Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Religious naturalism 2

Yesterday's post is an excerpt from a book-length, multipart poem called The Leaf and the Cloud. I meant it to be a teaser for what I will mention today.

But first--

Mary Oliver celebrates the beauty and goodness of the rose bud and the heron's white feather. In this she is very much in the religious naturalist tradition. But, as Paul suggests, nature includes more then the rose bud and feather. It also includes the parasitic mite in the heron's plume and the bacteria in its gut, the hummingbird and the Ebola virus, the rosy sunset and the tsunami, the raindrop and the supernova. Naturalism embraces it all. All are equal objects of scientific knowing.

Beauty and goodness are human constructs. They do not designate things, but the effect of things on human consciousness. They are sustaining and consoling products of millions of years of human evolution. When the poet celebrates the beauty and goodness of the bud and the feather, she is giving voice to the "religious" part of religious naturalism.

Why celebrate the white heron and not the Ebola virus? That is where it "gets difficult". No one said that responding to the ineffable and perhaps unknowable mystery of the world would be easy. We embrace it all as potentially knowable, and out of that web of knowledge shape an evolving nest of the beautiful and the good.

Which brings me to the Religious Naturalist Association, a new community founded by the microbiologist Ursula Goodenough and her like-minded friends. You will have met Ursula many times on this blog, principally as the author of The Sacred Depths of Nature. I'm not much of a joiner, but this is a group of people I am pleased to be a part of: science as a way of knowing, poetry as a way of living.

(Thanks to bromegrass for the image above.)