Friday, November 13, 2009

Pied beauty

Q: What distinguishes religious naturalism from plain old naturalism.

A: An abiding sense of Mystery...

...which evokes in response awe, wonder, thanksgiving, praise.

Mystery. A word that has often appeared on this site, frequently capitalized, as a substitute -- you might say -- for the discarded word "God".

What do I mean by "Mystery"?

Not mystery as in "mystery story," a case to be solved if only Miss Marple or Inspector Poirot is clever enough.

Not mystery as in "the Mystery of the Incarnation" or "the Mystery of the Holy Trinity", which provides a sort of respectable cover for beliefs that are on the face of it absurd.

Not mystery in the paranormal X-Files sense of the word.

No. By Mystery I mean the intuition that there is more to the world than meets the eye, even the eye of science.

I am not suggesting anything supernatural. Rather, I refer to the simple recognition, amply affirmed by science, that the finite part will never comprehend the (possibly) infinite whole.

By what right should we expect that a softball-sized glob of meat at the top of the human spine can contain the universe?

Religious naturalism whole-heartedly embraces naturalism -- and adds an adjective.

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said: "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world?" That's naturalism.

Gerard Manley Hopkins intuited an "inscape" of things -- a deficit in our knowledge -- and struggled to make language bend to his intuition. That's religious naturalism.

The zoologist seeks to understand the speckled skin of the trout in categories of genetics and biochemistry. That's naturalism.

Hopkins considers "rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim" and is moved by "all things counter, original, spare, strange." That's religious naturalism.

Why not then use Hopkins' word "God" for his intuited inscape of things? Why substitute "Mystery"? Because "God" comes burdened with too much supernatural baggage, too much "outscape," too much anthropomorphic personhood. Too much that is conventional, unoriginal, convoluted, and familiar. Too much that suggests an illusion of understanding, as if a mere three-letter word could comprehend that which -- for reasons we do not fully understand -- stirs us to the core of our being.