Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Makin it Natural

From Uncle Albert:
I don't try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.
--Albert Einstein
And Uncle Doug:
Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? --Douglas Adams
Both quotes are from Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.

I am in one of those moods.


This is the mood in which I test the waters of my readers so to speak. This is a risky post in which I could distance myself from some of my progressive friends. I trust that even those who disagree with me on this point will nevertheless work with me on other points.


This is one of those posts that my detractors love to read as they hope it will be the one that will finally be worth reporting to my superiors and therefore oust me and my heretical ways from the denomination. Hi ho. Godspeed.


I have a few questions.
  • Is religion, by definition, concerned with the supernatural?
  • Is it forever wedded to the premise that the supernatural exists?
  • Is religion about God and/or gods?
I will come back to those. I do want to say at this point that I like reading Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the other naughty atheists. I think they are fun and pretty much right regarding the problems of religion today.

I also enjoy reading Lloyd Geering, Don Cupitt, Matthew Fox, Sallie McFague, Ann Primavesi, John Shelby Spong, Gordon Kaufman, and others who are probably atheists as well but to greater or lesser degrees hold on to "God" language in some form.


As far as the use of God language is concerned, I am not a purist nor am I terribly consistent. I regard it as poetry and symbol. Depending upon the day you catch me, I may defend singing some of the old supernatural hymns just because I like the
feelings they invoke in me. Catch me on another day and I want to rewrite the entire hymnbook from naturalistic point of view.

I, in company with Richard Dawkins, reject the God Hypothesis that...
there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us. p. 31, God Delusion
Frankly, I really don't insist. I just don't think "God" is the point of religion. God is a secondary consideration, kind of a parlor game or an intellectual puzzle. Hymns to Jesus Christ, God, Spirit et al, are the spice and poetry of our heritage, but it isn't to my mind what we are really about.

I would say that we could if we wished do without all of the God language, creeds, poetry, music, art, architecture, and so forth and still be religious,
Presbyterian even. I don't particularly want to do so. I like it. It feels good, usually anyway. I enjoy swimming in it.

But I don't believe a word of it to the extent that it is about supernatural reality. To the extent that it helps me appreciate the natural reality, I believe it. Or to use a phrase from Marcus Borg, I "be-
love it." My answers to the three questions I posed above are no, no, and no. Religion is and needs to be about the natural not the supernatural.

We gather for observances, celebrations, community-building, to reverence existence, discover creativity, let go of idols, and make for compassionate change to the extent that we can. The word religion has its Latin root in
re--back and ligare--to bind. To be religious is to bind back or to bind together.

Religion doesn't have to be about believing in supernatural entities even though it may have started there. It started there because that is how people thought the world worked, by supernatural forces. Now that we see that natural forces explain the world and the human presence in it, we can let go of the supernatural part and "bind together" in making life meaningful and helping ourselves and others manage and cope with life.

Managing and coping with life has always been the goal of religion.
I am advocating for a natural, secular religion. As far as I am concerned, the symbols of our past are welcome. Even speculation regarding the supernatural is welcome. It is simply not central.

There is no reason to make huge sweeping decisions by banning all God-talk or declaring our communities supernatural-free zones. This is a transition time. People are exploring. People are waking.


People are open to a new of way of being religious. I think that if our traditional institutions,
such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), are going to have a part in these folks' lives and have a part in helping society manage and cope with life in the 21st century, they will need to be more forthcoming about the changes we are facing.

We need to begin listening to those who are creating theology in naturalistic terms.



Hopefully we will have better luck getting off our supernatural addiction and
Makin It Natural than these lovable stoners did.
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