“How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another,
if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology?
In my view, it is the most important function of art and science
to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.”
With architecture, paintings, music, and other forms, art has long been part of religions. Art is likewise important to many religious naturalists – as a way of experiencing things that can’t be stated in words (or that use poetry, not precision, in words).
Unlike artistic themes that developed over centuries in relation to traditional religions, a relation between naturalism, religion, and art is fairly new. But nature has long been a focus in art, and many ancient and modern works can contribute to a sense of something spiritual or religious. Also, as is suggested in the quote from Albert Einstein, above, a challenge available to naturalists who are artistically-inclined is to create works that examine the beauty and spiritual meaning that can come from appreciation of the natural world.
Encounters with art
…..(as a form of practice
…..for religious naturalists)
Hudson River school paintings
Art of science gallery
Mathematical art galleries
Snow art (Simon Beck)
Gallery (selected images)
It should be noted that naturalism is a style in art that features realistic depictions. This generally does not include the religious sense that is part of religious naturalism. So, while the two share part of a common name, art related to RN is not the same as, and is not bound by, the style of naturalism in art.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why are natural laws as they are?
How do thoughts and feelings come from neurons in our brains?
It can be uncomfortable to consider unanswered Big Questions. Western religion addresses these through images of God. In religious naturalism, the unknown is acknowledged and may be embraced; and feelings that come with this can be part of a religious sense,
“It was the experience of mystery – even if mixed with fear – that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”
Ursula Goodenough. My covenant with mystery.
Steven Pinker. The mystery of consciousness.
John Horgan. Science will never explain why there’s something rather than nothing.
Sarah Boxer. Science confronts the unknowable; less is known than people think.
“I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.
This is a somewhat new kind of religion.”
As is contained in its name, religious naturalism has two central aspects.
One is a naturalist view of how things happen in the world – in which the natural world is all there is (and that nothing other than natural, including an active personal God, may cause events in the world).
The other is appreciation of religion (which, for many, is mainly personal), with a view that Nature can be a focus of religious attention.
Naturalist views, grounded in science, provide a framework for understanding what seems real. These include a central story, the epic of evolution, that explains the origins of the cosmos and humans, with perspectives from which to consider why we do what we do.
Religious orientation includes spiritual responses, which can include feelings of appreciation, gratitude, humility, reverence, and joy at the wonder of being alive. It also includes moral responses, involving values rooted in nature – to seek justice and cooperation among social groups and balance in ecosystems.
Beyond these basic premises, religious naturalism has no dogmas or specific beliefs, and it includes a range of views on different topics.
As is explained throughout this website, for those who do not participate in organized religion, and for many of those who do, religious naturalism can serve as a basis for personal spiritual/religious orientation and a foundation for considering life questions.
Ursula Goodenough, Are you a religious naturalist without knowing it?
Jerome Stone, What is religious naturalism?
Donald Crosby. Religious naturalism and its place in the family of religions
Donald Crosby, Religion of nature as a form of religious naturalism
Micheal Battenberg, Confessions of a religious naturalist
Tom Clark. Spirituality without faith
Religious Naturalism: A Balance (UUgateway video, Reverend Ron Phares)
Religious Naturalism Resources – Boston University
Descriptions and definitions (WikiQuotes)
Wikipedia. Religious naturalism
Roots of religious naturalism
No clear definition exists, but some parts may include:
attention to the ultimate
interest in or actively caring about things that are essential to our lives; may include concern with values and meaning and questions of why things are as they are (envisioned by some in context with images of a creative force or God, and by others as in principles of nature)
responses to mystery
ways of envisioning and acting with respect to things that are unable to be known
existential questions and ideals
concern with purpose and meaning; responses to loss;
a basis for hope
Being religious has been described as not “a special way of knowing, but rather a special way of being”.
Part of this is attitude which, in some traditions, focuses on compassion. Another aspect of attitude can be caring, as in Loyal Rue’s view that a religious person is “one who takes ultimate concerns to heart”. It may also include a desire to understand and act in accordance with the ways of the perceived source of all that is, and a sense of personal or emotional connection to this source. As William James put it, “The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from soul to soul, between man and his maker” howsoever that “maker” may be envisioned.
Being religious can also include practices – as ways of re-orienting the mind, encountering the ultimate, declaring one’s faith, and putting values into action. A focus in this can be self-transformation, as religious orientation may highlight ideals and offer practices that can help people move toward their better selves.
Whether they consider themselves to be religious or not, each person, at times, considers religious questions. Each forms a view of how things are and what may be possible or not, and a sense of what is important, right, and good. If they consider the order and beauty and unanswered questions about the world, they may encounter a sense of mystery and appreciation and wonder. And, as they stand with others to mark life events (the birth of a child, a wedding, or a funeral), they may acknowledge some things as important, or “sacred”. With these types of responses or feelings, and as they act in accordance with their beliefs, each person can be seen as having their own spiritual sense, or their own personal religion.
Some terms and distinctions – related to religiosity
Loyal Rue’s model of religion
Neuroscience and religous faith (ISSR)
Additional reading – perspectives on religion
In Jewish and Christian traditions the problem is separation from the love and goodness envisioned in God, and problems that come with living in such a world. The reason, shown in Eden, is human sinfulness or weakness. The path, in Jewish tradition, is following the guidance in the Torah. In Christianity, the focus is acceptance of Christ.
From a religious naturalist perspective, several aspects of a problem can be seen.
On a personal level, varying levels of suffering, anxiety, confusion, and alienation are part of the human condition. We wish for satisfaction, health, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging.
In relations with others, we have frequent conflict and would like to feel safe and get along with those around us.
In relation to our environment, we observe climate change, destruction of natural areas, and extinctions. We fear that, with overpopulation and pollution, we may permanently damage our home.
In all of this, we seek transformation or re-orientation that will point to a better world. We may also seek salvation – not as defined in Christian doctrine, but as based in the word root, salve, to soothe or heal.
Reasons for the problem
The reasons for these problems can be seen in a naturalist sense of being human, grounded in evolution.
One part is biological, where disease, decline, and death are inevitable parts of life, and where our genetic make-up sets aspects of what we want, how we feel, how we’re inclined to react, and what we do. This includes chemical imbalances that can play roles in mental distress.
Another part is psychological, where the self-conscious awareness that emerged as part of the function of our brains gives the ability to question and doubt. Some confusion and conflict are unavoidable, as we try to determine what is right and balance what is good for ourselves and what is good for our groups.
As advanced primates, our minds and bodies took form through countless generations as hunter/gatherers. Rules of culture formed during centuries of rural life. As technical skills have advanced, our environment has changed – to increasing concrete and noise and diminished contact with nature. Social groups have changed – from lifelong contact with tribes and families to a world increasingly populated with strangers. By controlling disease, population has exploded. We have grown rapidly, with no plan. The lives we live are not the lives our species evolved to.
Paths toward solutions
With no view that a deity shapes what will be, we are on our own. As some aspects of human nature are causes of the problem, other aspects may contribute to solutions.
The best tools we have are knowledge and potential for cooperation and wisdom.
In seeking knowledge, we try to understand elements of problems and how attempts at solutions have succeeded, or not. An important part of this is self-understanding, with attempts to recognize the implications of traits that we inherited from a pre-human past.
In seeking cooperation, we can act socially and politically to try to move toward approaches that may help.
As we consider issues and make decisions, attempts at wisdom can draw from varied perspectives – some based in evidence from science, some drawing from literature, philosophy, history, parables, and myth – with images to try to move toward.
For personal well-being, we may aspire to enlightenment, self-actualization, mindfulness, and compassion.
For social harmony, we can consider images of utopias and targets for social justice, and we can look to examples in Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Moses, Jesus, and other ancient and modern prophets.
Regarding ecology, we can consider the respect for nature described by Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Thomas Berry, and many others, and images of balance in a beautiful, sustainable world.
In efforts for transformation, one approach is top down where, by restoring balance to the environment and justice in social relations, personal well-being may improve. Another approach is bottom up where, in improving awareness and actions as individuals, social interactions can improve and environmental preservation may occur.
For those who do not believe in the traditional religious view where direction and purpose are seen in relation to God, religious naturalism can give a framework that may contribute to transformation and well-being on personal, social, and environmental levels.