Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Religious Naturalism

Chet Raymo takes on a great many weighty subjects in his relatively small book, When God is Gone Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist.  The chapters of this book are not entirely related, but read like separate articles modified somewhat for book form.  Still, there is cohesion to the book, as Raymo works out the difficult program of creating a religious sensibility while working with the confines of modern science, to create a religious naturalism.

Although he does an admirable job hacking though these thickets,  in the process he paints too rosy a picture of both science, and the wonders of nature.  Indeed, science has allowed us to have better, longer, healthier lives.  But there is always a hidden cost: overpopulation, pollution, wars over scarce resources, the ravaging of our planet. With all the benefits we derive from science and technology, there is a dark side to this enterprise.  It is as if Raymo has never heard of The Battle of Verdun, Hiroshima, the death factory at Auschwitz. 

Raymo wants us to derive our sense of religious wonder from nature, both its beauty and wondrous complexity.  But for anyone who has had a painful, difficult disease, we know that nature, as exemplified by our bodies, can often cause us great, shattering distress.  Even with modern medicine, disease will still eat our bodies, and death, in some form, awaits us all.  Nature too, has a dark side.

Raymo is too dismissive of past forms of religious expression as having been superseded by science.  Well, science does not provide great comfort to anyone (except scientists secure in their labs, tenured, unable to be fired, working on questions that may or may not help us).  In all, Raymo is a little too sure of his conclusions. They leave a lot of us out in the cold.

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