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Religion is About Right Relationship with Reality, Not the Supernatural
“The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), then we will be doomed, but if live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), then we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle. What we are less in agreement about is how we should think about reality and what we should do to bring ourselves into harmony with it.” — Loyal Rue, Religion is Not About God
Reality is my God and integrity is my religion. By this, I mean that what is real is my ultimate commitment and being in right relationship with reality, and assisting humanity in this process, is my calling and deepest inspiration. To be clear: I am neither a theist nor atheist; I’m a post-theist, an emergentist—a religious naturalist. The concepts of theism and atheism came into use long before we had an evidential (reality-based) understanding of how the world, in fact, came into being and before we learned that the Universe itself is creative. Given what we now know about big history, I no longer find the theist-atheist dichotomy useful. Both presuppose a trivial, unnatural God and a mechanistic Cosmos that is not itself divinely creative.
Coming into right relationship to reality is truly what it's all about in human affairs. How to most effectively do this has been the great work of every age and culture. At each stage in human evolution our understanding of how things are and which things matter—what's real and what's important—must be answered anew. Reality is, of course, experienced differently around the world and at different times in history. Life in a rainforest is different from life in the desert, turdra, or city. Life in a tribe differs from life in a chiefdom, theocracy, or empire. Not surprisingly, reality has been personified, or relationalized, differently throughout the world. Gods and goddesses in lush, tropical regions have very different personalities than those in harsh, difficult regions. Theology is a child of geography and sociology. A culture’s cosmology (how things are/what’s real) and values (which things matter/what’s important) are both derived from their core narrative or creation myth, which includes their various personifications.
All religions facilitate personal wholeness and social coherence. These two, the therapeutic and political functions of religion, together with the need to live in ecological integrity, are the three essential components of right relationship with reality.
As humanity has progressed from clans, to tribes, to chieftains and kingdoms, to theocracies and early nations, to nation states, to social democracies, each advance in complexity required a fresh understanding of what’s real and what’s important, and a new mythic story emerged to expand the in-group and provide mechanisms to ensure trust and cooperation at a wider level than before.
Until the last few hundred years, many important factually accurate understandings of how things are would have been impossible. Because much of the real world operates at scales and at speeds that are primate-hominid brains cannot possibly grasp unaided by technology, virtually all of life's biggest question could only be answered in practically useful ways until very recently. As noted evolutionist David Sloan Wilson reminds us, “The mind has evolved to adopt beliefs on the basis of practical, not factual realism.”
Our species is now facing a series of crises of epic proportion. Overpopulation, species extinction, climate change, peak oil, collapse of the world's fisheries, loss of topsoil, desertification, the growing gap between rich and the poor, these are but some of the more obvious challenges we and our children face today and in the near future. In each case, the cause is identical. As individuals, groups, corporations, nations, and as a species, the vast majority of us are being guided by outdated and woefully inadequate maps of reality. Most hold practically inspiring but factually inaccurate understandings of how things are and which things matter. And nowhere has this been the case more so than with respect to our understanding of God, or ultimate reality. How has this situation arisen? The main culprit, as I see it, is idolatry of the written word, which has created a mismatch between our past needs and current reality. Trying to answer questions of value and meaning while being guided by an outdated map of reality is a prescription for disaster.
Now that our species has global powers of creation and destruction, without an understanding of the divine (ultimate meaning and value) that is in alignment with our best evidential understanding of reality, we will self-destruct.
• The Church of Reality (While I certainly do NOT endorse or agree with everything on this site, much of it is really good!)
• "What Reality in Human Experience Do We Point to with the Word, 'God'?", a pdf of a short essay by evolutionary theologian and bioregionalist, Gene Marshall. This chapter from one of Gene's books is foundational to an evolutionary understanding of the divine. (The pdf shows up sideways, so you'll need to open it with Adobe Reader and, under the "View" menu, rotate it clockwise. Otherwise you'll need to print it out. It's only 10 pages and well worth it!)
• Part II "Reality is Speaking" (chapters 4-7) in my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, which has been endoresed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum.
• Religion Is Not About God, by fellow religious naturalist, Loyal Rue. I highly recommend this book! I also recommend his earlier volumes too, especially Everybody's Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution. Loyal's latest, Nature is Enough, will be published later this year. It's a gem too.