An Immense Journey
Religious Naturalism and The Great Story

by Connie Barlow
original May 2003; revised December 2003

A Tribute to Julian Huxley, Paul Martin, Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Annie Dillard, and Loren Eiseley

There are those whose sense of the divine comes most profoundly through intimate communion with the natural world. We are the religious naturalists, and we go by many names.

Distinguishing us from what is usually meant by the terms "atheist" and "secular humanist" is our insistence that we be counted among the religious of the world. Our form of religion is no less than any other. To us, the natural world is sacred, even holy. Ultimacy is diffuse, pervasive; it includes but hugely transcends human consciousness and the human collective. Our interpretation of that ultimacy shapes our values and may fill us with an urge to live our lives in ways that serve the future of the Whole.

We have religious practices of a sort, individual practices. Meditation, even prayer, may offer some of us access to our own psychological core, but we do not typically go there to experience a power greater than ourselves. In contrast, we commune with the inner divine intensely, luxuriently whenever we shift into a state of creative flow. For me, that happens often when I write, when I dance, when I am engaged in ideas-rich conversation.

Some religious naturalists are comfortable with God language; many of us are not. At bottom, if the primary images that the word God calls to mind are not fully integral with our beloved community of life, if those images in any way suggest that this God values the human more than the spider, then "God" is not a term we choose to use.

Religious naturalists find ample cause for reverence in the vast world, and it is the same world that science describes. In fact, science books, especially those that contain the very soul of the author, can occasionally plunge us into an ecstasy of the divine, eyes racing across the page, or eyes blinking, stunned with joy and gratitude.

I have had such experiences on many occasions — especially while reading exquisite writers, living and dead, who show how deeply meaningful science can be: Charles Darwin, Annie Dillard, James Lovelock, Edward O. Wilson, Loyal Rue, Scott Russell Sanders, Loren Eiseley, Diane Ackerman, Paul Martin, Tim Flannery, Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Ursula Goodenough, Dave Foreman, Julian Huxley.


  • Religion Without Revelation: The Gift of Julian Huxley
  • Seeing Ghosts: The Gifts of Paul Martin and Aldo Leopold
  • Celebrants of The Great Story: The Gift of Thomas Berry
  • We Are Stardust: The Gift of Brian Swimme
  • A Frayed and Nibbled Survivor: The Gift of Annie Dillard
  • An Immense Journey: The Gift of Loren Eiseley
  • Click here to return to the list of other METARELIGIOUS ESSAYS.

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