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  • Humanism and Religious Naturalism in Carol Wayne White’s “Sacred Humanity”: A Span Too Wide to Bridge?

In Black Lives and Sacred Humanity: Toward an African American Religious Naturalism, Carol Wayne White sets out to develop a new religious ideal for African American culture by bringing two unlikely partners, African American religiosity and religious naturalism, into conversation. This is an ambitious project given the prominent role that supernaturalistic theism plays in African American religiosity and the paucity of attention that contemporary religious naturalism has given to cultural issues such as race. She attempts to bridge the two through the concept of “sacred humanity,” a radical version of religious humanism, which, she argues, is foreshadowed in African American religious tradition on the one hand, and grounded in contemporary religious naturalism on the other. Her project can be conceived of as building the bridge in two separate segments joined together by sacred humanity at the apex. The first segment connects African American religiosity and the concept of sacred humanity, while the other connects this concept with contemporary religious naturalism.

To build the segment between African American religiosity and sacred humanity, White argues that, given a naturalistic reinterpretation, African American religiosity can be seen as expressing a type of humanism. To make this argument, she draws on a variety of material, including a functional account of religion, critical theory, and the work of three iconic African American thinkers. While recognizing the role that theism has played, she argues that from a functional perspective we can look at the evolution of African American religious traditions as an attempt on the part of African Americans to affirm and assert their full humanity in the face of racist attitudes and policies that have sought to dehumanize them. This quest to achieve full humanity reflects a type of religious humanism that she believes should be more fully developed as a religious ideal within the African American culture. She positions this ideal as a plausible alternative to traditional theistic African American religiosity by showing how important elements of it are foreshadowed in the works of Anna Julia Cooper, W. E. B. Du Bois, and James Baldwin.

Building this first segment presents significant challenges, but they should not be overstated. On the one hand, White must show that African American [End Page 19] religiosity can plausibly be reinterpreted naturalistically as a type of humanism without losing anything of critical importance, and she must also do so in a way that is fair to the historical figures upon whom she draws. On the other hand, because her audience is not composed of committed traditional theists, but “a generation of scientifically oriented African Americans in search of newer, compelling views of religiosity,”1 she need only show that her reinterpretation is plausible, not singularly correct.

To build the segment between religious naturalism and sacred humanity, White draws primarily on the work of religious naturalists Loyal Rue, Donald Crosby, and Ursula Goodenough. At the heart of their religious naturalism, she argues, is the conviction that “any truths we are ever going to discover and any meaning in life we should uncover, are revealed to us through the natural order.”2 Using this naturalistic framework, she develops an account of humanity that sees humans as “interconnected, social, value-laden organisms in constant search of meaning (cognition), enamored of value (goodness, love, justice), and instilled with a sense of purpose (telos).”3 The sacredness of humanity comes not from a contrast between humans or nature, a contrast between the sacred and profane, nor the connection to a transcendent reality, but from the recognition of the ultimate relationality of nature and our connectedness to all other living beings.4

While the overall success of her project depends on the construction of both of these segments, in this paper I will not look at the span between African American religiosity and sacred humanity, leaving that project to those with a much greater knowledge of African American religiosity and the historical figures upon whom White draws. Instead, I will explore the span between religious naturalism and sacred humanity. White’s book stands apart from most other recent work in religious naturalism in that it seeks to put religious naturalism to work, rather than explain, defend, or critique it. Nevertheless, her use of contemporary religious naturalism to address an important social issue is significant in that it provides an opportunity to test its adequacy. More specifically, it forces us to ask whether or not contemporary religious naturalism, which in the past few decades has turned its ethical attention primarily toward our relationship to the nonhuman environment, contains the resources necessary to adequately address ethical issues regarding our relationship to other humans. [End Page 20]

I start by looking at the relationship between humanism and religious naturalism in order to highlight the challenges White faces before examining how she actually attempts to construct this segment of the larger bridge. Finally, I conclude with some comments about the implications for religious naturalism.

Religious Naturalism and Humanism

White’s use of religious naturalism is both understandable and somewhat puzzling. Because she is trying to develop a religious ideal that does not depend on supernatural transcendence, it is understandable that she would turn to a system that is both naturalistic and religious. However, an uncomfortable fit between her humanism and the more nature-centered versions of religious naturalism espoused by the religious naturalists she draws on most extensively also makes the choice somewhat puzzling. Both her religious humanism and their religious naturalism are naturalistic and religious, but there are deep differences that need to be acknowledged.

The problem here is the somewhat strained relationship between religious humanism and religious naturalism. This is not a new issue; many religious naturalists have expressed misgivings about religious humanism and have struggled to distinguish their positions from it. To better understand this struggle, I want to turn to the work of philosopher, theologian, and religious naturalist Jerome Stone, who, perhaps more than anyone else over the past two decades, has tried to clearly define religious naturalism and situate it philosophically and historically in relation to other views.

In his 1993 article, “The Viability of Religious Naturalism, Stone identifies two defining characteristics of religious naturalism that he has consistently used with only slight variations ever since. The first characteristic is naturalism in both its negative and positive aspects. “Negatively it asserts that there appears to be no ontologically superior realm (such as God, soul, heaven) to ground, explain, or give meaning to this world. Positively it affirms that attention needs to be directed to the processes of this world to provide what explanation and meaning can be gained.”5 The second characteristic is a religious orientation toward nature. “Religious naturalism is the attitude and belief that there are religious aspects of the world which can be conceived within a naturalistic framework. Some religious values can be found within this world. There are experiences within this world that are analogous enough to some of the experiences nurtured by traditional religions that they may be called religious.”6 [End Page 21]

This broad definition of religious naturalism would, at first glance, seem to encompass religious humanism. Thus, it is somewhat surprising that, in the very next paragraph, Stone draws an explicit, and somewhat pointed, contrast between the two: “Religious naturalism is not a humanism. The relationship of naturalism to humanism concerns a basic stance. The issue is that of openness or closure to resources and challenges beyond the humanly manageable. Religious naturalism seeks openness to these resources and challenges. Religious naturalism, compared to humanism, has a greater sense that we are not masters of our fate, that we need to recognize the worth of, to nurture and be nurtured by, this-worldly grace and judgment.”7

While Stone appears to be simply making a distinction here, one can sense misgivings regarding religious humanism. The misgiving appears even more clearly in his 1999 article, “The Line Between Religious Naturalism and Humanism: G. B. Foster and A. E. Haydon.” There he describes the difference in terms of what one takes to be the object of religious concern. For the religious humanist, the object of religious concern refers to a subjective projection of human ideals onto nature, whereas for the religious naturalist, it is an objective aspect of nature itself. He makes this clear in describing what makes Foster a religious naturalist as opposed to a religious humanist: “Foster’s key statement is that ‘the word God is a symbol to designate the universe in its ideal-achieving capacity.’ Note that this is not subjective. There is a real or objective capacity in the universe to which this symbol refers. It is not just an ideal or set of ideals.”8 The choice of comparative terms—“real” vs. “just an ideal” (emphasis added), “objective” vs. “subjective”—suggests that Stone understands the distinction in evaluative as well as descriptive terms.

Sometime after that article, Stone begins gradually moderating his view, recognizing that the breadth of his definition of religious naturalism allows space for multiple versions. In “Varieties of Religious Naturalism,” however, one can see him still struggling with the issue of humanism. On the one hand, he concedes that religious humanism could be understood as a variety of religious naturalism, “if human aspiration after ideals is religious.” On the other hand, he clearly remains hesitant, adding that he finds religious humanism lacking “an openness to relatively transcendent natural forces residing in this world,” before ultimately conceding that, given his broad definition [End Page 22] of religious naturalism, we should consider the issue “a dispute within the family.”9

In the 2008 publication of Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, his retrospective review of religious naturalism, Stone moderates his view even further. Still, noting the difference between his views and religious humanism, he makes it clear that he considers the latter a legitimate variety of religious naturalism: “In short, religious humanism can be seen as one variety of religious naturalism, because the commitment of these humanists to the search for truth and the struggle for justice is the naturalistic analogue to commitment to the transcendent in traditional theism.”10

It would seem, then, that there should be no problem building the segment of the bridge connecting religious naturalism and White’s sacred humanity. If her religious humanism is simply a variety of religious naturalism, then the design seems straightforward. The span seems less structurally sound, however, when one looks more closely at the particular materials being used, that is, the variety of religious naturalism that White is invoking.

In that 2008 retrospective, Stone divides the history into two parts—the birth and rebirth of religious naturalism. While acknowledging important historical antecedents, he associates the birth of religious naturalism primarily with its systematic development at Columbia University in New York and the Divinity School and Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago during the first part of the twentieth century. This period culminated in the publication of Henry Nelson Wieman’s The Source of Human Good in 1946, after which there was a forty-one-year hiatus until the next major publication on religious naturalism, Bernard Loomer’s “The Size of God” in 1987. This publication marks the beginning of the rebirth of religious naturalism. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to the work in this period after the rebirth as “contemporary” religious naturalism.

Stone mentions several factors that contributed to this rebirth of religious naturalism, but surprisingly he does not mention the environmental movement, which certainly influenced much liberal religious thinking during this time. In addition to reconciling religion with scientific naturalism, a major theme emerging from the writings of contemporary religious naturalists, and in particular those on whom White draws, has been the need to addresses the ecological crisis and human responsibility for it. Responding to this need has [End Page 23] led them to develop a variety of religious naturalism that take nature as a whole, rather than humans or human ideals, to be the appropriate focus of religious concern. This, I believe, partially explains Stone’s efforts to distinguish his religious naturalism from religious humanism.

The influence of ecological concern is also clearly evident in Crosby’s work. Describing his own journey from theism to a religion of nature, Crosby notes passing through, but ultimately leaving, religious humanism: “For a time I had been attracted to religious humanism as an alternative to theism, but now I began to realize that human beings, as one spin-off of the irrepressibly creative workings of nature, should not be regarded as religiously ultimate themselves, but rather as evidencing, along with other forms of emergent life, the ultimacy of nature.”11 This leads him to describe his “religion of nature” as a version of religious naturalism that takes nature itself as the object of religious devotion, and to distinguish it from religious humanism in which “humanity, rather than nature or God, is the principal focus of religious concern.”12 Of particular importance here, the move away from humans to nature as the object of religious concern is reflected in Crosby’s nonanthropocentric ethics. The Thou of Nature, his only book-length treatment of ethics, focuses on our relationship to the nonhuman environment, arguing that all sentient beings are entitled to recognition, respect, and reverence.13

This ecological theme is even more prominent in Rue’s influential book Religion is Not About God. Like Crosby, the object of religious concern for Rue is nature itself, but he goes to greater lengths to position his religious naturalism as a response to the ecological crisis. In the final chapter of the book (ominously titled “Doomsday and Beyond”), he chronicles the impending crises of air, land, water, biodiversity, and energy that threaten the earth. Arguing that the received religious traditions lack the cosmological and moral resources to adequately address these problems, he anticipates a global ecological collapse. He then argues that from “the ash of global collapse we may expect to see a phoenix arise in the form of a new Nature-centered meta-myth: the Myth of Religious Naturalism.” This myth would combine the “evolutionary cosmology of contemporary science” with “an eco-centric morality” that “judges policies [End Page 24] and actions relative to their environmental impact” and “treats the integrity of natural systems as an absolute value.”14

The extent to which ecological concern has become a central theme of contemporary religious naturalism can be seen in Michael Hogue’s exploration of the potential of religious naturalism as a religious ethic. In The Promise of Religious Naturalism, he argues that secular environmental ethics is not up to the task of responding to the environmental crisis and explores some of the leading figures in religious naturalism today—Crosby, Goodenough, Stone, and Rue—in order to appreciatively, but critically, assess the ethical potential of religious naturalism.15

I emphasize the uneasy relationship between contemporary religious naturalism and religious humanism to better highlight a significant challenge White faces in carrying out her project. In appealing to the religious naturalism of Crosby, Rue, and Goodenough, White is drawing on thinkers who espouse nonanthropocentric positions in order to support her religious humanism, which as a version of humanism leans strongly toward anthropocentrism. At the very least, this potential conflict or inconsistency cries out for an explanation. One option would be for White to acknowledge that she is developing a different variety of religious naturalism, drawing on, but deviating in important respects from contemporary religious naturalism. The fact that she does not do this suggests that she either does not recognize the tension or, more generously, that she sees in her concept of sacred humanity the potential to reconcile anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric versions of religious naturalism. In what follows, I am going to assume that this is what she intends.

Bridging the Gap—Relationality in White’s Sacred Humanity

Before looking at how White goes about making her argument, it is important to ask what would count as success. What must her notion of sacred humanity look like in order to reconcile human and natured-centered versions of religious naturalism and connect religious naturalism to African American religiosity?

First, it must include a carefully nuanced account of what it means to be human. More specifically, the account must strike an appropriate balance between anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism. On the one hand, it must [End Page 25] be anthropocentric enough to undergird a claim for the dignity, equality, and, in White’s view, the sacredness of all and only human beings. This is demanded by her goals of undermining racism and promoting the African American religious project as one of trying to achieve full humanity. It must explain why humans are uniquely deserving of such respect, and, in this sense, it will necessarily be hierarchical. This is particularly relevant to addressing racism, given that attempts to dehumanize African Americans have often taken the form of depicting them as apes or monkeys. On the other hand, it must not be so anthropocentric as to allow this hierarchy to encourage or justify the logic of domination vis-à-vis other species that has been so damaging to earth’s ecosystems. This would run counter to the moral thrust of much of contemporary religious naturalism and bring her use of it to support her theory into question.

Second, her account of humanity must be appropriately naturalistic and grounded in the empirical sciences. Again, this involves careful balancing. On the one hand, she recognizes that given our contemporary scientific context, if we fail to offer an account of humanity that is not consistent with science, then we risk “the possibility of offering unintelligible and meaningless answers for the lives we actually live today.”16 Furthermore, the account must be sufficiently grounded in the empirical sciences to justify the claim that the equality of all humans is based upon a scientifically supported shared ontology. On the other hand, it must guard against scientism that would reduce humans to mere organisms or dismissively understand religion in “psychoanalytical or biological terms.”17 Perhaps most importantly, it must avoid using science to account for racial difference in ways that might support the type of pernicious essentialist claims that have too often been used to justify racial injustice. Indeed, White is very aware of the peril of using a naturalistic account of humans, and thus the natural sciences, as a basis for an African American religious humanism.18

White turns to contemporary religious naturalists to help develop an account of humanity because she finds in it this appropriate use of science. More specifically, she finds two things within religious contemporary naturalism particularly attractive. First, in emphasizing what she refers to as the “stubborn materiality [End Page 26] of existence,” religious naturalism, she argues, “has also included human nature and human culture within the grasp of naturalism.”19 This is important as it helps us resist the temptation to draw a sharp distinction between nature and culture, and in the process, set humanity beyond the reach of naturalistic explanations. Indeed, White goes to great lengths to avoid this temptation, insisting that humans share an ontology with all other living things.

Second, the concept of emergence, which has been so important to religious naturalists,20 helps us understand nature as a process of becoming, and thus, account for how humanity can have unique features, including subjectivity, despite this shared ontology. Emergence is also important because it highlights the ubiquity of relationality within nature. Nature is composed of layers upon layers of interconnected and interdependent systems, and humans are no exception. They are natural processes that emerge from, and remain fully embedded in this world of relationships; we exist and are what we are only in relation to other things. Though White does not use these terms, we can think of vertical, horizontal, and historical relationships. Vertically, each human is composed of interrelated physical, biochemical, and biological systems operating together in such a way as to constitute an organism. Horizontally, we are related not only to other humans, but also to other life forms of different levels of complexity. Finally, historically, we share with all other life forms a common natural and evolutionary history. We are, she writes, “part of an evolutionary history showing directionality, or a trend toward greater complexity and consciousness.”21

This notion of relationality has important religious implications—White identifies it as central to notion of sacred humanity. Rejecting a Durkheimian account of the sacred as that what is completely other and extraordinary, she adopts a more Tillichian view of the sacred as that which we understand as ultimate. “According to my view,” she writes, “sacrality is a specific affirmation and appreciation of that which is fundamentally important in life, or that which is ultimately valued: relational nature.” Recognizing the ultimacy of relationality, she argues, means that “we claim and become our humanity in seeking and finding community with others—and with otherness.” The notion of “sacred humanity,” then, emphasizes the fundamentally relational nature of human existence, the “myriad layers of entanglement and essential connectivity—with [End Page 27] oneself, one’s family, the larger human community, myriad local and global eco-systems, and, yes, the universe.”22

One begins to see how White uses the notion of relationality to connect contemporary religious naturalism with her ideal of sacred humanity and the challenges she faces in so doing. On the one hand, not only is relationality of ultimate value, it is, to use the type of language Stone used to distinguish religious naturalism from religious humanism, a real or objective aspect of nature, not just an ideal. This connects her view to the more nature-centered version of religious naturalism I have attributed to the contemporary religious naturalists. On the other hand, while relationality is a fundamental feature of nature, White’s use of the term “sacred humanity” implies that sacrality is limited to human beings. This suggests that there is something special about human beings, or if you will, their relation to relationality. This connects her view to religious humanism. Her challenge, thus, is to find the appropriate balance between these nonanthropocentric and anthropocentric accounts. This struggle is evident in the way that she describes the connection between relationality in nature, sacred humanity, and African American religiosity.

Minimally, and at face value, sacred humanity is an apt descriptor of African Americans intent humanizing their existence in the face of dehumanizing gestures and tactics by dominant white culture. Its wider applicability is evident on another level. The term conceptually presupposes all human beings as biotic forms emerging from evolutionary processes sharing a deep homology with other sentient beings and also valuing such connection. As such, it can be used to challenge the most viral constructions of “isms” rooted in problematic and alienating self/other differentiations, especially the racially constructed ones that the enduring legacy of African American religiosity has targeted. Any inkling of white supremacy, or sense of cultural superiority of any ilk, is antithetical to this natural view; these skewed cultural constructions are forced impositions on the wholeness of natural interrelatedness and the deep genetic homology that evolution has wrought.23

In this passage we see more clearly what is at stake in White’s approach. On the one hand, she is using the notion of relationality as a leveling tool, an objective and fundamental feature of nature pointing to a shared ontology with all of nature and shared homology between sentient life forms that overshadows differences. It is this leveling that challenges “viral constructions of ‘isms’ rooted in problematic and alienating self/other differentiations.” On the other hand, [End Page 28] she still points to a distinction between humans and nonhumans as a morally relevant distinction that is central to African American religiosity. To depict African American religiosity as a struggle against dehumanization is to imply that being human is better than not being human. We share a “deep homology” with all other sentient creatures that seems to eliminate morally relevant differences, but a “deep genetic homology” with all other humans that seems to reinstate them. White’s struggle here demonstrates how difficult it is to use the terminology of “dehumanization” to counter racism without at the same time implicitly invoking hierarchical thinking that separates humans from and elevates them above other sentient creatures.

White seems well aware of this problem and tries to develop an account of humanity that does not move unreflectively from difference to hierarchy. There are at least two things that account for human uniqueness. First, we are symbolic creatures. Drawing on the work of Terrance Deacon, White notes how the human brain has evolved to process symbols and how the use of symbols has affected the evolution of human brains. The coevolutionary process not only accounts for how we humans make sense of our lives—we do so through the use of symbol systems—it constitutes a significant difference between us and other species. “Expressed succinctly,” White writes, “our brain has evolved very differently in some regards from the brains of other species, in ways that are uniquely human.”24

Second, humans are not only symbolic creatures, we are finite creatures who are aware of our finitude, and thus, following Konstantin Kolenda, what White calls “human destinies.” The recognition of death is a prerequisite for having a human destiny. However, rather than focusing on death as the antithesis of life, the notion of destiny turns our attention to a sense of wholeness in which the awareness of death unifies and gives meaning to the experiences of life. For White this feature of human existence is central to appreciating the value and meaning of human life.

In her discussion of human destinies we can see White making the transition from descriptive to evaluative differences. As human destinies, we are not only unique, we are uniquely valuable. White expresses this in multiple ways. For instance, she argues that the universe “acquires distinct meaning through human destinies,” and as a result we can affirm “each human birth as a glorious event, and the starting point of yet another spectacular phenomenon that helps transform the enigmatic cosmos into an even more vital, dramatic world for sentient beings.” Moreover, our value is not dependent on any relationship to a transcendent God as “each human destiny as a distinct valuing process is individually unique and unrepeatable, and, in this sense, each human life is a [End Page 29] statement, or a declaration of what the universe can become.”25 Here we see White’s religious humanism expressed in this rather unabashed celebration of human uniqueness and value; humans are unique and valuable both as a species and as individual beings.

The advantage of this humanism is that it avoids what critics of naturalism refer to as a deflationary account of humanity. Humans are both unique and uniquely valuable. At the same time, however, this would also seem to distance herself from the more nature-centered religious orientation found in the religious naturalists on whom she draws. To her credit, she seems to recognize this tension and tries to respond to it by characterizing her version of religious humanism, sacred humanity, as a more subtle and humble humanism.

I am not suggesting that the knowable universe is enlivened only through human activity, as that idea retains too much of the hubris of traditional humanism, devaluing the emergence of other forms of animal and plant life, as well as their concomitant levels of sentience, conscious awareness, and valuing. Rather, I am much more compelled by the subtler notion that humans are individual and collective destinies engaging an appreciable world. These ideas help us to view humans as natural organisms that add a particular dimension of value to an already vital, expansive universe.26

Her attempt at reconciliation is fragile, however, and ultimately, I think, not completely successful. The key would be to find a way to celebrate human uniqueness without invoking a hierarchy of value; to make humanity an ideal without implying that other species are less than ideal; to make the achievement of full humanity something to be acknowledged and respected, without devaluing other species and their own unique ways of expressing and experiencing nature’s relationality. This is a difficult task, and White struggles to accomplish it. Her relatively neutral language of human particularity in the passage just quoted seems intended to constrain hierarchy, hubris, and domination, but, only a few pages later, language more suited to a less subtle, humble, and constrained humanism breaks loose once again: “Finally, with each human being viewed as a unique destiny, I impress on myself the notion that when I meet a person, I am encountering another center of value. Moreover, assuming that the values realized in human lives are the highest values we know of, then, even seeing a stranger on the street puts me face to face with a manifestation of myriad cosmic meanings—both potential and actual.”27 [End Page 30]

Conclusion—Implications for Contemporary Religious Naturalism

White’s project, particularly when seen in contrast to Houge’s use of religious naturalism, draws attention to the way in which the development of religious ideals and systems are shaped by both the broader social context in which it takes place and the specific problems to which religious thinkers are responding. Hogue identifies the ecological crisis as a primary challenge to which religious naturalism must respond, and, I have argued, this challenge has contributed to the nonanthropocentric orientation found in much of contemporary religious naturalism. In contrast, White’s primary concern is with the social, rather than ecological. It is with the challenge of racism; with how racial constructions have distorted and corroded human relationships; with how generations of African Americans have been harmed by racial biases, attitudes, and policies; and with how this calls out for a new religious ideal. In other words, because her primary concern is about the moral relationships between humans, she is drawn toward religious humanism, a more anthropocentric version of religious naturalism.

This has two important implications, one general and one more specific. At a general level it points to the need for religious naturalists to pay attention to a broad range of problems and voices in their work. While it is not necessarily her intention, White’s project not only uses contemporary religious naturalism but also challenges it by asking whether it has the resources to deal with one crucially important social issue. In the process, she forces us to confront the theoretical and practical limitations of a nonanthropocentric version of naturalism. One could imagine considering other issues as well, such as the implications of globalization; poverty and income inequality; or religious, political, and sexual violence. It is only by doing this sort of work that religious naturalism will remain intellectually robust and socially responsive. This is not to say that the concern with ecological issues should disappear, but it must be joined by other concerns. Indeed, recent work on issues such environmental racism and justice, sustainable development, or global warming demonstrates the futility of trying to address ecological issues in isolation from social issues, suggesting that the consideration of both together might be the most fruitful approach to broadening and deepening religious naturalism.

At a more specific level, White’s attempt to build a bridge between contemporary religious naturalism and her religious ideal of sacred humanity points in the direction that religious naturalism must take to coherently address this wider range of related issues. I have focused on the challenge she faces in trying to reconcile contemporary religious naturalism with her version of religious humanism, characterizing the challenge as one of balancing or [End Page 31] reconciling anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric views. This is not unfair, but it may also not be entirely accurate. By her own admission, White is trying to position her sacred humanity as a new version of religious humanism and, by implication, a new version of religious naturalism. It is a difficult version to describe, given the categories we are used to working with. One might describe it as a more humanistic religious naturalism or more a nature-centered religious humanism; a nonhierarchical anthropocentrism or an anthropocentric eco-centrism. If these labels strike us as slightly oxymoronic, it may indicate that we may need to dispose of or overcome what have become problematic distinctions. I am not fully convinced that she has succeeded, but I am convinced that this is the direction that religious naturalism must go if it is to deal with the inexorably entangled ecological and social issues that we face in the twenty-first century. [End Page 32]

Scot Yoder
Michigan State University
Scot Yoder

Scot D. Yoder is an associate professor and associate dean of students in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. His philosophic interests range from health care and environmental ethics to American pragmatism and the philosophy of religion, especially religious naturalism. He has published articles in the Hasting Center Report; the American Journal of Bioethics; the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture; and the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy.


1. Carol Wayne White, Black Lives and Sacred Humanity: Toward an African American Religious Naturalism (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 4.

2. Ibid., 30.

3. Ibid., 28.

4. Ibid., 33.

5. Jerome A. Stone, “The Viability of Religious Naturalism,” American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 14, no. 1 (1993): 35.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Jerome A. Stone, “The Line Between Religious Naturalism and Humanism: G.B. Foster and A.E. Haydon,” American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 20, no. 3 (1999): 219.

9. Jerome A. Stone, “Varieties of Religious Naturalism,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 38, no. 1 (2003): 90 (all quotes).

10. Jerome A. Stone, Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative (New York: State University of New York Press, 2008), 8.

11. Donald A. Crosby, A Religion of Nature (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 11.

12. Ibid., 172n14.

13. Donald A. Crosby, The Thou of Nature: Religious Naturalism a`nd Reverence for Sentient Life (New York: State University of New York Press, 2013).

14. Loyal Rue, Religion is Not about God (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 362, 363 (quotes).

15. Michael S. Hogue, The Promise of Religious Naturalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010).

16. White, Black Lives and Sacred Humanity, 28.

17. Ibid., 29.

18. White writes, “I am very aware that any attempt to derive an African American religiosity based on an understanding of humans as natural processes may seem troublesome to some. One may recall, for example, that nineteenth-century scientific perspectives on natural processes within later evolutionary thought (the new ‘science of man’) promoted Enlightenment racism, in which notions of racial differences often led a perception of the social inequalities between various cultural groups as reflecting the prescripts of nature.” Ibid., 36.

19. Ibid. 30.

20. For more on religious naturalism and emergence, see Scot Yoder, “Emergence and Religious Naturalism: The Promise and Peril,” American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 35, no. 2 (2014).

21. White, Black Lives and Sacred Humanity, 31.

22. Ibid., 33, 34, 35 (quotes).

23. Ibid., 34, emphasis in the original.

24. Ibid., 37.

25. Ibid., 40, 42 (quotes).

26. Ibid., 40.

27. Ibid., 43, emphasis added.

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