Our Religions of Origin

“So we extract from reality all the meaning and guidance and emotional substance that we can, and we bring these responses with us as we set out to chart global paths. And then we come back to our religions of origin, the faiths of our mothers and fathers. What do we do with them? What have I done with mine?

“Theologian Philip Hefner offers us a weaving metaphor. The tapestry maker first strings the warp, long strong fibers anchored firmly to the loom, and then interweaves the weft, the patterns, the color, the art. The Epic of Evolution is our warp, destined to endure, commanding our universal gratitude and reverence and commitment. And then, after that, we are all free to be artists, to render in language and painting and song and dance our ultimate hopes and concerns and understandings of human nature.

“Throughout the ages, the weaving of our religious weft has been the province of our prophets and gurus and liturgists and poets. The texts and art and ritual that come to us from these revered ancestors include claims about Nature and Agency that are no longer plausible. They use a different warp. But for me at least, this is just one of those historical facts, something that can be absorbed, appreciated, and then put aside as I encounter the deep wisdom embedded in these traditions and the abundant opportunities that they offer to experience transcendence and clarity.

“I love traditional religions. Whenever I wander into distinctive churches or mosques or temples, or visit museums of religious art, or hear performances of sacred music, I am enthralled by the beauty and solemnity and power they offer. Once we have our feelings about Nature in place, then I believe that we can also find important ways to call ourselves Jews, or Muslims, or Taoists, or Hopi, or Hindus, or Christians, or Buddhists. Or some of each. The words in the traditional texts may sound different to us than they did to their authors, but they continue to resonate with our religious selves. We know what they are intended to mean.

“Humans need stories-grand, compelling stories-that help to orient us in our lives and in the cosmos. The Epic of Evolution is such a story, beautifully suited to anchor our search for planetary consensus, telling us of our nature, our place, our context. Moreover, responses to this story – what we are calling religious naturalism – can yield deep and abiding spiritual experiences. And then, after that, we need other stories as well, human-centered stories, a mythos that embodies our ideals and our passions. This mythos comes to us, often in experiences called revelation, from the sages and the artists of past and present times.”

From: Ursula Goodenough. The Sacred Depths of Nature. Oxford University Press. 1998.
(pages 172-174)