Author Archives: Religious Naturalism Associates

Frequently asked questions

A number of questions are often asked after people are introduced to religious naturalism:

What is religious naturalism?
What do religious naturalists believe?
What do religious naturalists do?
What does it take to become a religious naturalist?
What do religious naturalists think about God?
Why use the term, “naturalist” instead of “atheist”?
Why should religion be considered, along with a science-based view? Why not just be secular?
If there is no belief in God, what is the basis for values?
What is the history of RN?
How can I learn more about religious naturalism?

General answers to these questions are shown below.

What is religious naturalism?

Religious naturalism is a view, including attitudes and beliefs, that combines a science-based understanding of what seems possible and real with appreciation of goals, concerns, and feelings that are parts of religion. It understands the origins and nature of ourselves and our world in ways that are grounded in the core narrative of evolution. It examines ways of being spiritual that do not include belief in a God that may actively alter the course of natural events. More detailed descriptions are provided at:
What is naturalism?          What is religious naturalism?

What do religious naturalists believe?

Religious naturalists believe that all that exists and all that occurs is in accordance with natural processes. They value the scientific method as a way of considering what is real, but also recognize emotional and intuitive ways of understanding and the value of art, ritual, and symbols.

Beyond a naturalist worldview and appreciation of religion, RN has no specific dogma or creed and includes a wide range of views.

For more, see Worldview pages and Tenets of religious naturalism at this website.

What do religious naturalists do?

Nothing is required. Religious naturalists tend to be interested in learning – about human nature and the natural world – and when they consider religious types of questions (relating to values, purpose, coping with loss, and other challenges), they do so in ways that draw from perspectives from science, the humanities, and art.

No churches or temples exist, but people may gather at conferences and they may share information and ideas in internet chat rooms (including one conducted as part of the  Religious Naturalist Association. Some appreciate activities that may contribute to a spiritual sense and have their own forms of religious practice. These can include meditation, marking special events, and encounters with nature and art, with paths of community and action.

What does it take to become a religious naturalist?

Nothing is required. There is no need to join a group and no dogma to affirm.

People with this orientation may describe themselves as religious naturalists, or they may use different terms to describe what they believe. (See Atheist, secular, naturalist – what’s in a name?) People can see themselves as religious naturalists and also as Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or members of other traditions.

Those who would like to affirm that they see themselves as religious naturalists and join with others who share similar views may consider joining the Religious Naturalist Association.

What do religious naturalists think about God?

Religious naturalists do not believe in God as a type of consciousness or being that may cause events in the world. But differences of opinion exist regarding use of the term, God, as the creative force that causes things to be as they are. Some find this useful as a symbol, or have senses of God that do not conflict with a naturalist view. Others disapprove of this usage and avoid all reference to God.

For more on this, see Images of God at this website.

Why use the term, “naturalist” instead of “atheist”?

Both terms share active disbelief in a traditional image of God, but the words have different connotations.

Atheism positions belief in God as the norm. It rejects this view, but says nothing about what an atheist does believe.

Naturalist positions nature and natural laws as a foundation for belief. Rather than focus on and rejection of a traditional view, it presents and affirms a modern alternative.

For more on this, see Atheist, secular, naturalist – what’s in a name? at this website.

Why should religion be considered, along with a science-based view? Why not just be secular?

Most people, at times, consider questions or experience feelings that can be seen as spiritual or religious. This may occur when a loved one passes away, or when moved by nature or the beauty of art, and in other settings. We all have a framework for what we believe is possible and real, and for what seems right and good. These can be seen as secular (normal day-to-day parts of life). Or, with an attitude that looks at things in the context of something larger (with connection to others, and future and past, and values and ideals, or a sense of some things as sacred), they can be seen as spiritual or religious.

Perspectives from science show that religion has been present in all cultures and times and, like art, can be seen as a part of human nature (and, like art, exists in a variety of forms and is of greater interest to some than to others). Science has also shown that aspects of being religious can contribute to social and personal benefits. Rejection of particular forms of religion does not require rejection of religion overall. Part of the goal and focus of religious naturalism is, along with a naturalist worldview, to acknowledge, appreciate, and take advantage of some of the positive things that can come from religion.

If there is no belief in God, what is the basis for values?

Humans, like other creatures who live in social groups, have consistent ways of behaving with others. Separate from religious beliefs, similar values and ideals have been seen in different cultures and times. Some parts of this (like a mother caring for a child) appear to be genetic. Other parts are learned and enforced as part of the rules and laws in a culture. A theme in this is based in a principle of life – to seek the well-being of individuals and groups.

For more on this, see the Values page at this website.

What is the history of RN?

Religious naturalism has been discussed by name, for more than 100 years, as part of the effort reconcile religion with science. It draws from ancient traditions that gave prominence to nature, and from scientists who have tried to understand religious feelings and perceptions. Popular recognition and interest has built since the 1990s, when increasing numbers of articles and books began to refer to and focus on this view.

How can I learn more about religious naturalism?

Pages and posts at this website give a good start, with discussion on many topics and links to sites with additional information. Also, the Religious Naturalist Association (RNA) website has information and links. Click on titles on the top and right-side menus on the home page to get an overview of RN. Then, for topics that are of interest, check out articles, books, and other resources – and explore . . .


God as “ground of being” – Paul Tillich

tillich_largePaul Tillich was critical of the view of God as a type of being or presence. He felt that, if God were a being, God could not then properly be called the source of all being (due to the question of what, in turn, created God). As an alternative, he suggested that God be understood as the “ground of Being-Itself”.

He felt that, since one cannot deny that there is being (where we and our world exist), there is therefore a Power of Being. He saw God as the ground upon which all beings exist. As such, God precedes “being itself” and God is manifested in the structure of beings.

To give contrast to the common image of God as presence/being, he used the term “God Above God”.

Tillich appreciated symbols as the only way to envision something as meaningful and abstract as God. He saw God as a symbol, and appreciated the image of a personal God as a way for people to relate or respond to the ground of being. Likewise, he felt that, by re-envisioning stories that had been previously been accepted literally, major themes in Christian imagery could remain meaningful.

Tillich saw the root of atheism as rejection of the traditional image (of God as presence/being) and he thought that an alternative symbolic image could potentially be seen as acceptable.

Images of God
Being religious
Personal religion
A central story – evolution
What is religious naturalism?
Religious Naturalist Association (RNA)
Religion is not about God – Loyal Rue


Science Musings from Chet Raymo

ChChet Raymoet Raymo‘s Science Musings column appeared weekly in the Boston Globe for 20 years, with meditations on science as a creative activity and celebration of the mystery and grandeur of the natural world. Postings continued online until 2015, and an archive with more than 3,000 postings can be seen at A sampling of selected postings (with links to original versions) is provided below.


NOVEMBER 24, 2004

You may have missed the story about the pod of dolphins who saved a group of New Zealand swimmers from shark attack. Apparently this behavior is not unique.

To the extent that these reports are true, they are remarkable examples of cross-species altruism by animals without previously existing alliances with humans.

Sometimes it’s easy to get depressed and believe that humans are genetically destined to kill each other. As often as not the killing instinct is reinforced by religion or politics.

But in fact altruism is deeply ingrained in our biology, and apparently not only in our own species. Of course, nature and nurture play off each other both ways, but when it comes to ethics, I trust the genes more than I trust the self-appointed guardians of public morality, who include, I suppose, my blogging self.


DECEMBER 08, 2004

In his book The Future of Life, biologist E. O. Wilson suggests that we are hardwired for the nearby and the short term.

“The human brain evidently evolved to commit itself emotionally only to a small piece of geography, a limited band of kinsmen, and two or three generations into the future.” Anything else was counterproductive from a Darwinian point of view.

If Wilson is right, it is against our biological nature to worry about rain forests in Bolivia, higher sea levels in 2100, or AIDS in Africa.

Our capacious, adaptable brains may not have evolved to take the wide, long view, but they make it possible to do so. Our higher human nature is to transcend our biological nature.


DECEMBER 1, 2004
Is religion in our genes?

Notre Dame Magazine has asked me to write an article on geneticist Dean Hamer’s fine little book The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes.

Hamer claims to have identified a gene, rather prosaically called VMAT2, that appears to be related to spirituality.

It is not faith in God that the gene correlates with, but a trait called self-transcendence, a feeling of connectedness to the universe and everything in it. Self-transcendent people may or may not believe in God.

I look forward to the assignment. For the moment, in preparation, I am reading again a book I first read almost half-a-century ago, as an intensely religious undergraduate, William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, a work that stands at the root of all attempts to trace the natural origins of religion.


DECEMBER 07, 2004
Core curriculum

  1. The universe is big. Human space is not cosmic space.2. The universe is old. Human time is not cosmic time.3. The universe evolves — galaxies, stars, planets, life, consciousness.4. The universe perceived by the senses is all we can know. The more we learn about the universe — including ourselves — the more we understand the depths of our ignorance.

    5. The more we learn, the more we appreciate the universe as the revelation of a Mystery worthy of our wonder, awe, reverence, praise.


DECEMBER 10, 2004
Aglet anxiety

There are tens of trillions of cells in my body and every one of them has about an arm’s length of DNA, packed as 23 pairs of chromosomes. Now I know it sounds impossible that molecules several feet long could be packed into the nucleus of a cell too small to see with the eye, but take my word for it, I’ve done the math, and it fits nicely.

Each strand of DNA is terminated at both ends by a sort of aglet (the little plastic cap on the ends of shoe laces), called a telomere. The telomere insures that the meaningful part of DNA is accurately replicated.

Each time a cell reproduces the telomere gets a bit shorter, and many biologists believe that’s one reason we age. All those DNA shoe laces unraveling at the ends.

Now they tell us that the integrity of telomeres is diminished by stress. No surprise there, but I can feel my aglets peeling away even as I write. Just thinking about those diminishing telomeres is stressing me out.


DECEMBER 11, 2004
Feeder Find

A few days ago my wife spotted an unfamiliar bird at our bird feeder. We pulled out our Stokes guide and identified him as a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker. I mentioned seeing it to the expert bird watcher in our family, Chet. I was delighted to discover that he had never seen one in Massachusetts.

My curiosity piqued, this led me to a Google search where I discovered a terrific website called Run by theCornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird allows birders from across the country to record their observations in one central database.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are common in the Southeast United States, but are slowly moving north. According to observations submitted to eBird, Massachusetts is now at the northern boundary of their range.

Using their mapping tools I discovered that the last reported sighting of a Red Belly in my area of Massachusetts was in October. I dutifully reported our sighting using their submission form. I will keep a look out to see if he returns to the feeder…


DECEMBER 14, 2004
Just musing

When a visitor asked the 15th-century zen master Ikkyu the meaning of life, the master responded, “Attention.” “Is that all?” the visitor reiterated, inpatient. “Attention, attention,” said Ikkyu.

“Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul,” wrote the 17th-century philosopher Nicholas Malebranche. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work,” agrees the contemporary poet Mary Oliver. “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is,” she writes in another poem; “I do know how to pay attention.”

Sounds so simple, but so hard. To stay awake. To see the flower in the crannied wall, the grain of sand. To listen to the almost inaudible glide of black water under the bridge, the tip-tip of the nuthatch.

The world is inexhaustibly strange, beautiful, terrible. John Ruskin wrote in Modern Painters: “The greatest thing the human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and to tell what it saw.”



Encounters with Nature

Much as entering a church or temple prompts attention to the divine, encounters with nature can shift focus from daily life. As they offer lessons and reminders and affect our focus and mood, encounters with nature can be parts of a personal sense of something spiritual/religious.

kao_pun_temple_waterfallsTracing back to ancient hunting rituals and gatherings in sacred groves, encounters with nature have long been parts of religions. Attention to nature was rekindled in the 1800s (described and inspired, in part, by Ralph Waldo EmersonHenry David Thoreau, and John Muir), More recently, Donald CrosbyMike Comins, and others have described aspects of religion that can be based in nature.

Gerald May described “the power of the slowing”, where nature can slow us down to its pace. The sound of waves and patterns of light can lead to a meditative state. (One form has been described as the “hunter’s trance”.) As Nirmal Kameth put it,

“There is a deep sense of quiet we experience in nature.
When our mind is quiet we can experience God in that silence . . .”

Encounters with nature can also prompt a sense of connection and belonging, and at times can provide types of satisfaction or comfort that may not be available in social life.

“I am a forty-two-year-old woman. I’ve never received a love letter, never received flowers from a man. I have attempted suicide and have contemplated it many times since. And yet these wonders I have known: a maple tree in autumn, each leaf exactly the color of gold; a weed-like microcosm whose perfect petals are no bigger than the head of a pin. The dawning of each season with its own unique perfume, spring and autumn bringing the strongest scents. These and many other moments of grace have kept me going.”*

E.O. Wilson used the term, biophilia, to describe an affinity with nature that he feels is based in evolution. (Being descended from ancestors who, for millennia,  lived near lakes and streams, we feel something right and good in natural settings.) Some feel that the modern absence of natural environments can cause psychic disorientation, and the term “nature deficit disorder” has been coined.

Activities as simple as gardening, gazing at starswatching birds, or a walk in the woods may be parts of personal spiritual observance. But, as occurs in services in churches and temples, the extent to which an encounter may be experienced as spiritual is often related to the attitude of the receiver. Some encounters with nature may be planned; others can occur by just stopping to notice.


EO Wilson. Biophilia.
Donald Crosby. A Religion of Nature.
Carl Von Essen. Ecomysticism: The Profound Experience of Nature as a Spiritual Guide.
Mike Comins. A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism.
Richard Louv. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.
Stephen Chase. Nature as Spiritual Practice
Sounds of trees
Children and Nature Network
Nature Rx website
Naturalism, Nature, and Ecology

     * Sam Keen, In the Absence of God, page 72

Religious naturalism and art

“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.”
Albert Einstein

venus_willendorf1With 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.

Sunlight through treesLinks, below, show some examples.

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.


Stargaze-4418 (no telescope)Despite major advances in science and all efforts to understand, much remains unknown, and some things may never be known.

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.”
…..Albert Einstein

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.

Morality and values

Choosing The Right Way ……Values - angel and devil - 450x367 - 17625067_s

Some people fear that, without belief in God, there is no basis for values, no source of moral guidance, and no incentive for ethical behavior. Based on this, they may be suspicious of non-believers.

One way of responding is to look at results.

Naturalists (and atheists/seculars) are no more likely than believers to be criminals or cheats. Many are kind and giving and live exemplary lives. It is not just possible, but common, for people to be “good without God”.

Another is to recognize that values have a solid basis, separate from a presumed presence or role of God.

Part of this appears to be genetic, as in mothers caring for their children. Aspects of this can also be seen in some non-human species. Kindness, sharing, and other virtues are innate parts of human nature and, from an evolutionary perspective, it can easily be seen that groups whose members cooperate would have had an advantage over those who did not, and that these traits would be passed on.

Another part is social and learned, where a culture’s rules are taught to children, encouraged in schools, and enforced by peer pressure and law.

The main values of naturalists are seen in the customs and laws of their communities. Anthropologists have shown that these are similar in cultures around the world. All cultures value kindness, love, respect for others, seeking wisdom, perseverance, justice, and forgiveness. All have rules against murder, lying, incest, and theft. The Golden Rule is present, with different wording, in all major religious traditions.

Basis for values

Where believers feel that values are given by God, naturalists see values as grounded in nature. This begins at the simplest levels, where all creatures distinguish good from bad. Be it a single-celled amoeba or a plant, insect, reptile, or mammal, all are attracted to things that are good for them and avoid things that cause harm. A central principle and value lies behind this, in maintaining life and well-being.

Since humans are social creatures, this principle and value has two perspectives. One is individual, in acting in ways that are good for one’s own emotional and material well-being. The other pertains to groups where, as group harmony is desired, self-interest is constrained and behaviors like kindness and cooperation are valued. A tension often exists between self-interest and the good of the group (and, also, between the good of a small sub-group and the good of a larger group), and this accounts for many challenges and problems. Given a range of tendencies in individuals (in being selfish or selfless, in varying degrees and in different settings), groups tend to encourage and reward choices that contribute to the well-being of the group.

Comparison with traditional religion

Naturalist values are largely the same as those in Judeo-Christian tradition. Nothing unusual or worrisome is advocated. And, contrary to a misconception and false accusation, while a naturalist view recognizes “survival of the fittest” as a process in nature, it does not recommend this as a model for human behavior.

But while values are largely similar, some differences in emphasis can be seen.

One example is levels of respect for things that are looked to as sources of wisdom and truth.

Believers show greater respect for biblical writings and religious authorities, while a naturalist respect for science includes regular challenge to tradition, and claims may be rejected and practices are more willingly changed based on what best fits with available evidence.

Another example is that a naturalist focus on nature may include greater emphasis on ecology.

Environmental concern is also prominent in religions (with a mandate, in Judeo-Christian doctrine, of stewardship for the Earth). But, in traditions that see this world as a way-station to a greater and eternal world in heaven, concern may be less urgent than in a naturalist view that sees this world as all there is.

Links to full articles and web pages
Steven Pinker. The Moral Instinct. New York Times. 2008.
Frans de Waal. Morals without God. 2011.
Rights from Wrongs. Review of book by Alan Derschowitz.
Virtues and Vices

Additional reading 
Donald Crosby. A Religion of Nature. SUNY Press. 2002. (Values in Nature, pages 74-86)
Patricia Churchland. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. Princeton University Press. 2011.
Frans de Waal. Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. Princeton University Press. 2009.
Frans de Waal. Good Natured: The Origin of Right and Wrong in Primates and Other Animals. Princeton University Press. 1997.
Frans de Waal. The Age of Empathy. Crown. 2009.
Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Pantheon Books. NY. 2012.
Loyal Rue. Everyone’s Story. SUNY Press. 2000. (Chapter 4: What matters ultimately?, pages 99-108).
Jeffrey Moses, Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions. Ballentine Books. 2002.

What is Religious Naturalism?

 “I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.
This is a somewhat new kind of religion.”
Albert Einstein

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.

For more information and other perspectives, go to the recommended books and open forum pages at this website and click on links, below.

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

Being religious

Candle in hand - 700x464 - iStock_000012660966XSmallWhen considering religious naturalism, and not just a naturalist worldview, it is useful to have a sense of what it can mean to be religious.

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
Personal religion
Neuroscience and religous faith (ISSR)
Additional reading – perspectives on religion

A problem and a path

Problem and path - 450x338 - 23067297_sReligious traditions can give a sense of direction. They point to problems – with ourselves and in our world – and they offer a path to set things right. For example:

In Buddhism, the problem is suffering. The reason is selfish craving. A solution is the 8-fold path.

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.

The problem

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.