultural holidays of meaning, be they rooted in our shared history or in the cycles of nature and the seasons.
Celebratory gatherings help build community, help us reflect on our lives, and can help break barriers by making our hospitality inclusive and welcoming.
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
– Mary Oliver
If you’re reading this, I want to thank for taking the time to engage. Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to read some of the other essays, too.
I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts, ideas, challenges, and own experiences. I welcome dialog and questions, and would particularly like to hear from others in West Michigan (and beyond) who share interest or commitment to various forms of religious naturalism.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
– Mary Oliver