The Ecological Implications of Spiritual Naturalism

The longing for a heavenly, other worldly paradise is humanities longing not to be human. ― Milan Kundera

Most forms of religious naturalism stress the importance of the ecological dimensions of our anthropology – our natural status and connectedness to the natural order. From nature we arise, are sustained by nature through our lives, and at our death, we return to nature. Developing an ecological vision of the human person is therefore essential to a proper anthropology, and doing so also strengthens spiritual naturalism overall. 

Some religious traditions, particularly those that posit the existence of the supernatural, place the human person as somehow above or separate from the natural order with a destiny that resides beyond this world in heaven or some enlightened real beyond this world and life. Accordingly, embodiment, this world and this life, our being part of the broader ecosystem, are seen as a stepping stone to a greater existence outside of this one.

Unfortunately, accepting this notion often leads to the denigration of the world, treating the natural order as fallen, corrupt or corrupting, and therefore, ultimately insignificant or even harmful. From this perspective, the human relationship to the environment is often reduced to matters of utility and/or subjugation. Nature is at best, solely for human benefit, and at worst, a tragic (temporary) home for humans.

From a naturalist and humanist perspective, we are not in exile from some heavenly destiny, there is no original sin, meaning there is no sense of metaphysical or moral flaw in human nature wrought by some act of cosmic disobedience. Humans are limited and imperfect beings, but we’re not fallen. There is nothing to be redeemed or saved from. Our challenges are always human and natural. Our crises are existential, moral, and ecological.

From the opposite end of the spectrum come equally reductionist views, prompted by narrow applications of science. Humans are conceived of in various materialist-reductionist manners, devoid of the larger spiritual-existential concerns of meaning and without proper due given to human creativity, dignity, and moral responsibility. If human beings are simply gene-machines in an ecosystem or innately, ecologically harmful parasites, not only is such a view reductionist, it also makes it impossible to imagine how we will be able to guide ourselves out of the current ecological dilemma we are now experiencing.

Nature provides the context of our lives. We emerge from nature and are sustained by it. Our lives play out in the interconnected webs of the natural world which undergird our communities and culture. The cycles, patterns, and rhythms of nature are seen in our own lives. Nature’s lessons are our own. (Starhawk, The Earth Path, p.7)

We are all fully rooted in the ever-changing web of nature – interconnected to all things – this insight is foundational for an integrated spirituality of wholeness. Our own well-being ultimately depends on affirming nature and the well-being of others – to which we are interconnected. This interdependence and interconnectedness may value the unique aspects of ethnicity, tribe, and subculture, but ultimately calls us beyond them to recognize our unity as one family living on the same planet home. 

Asserting a human disconnect and rift with nature has consequences, both for the broader ecosystem, but also for humanity as well. Humans often seem confused about their relationship to nature or else convinced of the terms of that relationship, but in ways which are unhealthy, imbalanced, skewed, and simply inadequate.

Overcoming our current ecological and cultural challenges certainly requires scientific, technological, and advanced ecological knowledge, but also a radical change in human awareness of our place in the web of life and the broader ecosystem. What is required is not so much renewed efforts at increasing our mastery over nature, but rather individual and collective self-mastery. And that self-mastery requires a spiritual awakening and renewal to be accomplished. (Thomas Berry, The Great Work, p. 56)

Human beings emerge from nature, our life supported and enmeshed in the ecosystem, and at the end of our life, we (or, perhaps, at least, our physical aspects) return to nature. As for a life, awareness, or some manner of personal existence that continues after this life is over – one can’t deny such possibilities philosophically, but no one can offer any evidence for such either.


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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.

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