The New Theism: Shedding Beliefs, Celebrating Knowledge
By Michael Dowd:
Since April 2002, my science-writer wife Connie Barlow and I have traveled North America virtually nonstop. We have addressed more than 1,600 secular and religious groups of all kinds. Our goal is to communicate the inspiring and empowering side of science to as many people as possible.
Whether addressing evangelicals, atheists, UUs, or gurus, our message is always the same: We show how a deeply meaningful and fully evidence-based view of big history, human nature, and death can inspire people of all backgrounds and beliefs to live in integrity and cooperate in service of a just and thriving future for all.
Over the course of the last decade, in addition to talking with folks after our programs, Connie and I have lived with hundreds of people in their homes. We’ve thus been privileged to have intellectually rich and heartful conversations with countless kindred spirits—those, like us, whose passion lies at the intersection of science, inspiration, and sustainability.
The manifesto below reflects the thinking and work of many individuals, all of whom agree that traditional labels are no longer adequate. Please consider the following but a rough first draft. Feedback is welcome. Please email me your questions, comments, criticisms, and especially your suggestions for improvement at [email protected]
A Manifesto for the New Theism
A new breed of theist is emerging in nearly every denomination and religion across the globe, and many of us are grateful to the New Atheists for calling us out of the closet.
New Theists are not believers; we’re evidentialists. We value scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence over ancient texts, religious dogma, or ecclesiastical authority. We also value how an evidential worldview enriches and deepens our communion with God (Reality/Ultimate Wholeness/The Great Mystery).
New Theists are not supernaturalists; we’re naturalists. We are inspired and motivated more by this world and this life than by promises of a future otherworld or afterlife. This does not, however, mean that we diss uplifting or transcendent experiences, or disvalue mystery. We don’t. But neither do we see the mystical as divorced from the natural.
As secular Jews differ from fundamentalist Jews, New Theists differ from traditional theists. While most of us value traditional religious language and rituals, and we certainly value community, we no longer interpret literally any of the otherworldly or supernatural-sounding language in our scriptures, creeds, and doctrines. Indeed, we interpret all mythic “night language” as one would interpret a dream: metaphorically, symbolically.
New Theists practice what might be called a “practical spirituality.” Indeed, spirituality for us mostly means the mindset, heart-space, and tools that assist us in growing in right relationship to reality and supporting others in doing the same.
New Theists are legion; we are diverse. Many of us continue to call ourselves Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Hindu. We may also self-identify as emergentist, evidentialist, freethinker, neo-humanist, pantheist, panentheist, or some other label.
New Theists don’t believe in God. We know that throughout human history, the word “God” has always and everywhere been a meaning-filled interpretation, a mythic and inspiring personification of forces and realities incomprehensible in a prescientific age. We also know that interpretations and personifications don’t exist or fail to exist. Rather, they are more or less helpful, more or less meaningful, more or less inspiring.
New Theists view religion and religious language through an empirical, evidential, evolutionary lens, rather than through a theological or philosophical one. Indeed, an ability to distinguish subjective and objective reality—practical truth (that which reliably produces personal wholeness and social coherence) from factual truth (that which is measurably real)—is one of the defining characteristics of New Theists.
New Theists do not have a creed (we’re not that organized). But if we did, it might simply be this:
Reality is our God, evidence is our scripture, integrity is our religion, and ensuring a healthy future for the entire body of life is our mission.
By “reality is our God” we mean that honoring and working with what is real, as evidentially and collectively discerned, and creatively imagining what could be in light of this, is our ultimate concern and commitment.
By “evidence is our scripture” we mean that scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence provide a better understanding and a more authoritative map of how things are and which things matter (or what’s real and what’s important) than do ancient mythic writings or handed-down wisdom.
By “integrity is our religion” we mean that living in right relationship to reality and helping others and our species do the same is our great responsibility and joy.
By “ensuring a healthy future for the entire body of life is our mission” we mean that working with people of all backgrounds and beliefs in service of a vibrant future for planet Earth and all its gloriously diverse species (including us) is our divine calling and privilege.
Why call ourselves “theists” at all if we’re not supernatural, otherworldly believers? Simply this:
All theological “isms” (e.g., theism, deism, pantheism, atheism) came into being long before we had an evolutionary understanding of emergence. Therefore, all such concepts are outdated, misleading, and unnecessarily divisive if they are not redefined and reinterpreted in an evolutionary context. Other terms that have been offered in addition to “New Theist” include “evolutionary theist,” “evolutionary humanist,” “post-theist,” “mytheist,” and “creatheist” (pronounced variously, and humorously, as “crea-theist” or “cree-atheist”).
Labels are far less important to us than celebrating the fact that we are naturalists who wish to be counted among the religious of the world—no less than all others who are devoted to something sacred and larger than themselves.
Whatever our differences, we are evidentialists, committed to living upstanding moral lives in service of a just and thriving future for humanity and the larger body of life.
We see this as Religion 2.0.
Originally published on The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith.