Naturalist involvement in established churches or temples

walk to churchWhile many naturalists have little interest in traditional religious groups (and, some have active aversion), some have personal history or family or community connections that encourage attendance at churches and temples, and some appreciate perspectives that stories from the Bible or other religious sources can bring to spiritual questions.

Among those who can appreciate symbolic interpretations of religious teachings and who enjoy a religious community, some feel that, while the fit may be less than perfect, the total package can be on the plus-side and find it worthwhile, occasionally or regularly, to attend services or group activities.

A number of scholars have commented on how, in response to Copernicus and Darwin and varied ways of envisioning God, naturalist views have been present in traditional religions for centuries. As this has increased in recent times, there’s both top-down and bottom-up movement, in some groups, for increased acceptance of of naturalist perspectives.

Some, such as Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, see changing ways of interpreting ancient texts as an appropriate and unavoidable response to modern knowledge, and feel that churches need to “change or die” – in reconciling ancient wisdom with a modern understanding of what seems real.

Wesley Wildman has described how a path for growth of religious naturalism may be as part of the “underbelly” of established religious groups. He suggests that as increasing numbers find ways to combine appreciation of traditional stories and ideals with a naturalist understanding of how things are in the world, the traditions can expand.

Some denominations are open to this – notably Unitarian Universalist (UU), some liberal Protestant denominations, and Reconstructionist Judaism. Beyond denominations, views vary among specific churches and temples, and specific ministers, rabbis, and priests. A number of clergy have identified themselves as religious naturalists (and it is thought that a greater number share this view, but choose not to announce it due to concerns this may raise among parishioners).

A number of religious naturalists have described ways that they participate in churches or temples – some with occasional attendance and some with more active involvement – including leadership roles in church committees, teaching Sunday School classes, and speaking as parts of services – and, at times, discussing religious naturalism and related themes.