Have you ever tried to explain Spiritual Naturalism to somebody else? I think most of us have a foggy idea about what it is. It is a spirituality centered in Nature. But even this seems vague. What you mean by spirituality and nature.
Michael Dowd ran into the same issue within a naturalistic Christianity. So he came up with a personal credo to help him communicate his ideas to others. He combined what he calls day language and related it to night language. Think of day language as the direct and more literal way to say something, and night language as figurative and metaphoric way of saying it.
So here is Michael Dowd’s credo, “Reality is my God. Evidence is my Scripture. Big history is my creation story. Ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation. And doing everything I can to ensure a just and healthy future, not just for humanity, but for all of creation, is my mission.”
Notice the Christian terminology: God, Scripture, creation, theology, salvation, and mission. This is night language. Most orthodox Christians would have great difficulties with this. For them God is not Reality, but a personal supernatural Being beyond space and time. Scriptures is the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible. Theology is the study of God and his relationship with humanity, etc.
This is an important point to remember, night language tends divide people into separate traditions. Most people within the tradition have a problem viewing their beliefs as only metaphors, they are reality for them. But night language also re-enchants the world to the human psyche. It helps us feel our connection.
Understanding the pitfalls of night language, I began thinking about a Spiritual Naturalist credo using day language. Please notice I called is “a” Spiritual Naturalist Credo, not “the.” I do not mean to speak for anyone but myself and those who are likeminded. But I think it is helpful to get a grasp on what Spiritual Naturalism is. And just as a hand has five fingers, so does my Credo have five points. I hope this will help you “grasp” the meaning of Spiritual Naturalism.
Here is my Spiritual Naturalist Credo:
Nature is my Ultimate Concern, evidence is my authority, evolution is my big narrative, expanding consciousness is my real happiness, and working for a wiser and better world is my mission.
“Nature is my Ultimate Concern.” It is important for every solar system to have a sun at its center. Likewise, every belief system has to have a center as well. This is what holds the rest of the beliefs in the system together into a coherent whole. In Theistic religions, this center is God. For many people they center their lives on themselves. Others expand this concern to center on humanity. But in Spiritual Naturalism the center is Nature. In other words, it includes all of reality. Nature is our primary concern, understanding that we are also a part Nature.
The interconnection of all things means that, what we are nearest to we influence the most. That means we should do the most good to those we have the most influence over. We should love and respect our spouse, our children, and our family. Next we should love and help those we come in contact with at work or in the community, including animal life and the environment. And then the nation and world at large.
“Evidence is my authority.” How do we decide what to believe? Should we believe something just because we like a particular idea? Many people do. But there is no way all the religions of the world are true, for they contradict one another. So we have to decide based on something besides bias and prejudice and “wish it were true” ideas.
That standard is evidence. But here is the problem, what counts for evidence? For Spiritual Naturalists, science is the most reliable means of knowledge we have. So that must hold first place. Second is psychology, which is a new science and still restricted in how much it can tell us. But in the interior world of the mind it is the best we have. And finally, spirituality can be evidence when explored within the bounds of science and psychology.
“Evolution is my big narrative.” Every culture and civilization has had a story about where we came from. We now have a scientific based story that traces our origins back to the Big Bang. We learn that life on earth arose together, that we are all members of the family of life. What a grand story the Epic of Evolution tells. Of the struggles our ancestors when through and how life adapted and thrived in changing conditions.
“Expanding consciousness is my real happiness.” We are born into a world of suffering, much of which is caused by our own ignorance, selfishness, and greed. Spirituality is about expanding and deepening our awareness of our interconnection with Nature. Once we break from our selfish orientation, we begin to see with new eyes.
Real happiness and human flourishing, called eudaimonia by Aristotle, means freedom from ignorance, selfishness, and the alienation we feel. We feel a deep emptiness within, because we have separated ourselves from Mother Nature. This alienation breeds selfishness, where we think mostly of our own interests. And this can be traced back to our ignorance, our lack of awareness of our deep connection to the Universe. We are made of star stuff. We are not above Nature, we are Nature.
“Working for a wiser and better world is my mission.” Once we realize that we are all interconnected and interdependent, then we discover compassion for our brothers and sisters in humanity and in Nature. With this compassion comes a sense of mission.
Whatever specific task we feel drawn to, we know that we want a wiser and better world. We may disagree on how to go about doing that, but we can be united in the desire to leave the world a better place after we are gone. This is a noble calling that we all should consider.
So there you have it, my five points helping you get a better “grasp” of what Spiritual Naturalism is. To memorize it, you might want to mentally write on your index finger the words, “Nature is my Ultimate Concern.” On your middle finger you could mentally write, “evidence is my authority. On your ring finger you could mentally write, “evolution is my big narrative.” On your pinky finger you could mentally write, “expanding consciousness is my real happiness.” And on your thumb you could mentally write, “and working for a wiser and better world is my mission.”
You will notice that the thumb is the active part of the Credo, it is the “working” or action part. You will never get a “grip” on Spiritual Naturalism until theory becomes practice. Knowing the path and walking the path are two very different things. But as a bird needs two wings to fly, you need beliefs and practice for a healthy spiritual life.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.