Rise of Religious Naturalism
I have encountered a growing number Unitarian Universalists, many of whom are a younger generation, expressing a desire to connect their liberal faith to sense of elation grounded in the natural world without ideas of supernaturalism. They share the sentiment that humanism's tendency towards the generic leaves them wanting a stronger sense of wonderment and connection. These people criticise Unitarian Universalism services for being speeches on ethics and does and leaves them wanting. A possible response to the need of this growing contingency is Religious Naturalism. It shares the Religious Humanism's drive to reclaim the positive social aspects of religion. Instead of focusing on human potential and needs, attention is placed on the subjective experience of the natural world within a religious context and supported by scientific discovery. In many ways, Religious Naturalism is an evolution of Humanism which shifts the religious paradigm away from the human being and places upon our relationship with the larger natural world. Science plays a key role in the Religious Naturalists interpretation and understanding of their religious experiences.
The net of Religious Naturalism is broad and incorporates many various perspectives which fall under its unifying banner of thought. Within discussion of Religious Naturalism there are three strands debating the value of sacred language and often time overlap in individual practice.
- non-theistic: takes a agnostic approach to the concept of god as an unanswerable question and is thus irrelevant. Such proponents of this view include Stanley H. Klien and Stuart Kauffman.
- neo-theistic: is willing to explore the concept of the divine or God existing within the limitations of the natural world. Within this circle of thought, God is a metaphor for aspects of the natural world beyond human comprehension. Another group see the divine /God as being the evolutionary creative processes. Theologian Gordon Kaufman and Unitarian Universalist Karl E Peters have written on this subject.
- not-theistic: an atheistic view that denies the existence of god but holds the subjective experience of the natural world as having intrinsic religious value. Members of this perspective include Ursula Goodenough and Donald A. Crosby.
The term religious naturalism is relatively unknown to the majority of Unitarian Universalism, however awareness is growing and there is on line discussion. Reverend Dr. Jerome Stone, of Meadville Lombard Theological School, presented “Religious Naturalism: A New Theological Option” at the 2006 General Assembly where he said, “Religious naturalism is a philosophy or theology that there are religious aspects of this world which can be appreciated within a naturalist framework.” I believe that Religious Naturalism has the potential to bridge the gap between the rational search for truth and the need for subjective religious experience.