In a previous post, I discussed religious naturalism as a way to reconcile Wicca and other forms of neo-paganism with atheism and humanism. Now I would like to elaborate on this topic a bit more to ensure that I have conveyed exactly what it is I intended to say. I don’t think that the term religious in the context of religious naturalism is particularly apt. First and foremost, what I am describing when I use that term is not meant to invoke a religion. More accurately, I would call it reverence. One can revere nature without worshiping it. Reverence is merely showing our awe and respect for something as complex and aesthetically pleasing as nature. What differentiates reverence from worship is that reverence does not presuppose an intrinsic merit and inviolability of the one being honored. It does not mean to venerate, which would suggest the object of veneration is sacred or sacrosanct. One must justify their reverence, which means that such respect must be earned. Therefore, reverence for the natural world is justified because the laws that govern the natural world are indeed universally beautiful and this gives us a scaffolding on which to gain knowledge and inspiration. Worship is an unquestioning devotion to a supernatural deity. It entails the ceremonies, prayers, or other religious practices by which followers express complete devotion and subservience. Instead, reverence is a more profane expression of respect; and perhaps most importantly, expressing our awe that we can understand such a complex reality through science, reason, logic and rationality.
Naturalistic reverence is not the same as worshiping nature because nature is not a subjective being, nor is it capable of receiving, recognizing, or acknowledging reverence or veneration. Most importantly, those who choose to identify with naturalistic reverence would not have to uncritically accept the tenets of naturalistic reverence. In fact, people would be encouraged to ask questions and challenge the tenets and ideas that arise from naturalistic reverence. Naturalistic reverence is not sacred itself, and so adherents would have to acknowledge that this worldview like all other worldviews are human-made and therefore not the work of any divine being. Therefore, the principles of naturalistic reverence can be changed, if needed, just as our understanding of the laws of the natural world change when we discover new evidence. The closest approximation to naturalistic reverence in practice would be an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or a group therapy session centered around inspirational quotes and mythologies about the science and the nature of reality, with no traditional religious ceremony. The key difference between a conventional church, temple, or mosque and a building where naturalistic reverence meetings are held is that there are no pews or hymnals. And the building used for reverence of nature need not be granted tax-exempt status from the government. In fact, there need not be a building erected at all; a community center or other just about any other building would suffice.
The building doesn’t matter as much as the room itself. Any room used for naturalistic reverence would need to be large enough to accommodate many people if needed, but also provide a means for everyone in the room to hear each other like a microphone for larger venues. Also, the room would need to be arranged in such a way that people who would come to meetings would be able to converse with themselves at times as well as be able to talk with the meeting facilitator. These meetings would be more of a dialogue between members and leaders than a sermon or church service. Metaphors, similes, analogies and myths surrounding our scientific origins would be necessary. The word myth must also be explained here; Dr. William Grassie of Temple University writes that the word myth defines “a story that serves to define the fundamental world view of a culture by explaining aspects of the natural world and delineating the psychological and social practices and ideals of a society.” And there is nothing more sublime than the story of how our universe began and how chemical evolution led to the creation of the known universe, complete with galaxies, stars, planets and us. Meetings could include dancing or songs like the Symphony of Science series.
Some secular humanists celebrate the winter solstice instead of Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. Some may choose to string up an evergreen tree with lights, or light candles, or give out gifts every day for a week, or go caroling, but the holiday ceremonies have been so far removed from doctrine that they have lost the religious significance they may have once held. Even though these secular holidays may take place on the same day as their religious counterparts, the resemblance is only superficial. Those who revere nature could incorporate these seasonal secular ceremonies into their practices. Holidays like Arbor Day or Earth Day in the United States could become far more significant for those who revere nature, perhaps these days would be a time of celebration or charity rather than Easter, Palm Sunday, or Good Friday.
In naturalistic reverence, the Book of Genesis would be abandoned for the Epic of Evolution. There are certain people for whom religion is their raison d’être. Religion is such a sacred part of life, that they would insist life is not worth living without religion. Because their faith is of paramount importance to them, getting rid of faith altogether may not be an option at first. Instead, naturalistic reverence may be a way to provide a religious experience to those who so desperately need it without having the side-effects of supernatural thinking. Imagine naturalistic reverence as though it were a nicotine patch; some people don’t want to give up their smokes. And abandoning cigarettes cold turkey may not be the easiest task. And so, as a nicotine patch could be used to wean smokers off of their habit, so too could naturalistic reverence be used to wean the religious off of religion.
Adherents to naturalistic reverence would need to come up with their own set of traditions, holidays, and symbols. And of course these things should be subject to change when necessary. No tenet should be beyond reproach, even naturalistic reverence. If this form of reverence becomes obsolete in a de facto secular society, it too must be abandoned when adherents no longer value it. The difference between Alcoholics Anonymous or group therapy and nature reverence is that I think nature reverence stands a much better chance at eliminating the need for organized religion. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that organized religion fills a biological need in many. I do not think we will ever wean ourselves off of organized religion completely, but we can offer something better to theistic religions with a scientifically-informed alternative.