Tuesday, January 29, 2008

God and Nature

A friend recommends a book: "A Religion of Nature" by Donald Crosby

"This book makes a sustained case for nature itself as a proper focus of religious commitment and concern. For it, nature--envisioned as without God, gods, or animating spirits of any kind--is religiously ultimate. It also argues that nature is metaphysically ultimate, that is, self-sustaining and requiring no explanation for its existence beyond itself. Moreover, humans are viewed as an integral part of nature, natural beings in the fullest sense of the term. They are at home in the world, their origin, nature, and destiny lie here and not in some transcendent realm, and their moral and religious responsibilities extend not only to one another and to the human community but to the whole of nature and to all living beings. This book urges us to grant to nature the kind of reverence, awe, love, and devotion we in the West have formerly reserved for God. (page xi)"

Here's my response:

I don’t think that nature alone could be an adequate “focus of religious commitment and concern” for me, or for most religious people. Nature is not “religiously ultimate” if, as for most people, religion includes categories like ethics and morals, purpose (in the sense of moving toward goals) or ideals. Nature doesn’t “care” and thus makes no demands on us for one kind of life or another. In fact, even environmentalism itself would not follow from a religion that puts nature as ultimate, because nature has no criteria for judging one form of existence preferable to another. The moon is just as natural as is the earth. A lifeless earth is just as natural as a living bio-diverse earth. Arguing for the essential naturalism of human beings actually serves the perspective that our urge toward despoiling the earth is simply part of nature and thus is no more to be resisted than any other part of our nature.

Many people retreat to a "nature as religion" position because of frustration with traditional theism. The flaw I see in traditional forms of western theism is that we have split God and nature into two separate realms forcing God to be supernatural and transcendent and immaterial. However, a religion of nature that removes God but preserves this duality doesn’t correct the problem.

The theism I follow rejects the idea that God and Nature must be divorced. I don’t believe in a supernatural god, I believe in a god who works within natural laws. I don’t believe in a transcendent god, but in a god that is an intimate part of every moment and every thing of the universe (while also providing a “mind” to the universe that is more than simply the physical stuff of the universe). I believe that God is immaterial, and thus is able to add qualities of ideals and goals that are not present in a strictly material world, but that the immaterial is not separate from the material but that both are manifestations of a more fundamental stuff of creation better described as “energy.”

No comments: