Surprisingly, naturalism and religion can inspire a common humanistic spirit and ethics of responsibility. The contest between science and religion has been going on so long that the battles lines seem fixed. Religion's complaints against naturalism are so familiar by now. We often hear it said that naturalism could never support essential human needs, human aspirations and human ideals. We also hear that a humanism grounded on the cold reality of science could never nourish the vital spirit of morality. Is a naturalism without God only able to support a modest humanism reduced to the scale of earthly matters and merely human frailties? Is naturalism unable to inspire us, guide us or console us? I wonder whether these are fair complaints to make against naturalism. By all means, judge human nature harshly. We are still unworthy of our marvelous habitat and we have not lived up to our natural potential. But judging nature is another matter and deserves more care. And it is only fair to judge us as a living part of nature. As our knowledge of nature's secrets has grown, haven't we been growing right along? We are made greater, for our knowing how much greater is our natural home. A serious perspective on life takes a fair and proportionate measure of a life. Stand up straight and let a mark be made, to show how tall you can stretch, to a height worthy of a human being. From that height now, survey all you can see, everything for which you care, that tiny sphere of what you call your life. Now, let's lift our eyes even higher from worldly diversions toward the eternal whole. Mounting up upon nature's heights, nature can inspire us, guide us and console us, if only we would understand. Is naturalism's message really so different from religion's? If the spirit common to religions had but a few propositions, they would sound something like this:
- That life is ultimately about a relationship, a connection with what is most supreme.
- That there are two worlds, one seen and one unseen.
- That the unseen world is the supreme world, and it holds the true power and destiny of all.
- There is something essential in us that can survive in new lives.
- That what survives of us is what is truly best in us.
- That what rightly survives of us is the nobility of virtue, knowledge and wisdom.
- That we should not prize the dark peculiarities of personality and ego, but the lasting light that shines through us.
- That every life is interrelated, woven and composed of nature's vibrant cords.
- That the unseen world of nature's energies shape life and life's beauties in endless new forms.
- That your essential energy cannot be lost or destroyed but only recycled with perfect efficiency.
- That there is a kind of afterlife, as the consequences of your conduct has influences far into the future of life.
- That our virtue, knowledge and wisdom are inherited from prior generations, and we can pass them on to next generations.
- That our spark of consciousness dims when the body dies, yet the finer part of our character can be woven into new lives.
- That each person should long consider the shortness of life, and the smallness of self-importance besides the immensity of the whole.
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