The Three Pillars
The Sacred River Project is built upon Three Pillars of thought—Religious Naturalism, Allegoricalism, and Progressivism. These domains work together to inform our underlying beliefs, values, principles, methods, and aims. A significant part of this developing project is the ongoing integration of these orientations towards society, nature, religion, and self. None of these terms have precise definitions or a consensus on their scope or meaning, so we offer our own take on these ideas, with the understanding that all such examinations are perpetually in-process.
Religious Naturalism is a spiritual movement that, stated simply, offers a reverent orientation towards the natural world that is in harmony with reason and our expanding scientific understanding of the universe. More specifically, it denies the existence or necessity of the super-natural, including personal deities, non-corporeal intelligences, extra-terrestrial environments, or occult forces. At the same time, RN isn’t mere scientism—it recognizes the holistic, emergent nature of reality that is inherently unpredictable and creative. Further, even if we can agree that there exists an objective reality independent of human observation, that world is nevertheless experienced subjectively.
Religion arguably exists in order to address certain human needs, such as assuaging existential anxiety, maintaining a sense of purpose and agency, developing an understanding of the workings of the world, and feeling connected to others. At another level, it is possible to surmise that people often desire what can be called a religious experience, here defined as a profound and meaningful shift in perspective involving an embodied sensation and a resultant interpretation that is explicitly religious in nature. Stated more simply, religion can potentially provide a sense of meaningful profundity, a sense of deep significance and/or transcendence from normal states of being, involving a connection with, experience of, or insight into a perspective of reality that is normally outside of everyday awareness.
Religious Naturalism states that all of these needs, desires, and experiences can be had without the need for a belief in the supernatural. Nature, as well as we understand it, is fully worthy of awe, gratitude, and reverence. But more than that, we maintain that nature is all that is real. In other words, we are merely acknowledging that which is, without needing more. Part of this recognition involves our own place within the biospheric narrative, our emerging understanding of human nature and the infinite variety of potential human activity within the world.
Allegoricalism is a term that Sacred River has adopted to refer to symbolism that is explicitly religious. Much of the richness of any given religion lies in its collection of symbols, often expressed in creative form, such as stories, music, architecture, and painting. People often experience spiritual inspiration and even exaltation within such expressions, through observation, participation, and creation. Traditional religious objects—such as gods, sacred spaces, and holy artifacts—can also be viewed as symbols, potentially providing a sense of profundity and connection with the natural world.
We refer to such religious symbolic manifestation as Art, which serves the human drive to express ourselves and to experience the world in meaningful ways. Whereas science serves our need to understand, Art addresses our humanity, our ideals and values, fears and aspirations, needs and foibles, successes and failures. This kind of symbolic expression provides an important bridge connecting individuals, groups, and generations that helps us to understand who we are, what we believe, and where we are trying to go.
Art, as we define it, also provides potential doorways to emotional and perceptual states that can provide meaningful insight and broaden our sense of ourselves and our place in the universe. This can manifest in many ways, including in personal ritual, group celebration, and meditation. Eventually, we hope to integrate this idea of Art into an articulated spiritual practice.
Sacred River, and Religious Naturalism in general, does not have a revealed spiritual text outlining a detailed moral compass applicable to all humans. In general, Religious Naturalists recognize that ethics and morality are always in a state of flux and that what is considered good or bad is nearly always dependent upon situational context. Further, since RN doesn’t recognize a judgmental god or a reward/punishment-based afterlife, we are left with a concern for what we do in this life and how it affects the world around and after us. With this in mind, Sacred River has chosen the humanistic worldview of progressivism as its core ethical system. It must be said up front that this choice is not a necessary one—other systems are possible. But we believe that the progressive worldview is most in harmony with religious naturalism.
In a very general sense, progressivism is a worldview that recognizes the worth of human life and seeks to optimize freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and fairness in society. It aspires towards improving the well-being of all—via education, the arts, technology, social justice, health care, economic opportunity, et cetera—while also balancing human interests with those of the natural world. A progressive vision, therefore, seeks to enhance the liberty and fulfillment of every human while simultaneously cultivating social responsibility and environmental stewardship. Progressives seek to manifest this vision through the promotion of diversity, empathy, pragmatism, critical thinking and debate, innovation, and cultural participation.
At Sacred River, we also apply progressive concepts to spirituality. As such, we believe that a spiritual life is one that, in part, seeks personal development using pragmatic methods for the general aim of increasing your state of maturity, agency, and well-being. In short, a religious practice should aim to increase your ability to thrive, and include efforts, of one kind or another, to help others do the same.