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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Spirituality without the supernatural? New organization says yes

A new non-profit, the SpiritualNaturalist Society, is launching today with a mission to “spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life”. What is spiritual naturalism? The organization’s Executive Director and Humanist minister, Rev. Daniel Strain, explains, “Spiritual naturalism (or religious naturalism) is a term that covers a myriad of different forms of spirituality that don’t involve faith-based beliefs in the supernatural.”

Rev. Strain notes that as secularism rises, naturalistic (non-supernatural) interpretations of religious worldviews and practices are growing within Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Paganism – even within Christianity. In addition to these naturalistic leanings within traditional faiths, the self styled ‘reason-based community’ is meanwhile finding its way toward spirituality. Some atheists and agnostics are beginning to discover the usefulness of meditation, other traditionally religious practices, and even ritual.

This, says Rev. Strain, means there is a growing convergence toward the intersection of naturalism and spirituality happening from groups on both sides of the theistic and supernatural divide. Many individuals across these groups are finding more in common with one another than with other members at the more supernatural-end of the spectrum in their respective groups. This, the Spiritual Naturalist Society states, calls for a new kind of organization and community that cuts across familiar categories – a new paradigm for understanding human spirituality.

But most people think of ‘spirituality’ as inherently about the supernatural – God, the afterlife, souls, and so on. How can there be spirituality without spirits? The group’s literature points out that the root Latin word, spiritus, meant wind or breath – the essence of life. “When we say ‘the spirit of the law’ we mean the essence of the law. In the same way, a true spirituality would be a practice that focuses on the essence or the ‘essential in life’. To those with supernatural views,” says Rev. Strain, "...that might be salvation in the afterlife. To us naturalists, the ‘spirit of life’ is about living a good, meaningful, and flourishing life in the here and now. This is an older and broader understanding of spirituality."

It’s true this approach to spirituality is not new. Nature as the basis of spirituality can be found in wisdom streams running throughout ancient philosophy and religion, up to thinkers like Spinoza. More recently these kinds of views have been expressed by those who find the scientific understanding of nature to be a kind of ‘religious experience’, such as Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. This is precisely why the SNS has been on a mission to bring together the artists, scientists, religious leaders, writers, professors, and practitioners of these various naturalistic spiritualities into a community.

“Our organization is setting out to be more than just a website, or even just a publisher. We’d like to become a think tank; a community of naturalists from diverse backgrounds coming together to share wisdom, ideas, practices, and fellowship. Spirituality is about walking a path, cultivating one’s habits, character, and compassion so as to enjoy life more fully. We will help provide the educational materials and community that make a positive difference in everyday quality of life.”

To that end, the organization has already brought together an impressive assortment of Buddhists, Humanists, and Pagans on its Advisory Board, including Professor Susan Blackmore (author, The Meme Machine), philosopher and former monk, Stephen Batchelor (author, Buddhism Without Beliefs), and more. Through their help, the new organization’s website already provides a number of informative articles, essays, and community functions.

One thing the organization will not be doing is engaging in political activism or religious criticism, says Rev. Strain. “We will be focusing on our values and beliefs, helping people lead happier lives, and that means an inward focus on personal development through wisdom and practices useful to naturalists.”

Readers can learn more about the Spiritual Naturalist Society at

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