John Burroughs’ Religion After God

John and Johnny

John Burroughs and John Muir

Ever since a Pantheist UU friend introduced me to the great naturalist John Burroughs, he keeps burrowing into my brain with more mental food to digest.

While I hear that more folks are nabbing copies of my book, Meditations of John Burroughs, and glad he’s being discovered and appreciated by even more people out there, I’ve been re-reading Accepting the Universe (1920!) and continue to dig out more gems.  I may not use all the same wording or reasoning as JB, but you have to admit, he has a way with presenting a “naturalized” religion minus the supernaturalized, artificial theologies that drive historic faiths.

For those of us exploring possible new forms of post-god community, where our leadership and helping skills are greatly needed, I think JB offers some hints and perhaps a viable way forward.

” [‘Religion’ is] not necessarily so much a definite creed or belief as an attraction and aspiration toward the Infinite, or a feeling of awe and reverence inspired by the contemplation of this wonderful and mysterious universe. . . .”

“Science tends more and more to reveal to us the unity that underlies the diversity of nature. . . .  Amid all the diversity of creeds and sects we are coming more and more to see that religion is one, that verbal differences and ceremonies are unimportant, and that the fundamental agreements are alone significant.  Religion as a key or passport to some other world has had its day; as a mere set of statements or dogmas about the Infinite mystery it has had its day.  Science makes us more and more at home in this world.”

Earlier in Accepting the Universe, he says,

“The other world fades as this world brightens.  Science has made this world so interesting and wonderful. . .thoughts of another world are becoming foreign to us.  [We] feel at home on this planet.”

“God,” for JB, was the “Creative Energy,” the “Eternal,” the “Infinite,” “Nature.”  As he said,

“We accept Nature as we find it, and do not crave the intervention of a God that sits behind and is superior to it.”

Given Burroughs’ working definition of “Religion,” what he says about “the Faith of a Naturalist” makes some sense.

“Amid the decay of creeds, love of nature has high religious value. . . .  [For many, this love of nature] has made them contented and at home wherever they are in nature–in the house not made with hands.  This house is their church, and the rocks and the hills are the altars, and the creed is written in the leaves of the trees and in the flowers of the field and in the sands of the shore.  A new creed every day and new preachers, and holy days all the week through.  Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance.  Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth.  There are no heretics in Nature’s church; all are believers, all are communicants.  The beauty of natural religion is that you have it all the time. . . .  It is not an insurance policy underwritten by a bishop or a priest; it is not even a faith; it is a love, an enthusiasm, a consecration to natural truth.”

Could this be one trailmap into the wilderness for the new pioneers settling a new homestead, creating new paths into post-religion, post-faith, post-god community?

I think JB gives us hints for what may be down the trails.


One thought on “John Burroughs’ Religion After God

  1. Pingback: Atheist Spirituality? | Secular Chaplain

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