As you’ll hear if you listen, when I asked people in the audience how many were familiar with the term “religious naturalism,” zero hands went in the air. To me that’s a clear indication of how much work there is to do. Not everyone is drawn to promulgating such ideas to the general public, of course, but I feel it’s crucially important.
RNA member Bart Everson recently emailed us a link to a nice talk he gave on eco-spiritual practice, to which he added:
Jerry Stone’s 2009 book, Religious Naturalism Today, reminds us that the term was being explored by liberal theologians in the 1950’s. And, of course, the history of grounding one’s spirituality in the natural world doubtless goes back to the dawn of humankind, albeit usually with a strong mix of super-natural agents. Still, RN is hardly yet a household word.
Since I’m the author of a book, The Sacred Depths of Nature, that explores the term in the context of present-day science-based understandings, I’m often invited to promulgate these ideas to the general public. Here’s a story of a recent venture, where I gave a church-basement adult-forum presentation on RN to ~30 members of a mainline Lutheran church in the St. Louis suburbs. The church’s belief statements on its website were classical Christian, and I set up my presentation with a pit-of-the-stomach concern that I’d be booed out of the building. But that didn’t happen. All seemed intently interested, and indeed, during the Q&A afterwards, three members volunteered, in front of their peers, that they considered themselves religious naturalists.
Should you be interested in scanning through what I said, a pdf of the talk is attached, where you’ll note that I “sweeten the pill” with an RN affirmation from Lutheran theologian Phil Hefner. But that’s not necessary, and my mode of conveying the concept is just one of many ways it can happen. (If the attachment doesn’t come through and you want it, write me at Goodenough@wustl.edu.)
My take-home is that “promulgation” is an incremental, often one-at-a-time, process, usually devoid of the kind of immediate affirmation I received on this occasion. And it entails overcoming the hesitations that most of us feel in exposing ourselves to being booed. Worse, it’s a complex concept to explain fully; even the best elevator-speech sentence I’ve come up — religious naturalists explore the religious potential of our scientific understandings of nature – can elicit eye-glazing. “Religious naturalists take nature to heart” is pithy but ambiguous. It’s not easy.
But I agree with Bart that it’s crucially important. You might want to give it a try. Turns out that there are many who are religious naturalists without knowing it, and it’s hugely gratifying to help someone realize that there’s an identity and a community awaiting them.
With love to all,
President, Religious Naturalist Association