Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Reinventing the sacred

Those of us who are hard core materialists and have no use for explanations of the natural order provided by any of the main religions do have the problem of aridity. Being an atheistic secularist is not as warm and cuddly as the warm blanket of religious certainty and the social support provided by some religious settings. Even though I agree with sentiments in such recent books as "The God Delusion", "The end of Faith" and "God is not Great" I wish they could come forward with more compelling alternatives for maintaining the robustness of our evolved psychology.

Stuart Kauffman, the guy who has done a number of books on chaos, self organization, and emergence theory, has stepped forward to offer a new book, "Reinventing the Sacred," in which he suggests that we turn our reverence towards a "natural God" seen not as a supernatural Creator but as the natural creativity in the universe - a universe in which the unpredictable emergence of novelty is a daily occurrence.
"If we reinvent the sacred to mean the wonder of the creativity in the universe, biosphere, human history, and culture, are we not inevitably invited to honor all of life and the planet that sustains it?"
Noble sentiments, indeed, but still not developed into a form accessible or useful to the vast majority of humans who crave certainly and structure in their lives. "Unpredictable emergence of novelty" is not exactly a warm blanket. I wish I had any better ideas.....


  1. Interesting, and a tad spooky because I was thinking about this today. I don't remember having read of any civilizations/peoples who did not/do not have a faith system of some sort; in other words, the faithful seem to be more fruitful compared to the atheists. Do human beings have a natural tendency to believe in divinity of some sort? Of all the species, are we the only one with religious inclinations? Points to ponder!

  2. I believe one of the major components of this evolved psychology that goes out the window with religion is gratitude.

  3. Hello again, Deric.

    I'm also not particularly thrilled with Kaufmann's phrase "unpredictable emergence."

    The emergence of nurturing, reverent, kind, and joyous feelings is not unpredictable and need not demand a god.

    We sit at an interesting point on the trajectory of human awareness: God has left the trees and the earth and the elements, he's abandoned the planets and the heavens, and he's now sought refuge in the nebulous "somewhere outside our experience."

    When we take a truly objective look at our world and at the workings of living things, other people, we begin to be able to respect and relish this objectivity. We realize that ultimately we will die and those we love will die, but that we can still choose to experience and act with joy, love, compassion.

    Someday, as we continue to demystify life, we will feel confident and self-aware enough to leave our retreating god behind.

    Martin Walker
    PS. If anyone wants a more elaborated explanation of this perspective, it's all in my book LIFE! Why We Exist... And What We Must Do to Survive, available from Amazon, B&N and other fine booksellers...

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