Takeaways from Reddit AMA

The Gateway Forums About Religious Naturalism Outreach Takeaways from Reddit AMA

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    • #28725

        In case you missed it, Ursula recently hosted a Q&A session on Reddit. See the conversation here:


        This helped propose the RN orientation to a wide audience, many of which read about us for the first time. There was a lot of great discussion, many of our ideas resonated with this wide audience and it was made apparent that organizations like this one have a lot of room to grow.

        There were a couple of themes I noticed that may offer insight into how we can improve our outreach.

        First, everyone loves to argue about language.

        Second, The core ideas of Religious Naturalism already exist with a million other names.

        There was a lot of discussion around the use of the term “Religious”. Some were genuinely curious and came to understand the use of the term like many of us do. Others saw the word religious, and immediately assumed Ursula was pushing faith in a supernatural deity and rushed to the comment section before looking twice.

        Those who care to look deeper will understand why we use it, but it becomes a required part of our pitch. I think it draws the discussion away from the more important aspects of our worldview. There are obviously benefits to using the terms religious or religion, as has already been discussed in many other locations. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for other organizations though.

        Which brings me to the second takeaway, that there were lots of comments likening RN to other organizations and ideas. There are a dozen other names that represent a very similar worldview. While we squabble with language, those with damaging worldviews seem to find what has the best punch and just go for it. I look at the branding for certain right-wing terms like “Pro-life”, who would say that they are not pro-life? It’s genius.

        We have already made connections with many of these similar organizations. I say we take extra initiative to try and bring these organizations together, find the core tenants we can agree on, run some focus groups, take some votes, pick the best name that represents all of us and run with it. I’m not married to the term Religious Naturalist. I would imagine others may feel the same way, especially if there is another name that fairly represents our worldview and is better equipped to appeal to a wide audience.

        In summary, my takeaway is quite frankly that an umbrella organization, with universally understood language and support/input from likeminded groups, is desperately needed. I understand this is no easy task and will present many challenges. However, finding the right language and creating unity will be crucial to getting people more on board. We have to start somewhere.

        I’d be very interested to know anyone’s thoughts and ideas on this, any other takeaways from the AMA, and if any discussions have taken place on these topics other than that on the RNA Google Group. We should create a forum on the topic of an umbrella organization/term as I know others have expressed interest and insight.

        P.S. I’m no linguist, but personally, I enjoy the term Gaianism. I think an ode to the Earth provides great symbolism for what we are about and could be understood by many. Along similar lines, there are other terms for Earth that take root from other languages that could be adapted and understood by many, for example: terra or aarde. Imagine a term using aarde as the root, we’d be first in the dictionary!

      • #28726

          Thanks for everything Jack.

          As you know from my RNAnet contributions, I’m all in favor of the umbrella concept, and will soon post here a draft of what that might look like. Meanwhile, I hope others will offer their thoughts.

        • #28731
          Todd Macalister

                      (Sorry – format in my Word draft doesn’t show as intended in this memo . . .)


            After reading parts of the conversation in the “Ask Me Anything” session that featured Ursula, plus comments on this RNA Forum that followed, I want to respond to two points that Jack made (both of which I agree with) – that . . .

            the “R-word” – religious – is problematic, as it often contributes to initial misconceptions and objections; and that

            “an umbrella organization, with universally understood language and support/input from likeminded groups, is desperately needed”.

            I’ll share some thoughts on both of these (plus a potential theme to consider as a step toward a finding a name for a future umbrella organization).


            Regarding the word “religious” . . .

            Parts of Ursula’s “Ask me anything” session on Reddit gave an informative case-example that showed the extent to which questions about the “religious” part of RN were prominent, and served as both a distraction from, and an initial skepticism toward, the more interesting, positive, and helpful things that religious naturalist perspectives can offer.

            This gave a reminder that, when we introduce RN, we have 2 things to explain –

            What does it mean to be a “naturalist”?, and

            In what ways might a naturalist be religious?

            (Or, do positive things that might be associated with being “religious”?

            Or, in some cases – why would a naturalist want to identify as “religious”?

            as, for many who see themselves as “atheist” or “secular”, nothing much positive,

            and a number of things negative, are associated with “religion”.)


            One option that can be considered is that, in social media (plus some other) venues, introductory terminology might start with just one part of this, and say something like “We’ll be discussing things from a naturalist perspective, and showing how this can contribute to [such things as . . .] finding a sense of wonder and appreciation in attention to the natural world, plus a sense of connection in our shared roots with other people and creatures, taking nature to heart, etc. . . .”

            The word “religious” is not essential – as part of an initial first-impression – to convey the gist and benefits of what RN is about.

            And, as was observed, initial inclusion of “religious” invites initial objections and misunderstandings.

            However, it (inclusion/mention of “religious”) should, and easily can, be included as conversations go further –

            (where “as we see ourselves and all things in our world as having emerged through natural processes, and as we are moved by the wonders of nature – many of us view this with a type of reverence, where the workings of nature can be a core part of whatever in us, at times, feels something spiritual or religious” [or, something like that].

            So, here, being just “naturalist” can be shown as appealing and fulfilling – whether this is discussed as being “religious”, or not (again – at least in first encounters).

            And, with this, it can be possible for people to agree or align with positive aspects of self-identifying as a naturalist, without also having, initially, to actively affirm alignment with things “religious”.

            And, as a point of reference, no one speaks of groups of:

            Religious Christians

            Religious Jews

            Religious Buddhists


            In all such groups, some individuals are actively/visibly “religious”, and many are not.


            Also, it’s worth recognizing (or being reminded of) that the name “religious naturalism” had its origin in academic discussions, where philosophers and theologians, with an initial focus on things religious, considered how or whether people could be religious, with a naturalist worldview.

            For folks on Reddit and other social media outlets, the initial interest will often not be “religious”, per se, but on questions of purpose, meaning, etc. that can be described in several ways.


            (After writing the words above, an image came to mind – in which, in some of the online conversations that have occurred on RNAnet and on this Forum, our RNA participants can be seen as resembling a group or rabbis (or yeshiva students) debating – sometimes with passion – how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But as, from such discussions among rabbis came the Talmud, which is part of the foundation that keeps the traditional alive and responsive to ongoing changes in the times. And, in this, as a small group is inclined to care about and discuss theology, a larger group of those with whom they share some core beliefs pays attention mainly at holidays; where, on Passover they gather with family and friends and, while retelling the shared story, focus more on the chicken soup, latkes, and wine, but will also do this, again and again, each year.

            Here, it’s mainly the “religious” ones who dive deep into the details, while a much larger group, who often don’t describe themselves as “religious”, enjoys and gains from being part of a group with a shared framework that offers an orientation for understanding and responding to the joys and challenges in their lives.

            So, my thought here is that, in the large population of “naturalists”, only some of us will be actively interested in being (and/or, actively identifying as) “religious naturalists.” But, many others may be interested in and can potentially gain from, and may occasionally join in or have feelings related to being religious – and we want to welcome and include and be of service to these folks, as well.

            As a related aspiration, it would be a plus, in its own right, if the general public became more familiar with, and began to more actively use, the term “naturalist”.

            (One useful part of this would be to work toward having a positive term as part of often-used language – to describe someone who believes the scientific story of how the cosmos and life on Earth came to be, rather than current norm, where the biblical view remain the standard, and alternative words are negative – based on what is not believed or done – where those who do not believe are “atheists”, and those who are not involved with religion are referred to as “secular” or as “nones”.)

            And, in time it can be seen that there are naturalist Christians, Jews, Buddhists, etc., as well as those of us – at RNA and in some other groups – that explore a range of traditions and may embrace a wide range of ways of being religious.

            Also, as the term “naturalist” becomes more widely used and accepted, those of us who may have occasion to discuss or describe religious naturalism will have only one thing to explain (non-traditional ways of seeing and being “religious), rather than two things (in having to explain naturalism, as well).


            Moving to the “umbrella group” concept, as we start to think about the “core tenets” Jack mentioned, as part of the glue that could hold an umbrella group together –

            naturalist may also be a meaningful distinction to have prominent here –

            where, as some number of pantheists, Gaians, and folks who identify with other orientations that might align with RNA in a number of ways, some number of these can be seen as full-naturalists, while some others believe in a guiding spirit (and, perhaps also some other “other-than-natural” things). So, it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which, for such groups as a whole, or for how many individual members within them, there is good alignment with RN for types of things that both groups feel are important, and worth aligning/working together on.

            But, also, we can and should look further into types of things that we largely do, but in other ways might not ways, share with folks in other groups – in ways that we can all gain by active communication and cooperation with one another.


          • #28732

              When I give slide-show talks I always begin with who is a naturalist? (takes Everybody’s Story seriously as a core story) and then who is a religious naturalist? (explores it religious potential along interpretive, spiritual, and moral axes). An elevator-speech version of your fine post!

              When I was assembling this list https://religious-naturalist-association.org/related-groups/ I looked for groups whose core statements gave evidence of a naturalist worldview, even if that worldview wasn’t central to their writings/practice. Some use god-esque language (pantheistic, Great Spirit, etc.) and I for one have zero problem with such interpretations as long as they don’t entail distorting their science-based naturalist understandings.

              • #28733

                  It is interesting to note that recent discussions in Pantheism is to use the term “Naturalistic Pantheism” instead of “Scientific Pantheism”


                  It is interesting to note that the Scientific Pantheism concept actually has a long history. I may be in error, but I seem to recollect John Burroughs using the term.

              • #28734
                Todd Macalister

                  With acknowledgement of, and apologies for, the fact that my posting this morning was long, I’ll ask a much shorter/simpler question that cuts to the chase – in . . .

                  As we think toward outreach messaging, might it help us best (or better) communicate with audiences we are trying to reach if, in initial/introductory statements and discussions of what RNA and religious naturalist perspectives can contribute, we focus more, initially, on a “naturalist” orientation than a “religious naturalist” orientation?

                  My thought is that “one step at a time” might be worth exploring – as an approach that might dodge a number of initial knee-jerk reactions against things “religious”.

                • #28735

                    The people who knee-jerk are going to knee-jerk as soon as the R-word is voiced, even if we warm them up with naturalist. It wasn’t very many out of 580K, and they were very motivated to post, and of course lots of people like the religious language.


                  • #28736

                      There also seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction adjacent to the idea of promoting an organization/book. Said advertisements may have skewed a vocal few into equating RNA more as a relig-ion as opposed to a relig-ious worldview. These reactions seemed to stem from other organizations who may have, inadvertently or not, exploited a collective lack of ecological and biological understanding to promote a book or product. The term “New Age” came up a few times. These attempted exploitations are common enough that many may not know what a genuine advertisement for community and understanding looks like. We probably don’t know how best to advertise that either.

                      This is where an umbrella term could prove useful. We could promote the umbrella term first and foremost, which guides knee-jerk reactions away from these negative connotations as we are instead promoting a wide array of organizations and ideas. We then can share that RNA is an organization within this ecosystem that is dedicated to providing community and understanding to those with an “ecospiritual” worldview. The term Religious Naturalist may make more sense in this context.

                    • #28737

                        So Jack and I have started thinking about such an umbrella, combining my historical chops with his youth and savvy. He has volunteered (YAY!!) to serve as webmaster for a new webpage that we’re provisionally calling The EcoSpiritual Hub which, as we are framing it, represents an ecosystem within which different organizations reside, displaying distinctive languages/priorities/practices but sharing a common adaptation/goal: to deepen spiritual/religious/moral responses to the natural world. It would list the groups already included in the RNA Related Groups dropdown, plus RNA itself, and be open to new groups. Persons who elect to become members of any or several of the groups will de facto become members of the Hub. We will of course share a draft on-line version when it’s pulled together, requesting comments from the RNA leadership and from the leaderships of the other groups.

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