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What Religions Belong to Spiritual Naturalism?

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Although religion in general is usually identified with supernaturalism, there are also faiths with naturalistic worldviews. Spiritual Naturalism, or Religious Naturalism as it is also called, is a perspective embracing the natural universe as revealed by modern science, while also invoking a religious or reverential aspect. This perspective finds a home in a variety of circles today, both within and beyond traditional religions.Green vine leaves against blue sky

First of all, there are naturalistic varieties of many of the world’s most widespread religions. Liberal Christianity, for example, often leans toward essentially naturalistic interpretations. Examples are the views of Bishop Spong or theologian Paul Tillich. Michael Dowd is a Christian who promotes the epic of evolution, and calls himself an “evolutionary evangelist.”

The Reconstructionist Judaism of Mordecai Kaplan, as well as the Humanistic Judaism of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, are also naturalistic in orientation.

Buddhism has arguably never centered upon the idea of God or gods, and so easily accommodates naturalistic views. The writings of Thai monk Buddhadasa, the podcast The Secular Buddhist, and the book Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, all exemplify this view.

Likewise, Taoism may be one of the likeliest religions to offer a home for Spiritual Naturalism. Its philosophy of the Tao or Way, embodied in the Tao Te Ching and the writings of Shuang-zi, has always carried a pantheist connotation. Various aspects of Chinese religion and folk beliefs that intertwine with Taoism may carry more supernatural overtones, but Philosophical Taoism, or Daojia, is essentially naturalistic.

Contemporary Paganism, which tends to focus more on practice than on doctrine, is particularly open to naturalistic views. While still not the majority, Spiritual Naturalists can be found in many if not most Pagan circles. Two places explicitly devoted to this approach are the Yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism and the community blog Humanistic Paganism.

Second, the other place to look for Spiritual Naturalism is outside traditional religions. Many today are starting to identify simply as Spiritual Naturalists, Religious Naturalists, Spiritual Humanists, or Pantheists. There are also those who prefer not to label themselves, but follow a similar worldview. Those who practice outside traditional religions often eschew religious language, abandoning terms like “God” or “gods” altogether in favor of direct awe and reverence for nature. Authors bringing this perspective to life include Ursula Goodenough, Chet Raymo, Loyal Rue, Jerome Stone, Michael Hogue, and Donald Crosby.

Both inside and outside traditional religions, Spiritual Naturalism is finding more and more ground in the world today. The combination of modern science and an attitude of awe toward nature make for a powerful mix appealing to people in the 21st century.

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About B. T. Newberg

  • http://www.pantheism.net Paul Harrison

    According to Jerome Stone’s book on RN, the World Pantheist Movement is by far the biggest RN organization in the world.
    We espouse the strong form of naturalism, which excludes belief in supernatural beings, forces and realms.

  • http://humanisticpaganism.wordpress.com/ B. T. Newberg

    Thank you, Paul. That’s a serious omission!

  • Jon Cleland Host

    It’s great to see so many approaches! As Paul also quotes on his WPM page, I find this quote from the great Carl Sagan to fit for all these approaches:

    “A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
    Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”