Evolutionary Religious Naturalism

Backyard Buddha

This be me at this stage in my life, or as close as I can figure it, an evolutionary religious naturalist. I actually talk about this in my Guru book in more detail, but I woke up thinking about it this morning. What do I mean by evolutionary religious naturalism?

I used to say that I was a atheistic religious naturalist and that my spiritual practice was basically Zen Buddhism. Maybe it is just me, but “atheist” is a word with a lot of baggage, and I have never really felt comfortable with it. This is probably left over from my West Texas, fundamentalist, Bible Belt upbringing where the word “atheist” was on same plane as Satan. A descriptor I like better is nontheist as there is no the (God, supreme being, etc.) in my -ology.

Religious naturalism posits that nature is all there is. There is nothing beyond nature; nothing outside of nature. That means no omnipresent, omnipotent, super being out there above and outside of nature. Religious meaning is to be found in the natural world, not in some supernatural world. Moral and spiritual implications are derived from the nature and nature’s natural processes. A good overview of religious naturalism can be found in Jerome Wilson’s, Religious Naturalism: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative.

I add the term, evolutionary, to my description to emphasize the role I see of the evolutionary process in shaping our religious views starting with our primal Selfish Genes. Superimposed on these were our selfless, altruistic genes/DNA driven by group selection that made us such a successful social species. I cover this much more fuller in my Guru book. Then, superimposed on this was cultural evolution and the evolution of religious memes.

Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, considered himself an evolutionary theist. Darwin had a clerical background and early on considered going into the ministry. Evolutionary theism sees evolution as God-driven. It is the way God does things. Hence, belief in God and evolution are compatible. I go beyond that with evolutionary religious naturalism, kicking God out of the picture entirely.

There was a Shadow side (Carl Jung) to our social nature’s altruism, tribalism. Whereas both Jesus and Buddha’s teaching were inclusive, tribalism is about exclusion. It is us versus them! Enters the current administration’s, white supremism, bigotry, racism, discrimination, etc., that focus on exclusion. It is tribalism of ancient writ large.

The closest I can get to a “supreme being”, a.k.a God, is the Taoist’s Tao or Zen Buddhism’s Void, as an underlying foundation for nature. These have no thing-ness. They are not “things” and are ineffable when we try to use words to describe them. That said, they can be experienced and apprehended. I have been blessed in my own spiritual journey to have touched on these a several times. The first experience I describe in my book WindWalker (2000), now available through this website. The other in my Guru book.

Religion and religious belief systems are a result of cultural evolution. They themselves are the products of the evolutionary process. Whereas, biological evolution involves the evolution of genes, cultural evolution involves the evolution of memes. Memes basically are ideas and knowledge, which evolves essentially like genes, but at a much faster rate. Cultural evolution occurs at a much faster rate than biological evolution.