Hello dear friends —

Last weekend I had the honor to offer two RN presentations at the UCC Circular Congregational Church in Charleston SC https://www.circularchurch.org/about. The pastor, Jeremy Rutledge, is an RNA member; the worship services are Christian-basedhttps://www.circularchurch.org/worship; the congregants span the atheist/agnostic/ theist spectrum. All are deeply committed to environmental and social justice. The many comments during the ensuing coffee hours were deeply appreciative.

This experience prompted the following reflections, where I would welcome your feedback (goodenough@wustl.edu).

While most RNA members, including me, are not “believers” in a supernatural/ creator/personal God, some of you may hold versions of such beliefs, and probably most of us have friends/family members who do so.

In the 20+ years that I’ve been participating in developing the RN trajectory, an on- going dialogue has focused on whether “believers” can or cannot self-describe as religious naturalists.
Those of us on the “can” side invoke what we’ve come to call the Big Tent concept, envisioning RN like a tent at a county fair, where all fairgoers can wander in through open doors and visit the various booths/exhibits on offer, each with its display of religious understandings, including those that include God language. Those on the “cannot” side offer various arguments for rejecting the Big Tent and restricting the orientation to committed non-believers.

On the RNA home page, we offer a God-language-free version of the RN orientationhttp://religious-naturalist-association.org/what-is-religious-naturalism/, and we note that the concept of a God who actively alters the course of natural events is not a naturalist view and that persons for whom this concept is important will presumably prefer another religious home. We go on to acknowledge that others use the word metaphorically to designate concepts like creativity or love. But I think we leave out those religious naturalists for whom God is more than metaphor, and is somehow engaged in the natural world, where understandings of that engagement are highly diverse and often elusive.

When I present sermons or church-basement powerpoints of RN, particularly in denominations like UCC or Episcopalian where I encounter a wide range of belief, I usually conclude with a summary of an RN orientation without using God language, akin to what we have on our homepage, and then offer the framing of Lutheran theologian and close friend Phillip Hefner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Philip_Hefner. Here’s how Phil puts things:

I believe that Evolution is the way God has created the world — God has woven the creation

on the web of emergence, adaptation and natural selection. We are very far from

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understanding the significance of this aspect of God’s creation and also far from integrating this truth into our systems of belief.

All religions face the challenge and the excitement of engaging new ideas of nature and

allowing their worldviews to be changed and enriched by this engagement. In this sense all

of us, regardless of our starting-points, are called to take nature into our religious frameworks. We are all called upon to be “religious naturalists.”

Any viewpoint that does not attempt to take the measure of nature as we presently know it

is in danger of becoming debilitating rather than enriching in all 3 of the religious spheres:

the interpretive, the spiritual, and the moral.

For those of us who begin with God, the challenge is to recognize that our scientific

understandings are revelation—revelation of what God has done, what God is doing now,

and what God intends.

While most of us would not be likely to spend much time at Phil’s booth, his perspective might be something that you consider forwarding to persons who might be responsive to it. More generally, I regard such perspectives as important to include in our outreach.

An increasingly large number of liberal and even traditional congregations regard something along the lines of “stewardship of God’s Creation” as a mandate to engage in Earth-centered activities. When I’m working with others to help clean up a river or protect an endangered species, I’m far more interested in our shared sensibilities than in our theologies.

With love to you all, Ursula

RNA Newsletter – May 2019