In our scientific age, traditional religions no longer work for many people – particularly those who reject religion because they reject the idea of ‘God’. Religious naturalism is an approach that takes many forms, some of which are entirely atheistic, without any consideration of ‘God’ or anything supernatural. Religious naturalism is often, by design, entirely consistent with our scientific age.
Religion used to be the realm in which people focused on matters of paramount importance – what we think about the universe and about our role in it. With the decline of religion, however, modern culture does not tend to emphasise reflectionon such fundamental questions. In effect, by throwing out religion as a whole, we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We now live in a culture filled with apathy and nihilism: no meaning, no purpose, infused with selfish competition rather than cooperation. The results include a degrading environment and increased dysfunction, addiction, crime and violence. We are, in short, experiencing cultural decline.
Or so one argument goes. The above is a story, after all, and depending on your own understanding of the world and your own experiences, this may or may not resonate. None of this is particularly new. Scholars who have focused on the connection between the loss of myth and cultural degradation include Max Weber and Carl Jung, and more recently Joseph Campbell and Loyal Rue. They and others conclude that we need to inspire people (e.g., teachers, artists, leaders) to re-integrate mythic thinking into the world. One way to do this, is to foster religious naturalism as an alternative to traditional religion or noreligion.
In addition to consequences related to cultural decline, we also live in times of religiously-heated conflict and violence. Our understanding of religion impacts whether and how we engage in (or politically support) such violence. If, for example, one perceives one’s supposed enemy as either against god or unthinkingly and ridiculously religious, either perception makes it easier to be (or support being) violent toward that group. I believe there is a role for religious naturalism within forms of religious education designed to reduce violence and conflict. This is the subject of my current PhD research.
If you are interested in these or related issues, I would love to hear from you.
© 2014 by Mars Lewis.