Review of When God is Gone, Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist

Review by David Harding

Can a person not believe in God, and yet still be religious? In his latest book, former Boston Globe science writer and professor of physics at Stonehill College Chet Raymo argues that you can. Raised in a traditional Catholic family and a graduate of Notre Dame in the early 1960s, Raymo is now a “scientific agnostic” who believes modern science best describes our universe and our place within it: the human mind is the physical brain, and there is no dualistic soul; when human beings die, they are gone forever; humans are not the product of a personal and divine creator who loves mankind, but rather products of the remorseless natural process of descent with modification.

Science, with its kissing cousin technology, has made people’s lives demonstrably better in ways that could not have been dreamed of a few hundred years ago. Science teaches us to say, “I don’t know” when it comes to our ignorance of the world around us, rather than “God Did It” as religion does.

However, Raymo also is a “religious naturalist,” who believes, contra New Atheists Dawkins and Harris, that the language of religion is necessary to fully capture the beauty of the natural world. Getting rid of religious language for Raymo is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater because the bathwater is foul. Words like Grace, Holy, and Reverence for him no longer referr to the supernatural, only the awe, wonder and interconnectedness we see around us. He has traded the anthropomorphic God of his childhood, for the Deus Absconditus of the mystics and a Nature that loves to hide. “Faith no longer matters,” writes Raymo, “so much as attention, celebration, wonder, and praise.”

And what of the Church he grew up in? Raymo is pained to see the Church caught halfway between the 21st century and the18th, with some of the finest universities and scientific research programs in the world, but with only a theology shot through with magical thinking that can’t possibly appreciate them; a Church with a beautiful sacramental and liturgical life and history of art and music, but with an ugly, male-only hierarchy that still wants the peons under them to “pay, pray and obey;” a Church caught between Vatican II, Pope John XXIII, Eckhart and Tielhard de Chardin, and Catholic dogma, Pope John Paul II, and the Theocons like Michael Novak and the late Richard John Neuhaus.

However, he hopes fervently that the laity and Modernizers of the Church can overcome its past and current hierarchy, and become worthy of the title Holy. That a Jesuit book publisher such as Ave Maria Press chose to published a book advocating agnosticism is a step in the right direction. For Raymo, only when the supernatural, including God, is exercised can everything be made Holy and full of Grace. A very beautiful and important book.

Watch a short video of Raymo taking his daily walk to work.

Raymo’s blog

When God is Gone, Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist
by Chet Raymo
Sorin Books, imprint of Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana
Published 2008
Pages 148


David Harding is the vice-president of CNY Skeptics.

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