Religious naturalism

Religious naturalism

Religious Naturalism is a form of naturalism that endorses human religious responses and value commitments within a naturalistic framework. Several forms of Religious Naturalism, including forms that adopt naturalism with added components of God language or the affirmation of faith in certain God concepts, will be described in this article. All forms of Religious Naturalism agree that the natural world must be placed at the center of our most significant experiences and understandings. Despite having followed differing cultural and individual paths, Religious Naturalists affirm the human need for meaning and value in our lives, drawing on two fundamental convictions in those quests: 1) the sense of nature's richness, spectacular complexity and fecundity and 2) the recognition that nature is not only the realm in which we live out our lives, but that we and who we are – our physical bodies, our amazing brains with their capacity for human sensibilities and understanding, and even our predisposition to be religious – are actually part of nature. Since science focuses on the natural world, including us as part of the natural world, and has opened up the humblingly vast and intricate view of the universe that is ours today, science is a fundamental and irreplaceable component of the perspective of Religious Naturalism. More generally, Religious Naturalism identifies the "physical" universe (the interactions of energy and matter and whatever regularities underlie them) as that which has engendered and sustains the emergence of all life, and relies upon the disciplines of science as the preeminent means of discovering and explaining that universe and its workings. In the view of its proponents Religious Naturalism is "religious" in at least the sense that it honors the experience and expression of the human emotions of awe, reverence, wonder and gratitude at and for the magnificence of the cosmos and the human possibilities for participation in it. Some who describe themselves as religious naturalists participate in the social traditions of religion, including communal gatherings and rituals, to foster a sense of community, to reinforce their understandings and to provide a base for other activities.


Many religious naturalists find philosophical resonance with certain "modern" philosophers, often beginning with Benedictus de Spinoza, and even with ancient philosophers in the stoic or skeptical traditions. Others find both philosophical and religious resonance in certain Eastern traditions, particularly schools of Buddhism and Daoism. However, the modern roots of self-identified Religious Naturalism in the United States are to be found in thinkers who used the term in the 1940s and 1950s. The earliest currently verified usages were in 1940 by George Perrigo Conger [citation] and Edgar S. Brightman ("Philosophy of Religion," a survey work). Shortly thereafter, H.H. Dubs wrote an article entitled "Religious Naturalism – an Evaluation" (The Journal of Religion, XXIII: 4, October, 1943), which begins "Religious naturalism is today one of the outstanding American philosophies of religion…" (258) and discusses ideas developed by [ Henry Nelson Wieman] in books that predate Dubs's article by 20 years. These articles and books draw not only on Wieman, but also on ideas developed by the "Chicago School" of theology, and by at least the 1950s Wieman and Bernard Meland at Chicago were frequently using the term to designate their own views. In the 1950s one also finds Jack J. Cohen's book "The Case for Religious Naturalism: A Philosophy for the Modern Jew" (New York: Reconstruction Press, 1958). Use of the term was revived in the 1990s by Loyal Rue, who was familiar with the term from Brightman's book. Rue used the term in conversations with several people before 1994, and subsequent conversations between Rue and Ursula Goodenough [both of whom were active in IRAS (The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science)] led to Goodenough's use of the term in her book [ "The Sacred Depths of Nature"] and by Rue in [ "Religion is NOT about God"] and other writings. Since 1994 numerous writings have used the phrase (See bibliography at [] ), including a forthcoming history by Jerome Stone.

Varieties of Religious Naturalism

The literature related to religious naturalism includes many variations in conceptual framing. To some extent this reflects individual takes on various issues, to some extent various schools of thought, such as humanism, physicalism and pantheism, that have had time on the conceptual stage, and to some extent differing ways of characterizing nature consequent to the evolution of scientific understandings over time.

Current discussion often relates to the issue of whether "God language" and associated concepts, such as the idea of something above and beyond "nature," have any place in a conceptual framework that treats the physical universe as its essential frame of reference and the methods of science as providing the preeminent means for determining what "nature" is. There are at least three varieties of Religious Naturalism, listed here and further elaborated below. 1. Religious Naturalism as a kind of naturalism that does not use God-language. 2. Religious Naturalism as a kind of Naturalism that does use God-language but fundamentally treats concepts of God as metaphorical. 3. Religious Naturalism as a commitment to naturalism using God-language, either as a faith statement or supported by philosophical arguments, or both, usually leaving open the question of whether that usage is metaphorical or refers to an ultimacy that nature itself rests within.

Elaboration of the Varieties of Religious Naturalism

1. Religious Naturalism as a kind of Naturalism that does not use God-language. This variety of Religious Naturalism takes the view that naturalism [ (see] , without more, provides adequate and fulfilling bases for personal and communal religious orientations and responses. This variety of Religious Naturalism propounds a naturalistic understanding of values, both in terms of biological origins and in terms of the ways culture influences individual development and societal dynamics. 2. Religious Naturalism as a kind of Naturalism that does use God-language but fundamentally treats concepts of God as metaphorical or in need of revision. This variety of Religious Naturalism finds God-language not only valuable but probably either necessary or inevitable. It observes that the natural world is not only central for science, but also for the traditional religions of humankind. Every religion has found a way to center its concern on human beings and on the natural world in which we live, and has expressed those concerns in "ultimate" terms, with "ultimate" meaning God, enlightenment, harmony with nature or right action. This orientation emphasizes that all language is at bottom metaphorical, barely leaving open whether such metaphors of ultimacy refer to an external referent. 3. Religious Naturalism as a commitment to naturalism using God-language, but leaving open the question of whether that usage is metaphorical or refers to an ultimacy that nature itself rests within. This variety of Religious Naturalism holds that religions not only center their concerns on nature (humans and the natural world) and on Ultimacy (which they may also identify with God, enlightenment, harmony with nature or right action), but also contends that nature itself rests in ultimacy, leaving open the question of whether there is a source of ultimacy "outside" nature (or even whether the concepts of "inside" or "outside" nature make sense in this context). Adherents to this variety of Religious Naturalism frequently characterize their belief in God (or other related concepts) as a matter of faith, supported by individual religious/mystical experiences, philosophical arguments (including intuitionist arguments), or both.

Commonalities Among the Varieties of Religious Naturalism

The differences noted above should not obscure the commonalities shared by the varieties of Religious Naturalism: 1. All varieties of Religious Naturalism see humans as an emergent part of nature. 2. All varieties recognize the primacy of science with regard what to what is measurable via the scientific method. 3. All varieties recognize science's limitations in accounting for judgments of value and in providing a full account of human experience. Thus Religious Naturalism embraces nature's creativity, beauty and mystery and honors many aspects of the scientific, artistic, cultural and religious traditions that respond to and attempt to interpret nature in the broadest of senses. 4. All varieties of Religious Naturalism approach matters of morality, ethics and value with a focus on understanding the way the world works, with a deep concern for fairness and the welfare of all humans regardless of their station in life, and for human impact on other forms of life and the interdependent web that sustains life on earth. 5. Religious Naturalism seeks to integrate these interpretative, spiritual and ethical responses in a manner that respects diverse religious and philosophical perspectives, while still subjecting them (and itself) to rigorous scrutiny. 6. The focus on scientific standards of evidence imbues RN with the humility inherent in scientific inquiry and its limited, albeit ever deepening, ability to describe reality (see Epistemology). The realm of reality currently regarded as well established by scientific inquiry serves to anchor Religious Naturalism, where paradigmatic shifts of major scale are becoming increasingly infrequent as more is understood.

In addition, some tensions exist between and even within varieties of Religious Naturalism 1. When the third variety refers to the "ultimate" and identifies God as one of the meanings or referents of ultimacy, this raises the question for those who espouse the first variety of whether the "naturalism" part of Religious Naturalism is being denied or deemphasized. This tension may not arise with those users of God-language who use the label entirely metaphorically and do not posit the existence of a God that transcends the natural world (for example, the Harvard theologian [ Gordon Kaufman] ). However, some would urge that even an acknowledged metaphorical use of God language, with all its historical associations, leads to ambiguity and confusion. 2. Other language tensions. Even apart from God-language and the language of ultimacy, different Religious Naturalists (even those who espouse the same variety) may mean different things by certain terms. For example: :a. The word "nature" is usually but not always used in the broadest possible sense, including humans and all of their psychological and cultural dimensions; what happened (if anything) before the Big Bang; what exists (if anything) in the dimensions posited by string theory; etc. This usage includes within "nature" much that science does not currently describe with relative certainty, but cannot contravene what science currently describes with relative certainty. However, Religious Naturalists at times use the word "nature" in the traditional sense of distinguishing that which is not human, without meaning by that usage to suggest that we are not part of nature. :b. The word "sacred" typically points to that which is worthy of the highest honor, reverence and care, but some Religious Naturalists would prefer not to use the word at all. Likewise the word "spiritual" usually connotes meaningful inward responses to the sacred; again, however, some Religious Naturalists would prefer not to use the word at all, in favor of more ordinary words or phrases like "deeply meaningful" or "emotionally fulfilling." :c. The word "religious" may mean that which concerns the sacred, but is at least as likely to refer to that which binds us together, recognizing the "lig" in religion to be the same root as the "lig" in ligament (see . One Religious Naturalist statement of the fundamental components of religious response cites the following, many of which are viewed as common to Religious Naturalism and other religious orientations: ::*Apprehension of our mortality and transience, combined with gratitude for the moment of existence that is ours; ::*Awe that we and all that surrounds us exist at all; ::*An understanding that we are embedded in an incomprehensibly immense whole that pre-exists us, will continue after us and does not depend on us, but in which we have a role to play; ::*An understanding that we share our existence and our fate with all other creatures on Earth, with whom we are deeply related; and ::*An appreciation of the existence of other self-aware beings with whom we can share our understandings, identify and empathize. Also included in religion for many Religious Naturalists are various elements of moral and ethical orientation, as an outgrowth of the communal search for understanding and expression of human potentials.

ome Examples of Current Religious Naturalism Communities

Religious Naturalists sometimes use some of the social traditions of religion, including communal gatherings and rituals, to foster a sense of community, and to serve as reinforcement of its participants' efforts to expand the scope of their understandings. Some known examples of Religious Naturalists groupings are listed below: 1. The Religious Naturalism Interest Group of IRAS ( [ The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science] ), which meets annually on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire (see [] ). 2. A Jewish congregation near Chicago (Congregation Beth Or) led by Rabbi David Oler (see [] )

3. A group of Unitarian Universalists who are also Religious Naturalists, called [ UURN] . 4. An on-line group open to the public (the IRAS group has an on-line presence, but it is open only to IRAS members) at [] . Criticism of Religious Naturalism [Reference, and respond to, Dennett's recent Point of Inquiry Podcast comments]

ee also

(Other Wikipedia Entries – not all of those listed below are on Wikipedia now)

*Religious Humanism
*Evolutionary Humanism
*The Sacred
*Covenant with Mystery
*The Supernatural
*Naturalism (philosophy)
* Mysterium Tremendum Et Fascinans
*Philosophy of science

External links

Supportive: on Religion in An Age of Science - (See especially



* [ Religious Naturalism]

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