Religious Naturalism: A Working Title
As much as I identify as a religious naturalist, I must confess that I do not like the term. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that religious naturalism be eliminated, only used in the way other categorical terms are used, such as Abrahamic Religion. I can’t say that I have a better choice, but I do hope that one comes to light.
First, the term is blandly descriptive—it fails to evoke the deep emotions that many of us actually feel about nature. It simply does not reflect the life and majesty inherent in its object of reverence. Second, the use of the term “religious” is for many naturalists a source of dissonance, in some ways requiring a redefinition of the word. Third, “naturalism” is a poorly understood and confusing construct—because of that, its boundaries are too porous for my own taste (e.g. does it include pantheism or is it somehow distinct?). Finally, the term is an academic one, mostly referring to dry concepts found within the pages of theology journals, untethered from the personal and cultural experience of adherents.
Alas, I believe the term is becoming solidified in the wake of recent publications, most notably The Sacred Depths of Nature, by Ursula Goodenough, and Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, by Jerome Stone (both excellent books). But rather than address religious naturalism as a religion, or even a religious movement, these books use the term to describe a religious orientation within an intellectual or academic framework. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, but it places RN more in the realm of philosophy or academic theology, places generally inaccessible to the average person.
Another major drawback with the term is that it describes an attitude towards Nature as a whole, offering little in terms of what we think about each other. From what I can tell, many religious naturalists have adopted some form of humanism into their worldview to fill in the ethics gap. But it really becomes a mouthful to say I am a Religious Naturalist Humanist.
Words matter. Names matter. The best names are symbols, which is why I chose Sacred River for this venture rather than “Ash’s Religious Naturalism Project”. It’s hard to imagine an inspiring symbol for “A scientifically-informed, reverent orientation towards Nature absent of the supernatural yet worthy of awe and wonder.” If there is an answer, I think it lies within the Story of Everyone, also known as The Epic of Evolution—not just natural selection, but big-E Evolution, the process of change that resulted in everything there is, including us. Something that embodies the experience of discovery, the thrill of progress, and the mystery of emergence—the sheer majesty of this universe and an utterly complex brain that allows us to contemplate and study it. What name could possibly encapsulate all of that?
I’m certain that the answer is out there, waiting to emerge from our movement. Until that happens, I’ll have to be satisfied with our working title.