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What to look forward to in September at HP

September 1, 2014

This month at HP, we conclude our late summer theme of “Emotion” and begin our early autumn theme “Life and Death”.

New Column: Druidry Without Deity by Ryan Cronin

HP is pleased to announce our newest columnist, Ryan Cronin. Ryan is a former Catholic who spent almost a year living in a monastery, got a degree in theology, and is now an atheist with an interest in earth-based paganism and nature-centred spirituality. His journey has led him to explore the ideas, symbols and practices of modern druidry, as an effective framework for expressing a sense of the sacred in nature and forming connections with the other-than-human world. He is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids as well as a Dedicant member of Ar n’Draiocht Fein, but tends to practice druidry in a solitary context. He is interested in evolution, philosophy, anthropology and the psychology of religion as well as creating secular spirituality without supernatural claims. Ryan writes about his ongoing druidic exploration at Room of Roots. He is also fascinated by people’s relationship with death and its role in society, and he discusses those themes on the blog Deathly Ponderings, where he is a regular contributor. He is due to begin studying for an MA in Death, Religion and Culture with the University of Winchester in January 2015.

This Month at HP

Sept 3  “Being a Spiritual Wallflower: How Humanistic Pagans can get off the wall and dance” by John Halstead

Sept 5  “Entering the Isle of Birds” by Anna Walther

Sept 7  Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology by Glen Gordon: “The Art of Ceremony”

Sept 10  Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host

Sept 12  Mid-Month Meditation: equinox poem

Sept 14  Musings of a Pagan Mythicist by Maggie Jay Lee

Sept 17  A Pedagogy of Gaia by Bart Everson: “The Other Equinox”

Sept 21  The Wheel of Evolution by Eric Steinhart: Mabon

Sept 22  Autumn equinox (Northern Hemisphere)

Sept 24  Druidry Without Deity by Ryan Cronin: “The emotional sense of the sacred”

Sept 26  “Why I’m Religious but not Spiritual” by Eric Saumur

Sept 28  “The Death of Everything” by Brock Haussamen

Humanistic Paganism Calendar for September

Sept 1  Cosmic Calendar: Sun formed 4.57 bya

Sept 1 (first Monday in September) Labor Day, unofficial end of summer in U.S.

Sept 4  Anniversary of Dettmer v. Landon, Wicca legally recognized as a religion

Sept 6  Tim Zell has his Theagenesis vision in 1970, predating the popularization of James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis

Sept 9  Emerson publishes his essay “Nature” in 1836, unofficial beginning of Transcendentalism

Sept 11  9-11 / Anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks

Sept 13  Defy Superstition Day

Sept 15  International Day of Democracy

Sept 16  Cosmic Calendar: Oldest rocks known on earth date to 4 bya

Sept 21  World Peace Day

Sept 21 Cosmic Calendar: First life emerges (prokaryotes) 3.8 bya

Sept 22  Autumn equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (fall begins in the U.S.) / Neo-Pagan autumn quarter day (Mabon)

Sept 30  Blasphemy Rights Day

“Compassion as Foundation” by DT Strain

August 31, 2014

This essay was originally published at The Spiritual Naturalist Society.

Compassion is under assault in our media, entertainment, and politics. Meanwhile the faceless nature of the internet often encourages even greater levels of meanness and vitriol than would normally occur in human interactions, and this negativity unavoidably spills into other parts of our lives.

Yet, compassion is an essential part of our nature as social animals and moral beings. Thomas Merton wrote that compassion is, “the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things”. Called Rahmah in Islam, compassion is considered a major trait of God, who they call “the merciful and compassionate”. Hinduism has a principle of doing no harm called Ahimsa and their word for compassion is Daya. In Buddhism, you have the notion of wishing a release from suffering in others, called Karuna, and the notion of wishing happiness for others – loving kindness – calledMetta. When asked if cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness is part of their practice, the Buddha replied, ‘no… [it is] all of our practice.” The life of Jesus exemplifies the very essence of compassion to Christians. Judaism lists 13 attributes of compassion and leading Rabbi Hillel the Elder in the 1st Century stated that the whole Torah could be summed up as, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” adding that all the rest is merely commentary on that principle.

This emphasis on compassion as key to a healthy life and happiness is also supported by the latest science in the fields of psychology, sociology, and neurology. Even computer science has discovered the role of forgiveness, empathy, and mercy in its simulation studies of which behavioral rules seem to rise to the top in naturally selective environments. Clearly, compassion is so central to humanity that it has found its way into the great streams of wisdom throughout history and across the globe. All wisdom begins with compassion, all reason requires it, and all healthy discipline serves it. All other principles of natural spirituality – the application of reason, the pursuit of a flourishing life, the function of ethics, and our role in society – spring from this foundation and serve its ends.

Compassion means love, concern, and caring for self, our fellow human beings, and life in general. We recognize that compassion is natural to our healthy development as interconnected social beings. When we nurture our compassion, we live more fulfilled and meaningful lives because we act in accordance with our best nature as human beings.

Compassion includes love and caring for the well-being of everyone, which results in several things. For one, this compassion includes ourselves. When we use compassion it does not imply allowing ourselves to be dominated or abused by others. Caring for everyone also implies that we attempt to have compassion, even for our enemies. Some people who act poorly or heinously may be victims of their own histories and delusions and they suffer greatly for their deeds, even if they do not realize the source of their suffering. When we try to help our enemies improve, we are improved.

Being compassionate means more than speaking the words and simply ‘caring’ within our minds. Compassion is most essentially practiced through action. Good spiritual practice should move individuals to act on their values to a greater degree – whether it is in their interactions with those around them in daily life, or whether this refers to doing good for others.

Many naturalists and their organizations have often focused on reason and rationality as the starting point or foundation. Reason is an important virtue and natural faculty, but it is primarily a tool. The ends for which that tool is used depend on our underlying motivations – and that is where the foundation of a philosophy is to be found. Reason is a means and, alone, cannot establish an ultimate goal or motivation. If compassion is not our motivation for which reason operates, then something else is our motivation, and we must examine this.

Rationality leads to a better understanding of our world, but regardless of what is true or false about reality – the simple fact of our coexistence here and now, and the benefits of compassion here and now, are true. The reason we promote rationality is preciselybecause of its ability to improve the lives of others and ourselves. This reveals that the true foundation of our philosophy is compassion.

But what is the real nature of compassion? Many ideas about what compassion is may include a kind of pathos – a deep suffering that disturbs our ability to have contentment in life. The aim of a non-attachment practice is to disassociate our sense of happiness from the ups and downs of our material circumstances. While empathy and compassion are central to development of a character that makes this possible, we will be no better off if we are likewise drug into deep despair by the ups and downs of the material circumstances of others. This kind of compassion, rather, is an association of others with ourselves, along with a wish to help others just as we act to help ourselves – but without unhealthy attachments, dependencies, clinging, and the suffering that accompanies them.

The Author

Rev. Strain speaks and writes on a wide variety of philosophic concepts and participates in several organizations. His “Humanist Contemplative” group and concept has since helped inspire a similar group at Harvard University. He is former president of the Humanists of Houston (HOH), and has served as vice-chair on the Executive Council of AHA’s Chapter Assembly, on the Education Committee of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center, and as a member of the Stoic Council at New Stoa.DT is a Humanist Minister, certified by the American Humanist Association (AHA) and a Spiritual Naturalist. He is the founder and director of the Spiritual Naturalist Society.

His writing appears in the Houston Chronicle and has been published in magazines, newsletters, and in the AHA national publication “Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism”. He has been a guest speaker on the Philosophy of Religion panel discussion at San Jacinto College, and has appeared on the Houston PBS television program, The Connection, discussing religious belief and non-belief. DT Strain is an enthusiast of Stoicism, Buddhism, and other ancient philosophies; seeking to supplement modern scientific and humanistic values with these practices. His essays and blog can be found at

See DT Strain’s other posts.

“Unitarian Universalism and Paganism” by CrafterYearly

August 27, 2014

I first learned about Unitarian Universalism and Paganism at roughly the same time in my life. I was 16. And I knew, at that point, exactly two Pagan families: one, the family of the woman who mentored me in the Goddess religion; the other, the family of a girl I danced with in a ballet company. The women in both families encouraged me and supported me in my interest in Paganism. They were both strong women with big personalities and full, earthy bodies. And they were both convinced that their religion—our religion—was dangerous and must be kept secret. Or, rather, that bigots and fundamentalists were dangerous, and so we must keep our religion secret in order to stay safe.

One of the women, J., explained to me that in order to keep her family’s religion secret and to protect her children she joined the local Unitarian Universalist church. She said that the UU people welcomed the Pagans into their congregation. And this way, if anyone asked, her kids could say that they were UU church members, rather than Pagans.

And so I got it in my head that Paganism and Unitarian Universalism went together. But that was all I knew about Unitarian Universalism for a long time. It wasn’t until my husband and I were getting married that I even thought about Unitarian Universalism again. We both come from very different spiritual backgrounds. His mother raised him in a fundamentalist Christian church. My first spiritual experiences were with my mentor, B., practicing Paganism in her home, or under the moon outside, or in a stone circle in a large field. Our backgrounds were so different that we had a difficult time finding someone we would both be comfortable with marrying us.

And so we started attending the UU society in Santa Barbara to see if it could work for both of us. I loved it almost instantly. I suppose that I was predisposed to love it, since it was so closely associated with Paganism in my mind. And at the time, I was just beginning to sense that Pagan part of myself reawakening and reemerging. Whatever the reason, I felt like I had found my home in Santa Barbara. I read books about UUism. I attended the services. I joined the congregation and worked as a volunteer mentor for the Religious Education program for teens.

What I love about Unitarian Universalism is its progressiveness, its emphasis on social justice, its religious pluralism, and its strong humanist and Pagan tradition. I love that it’s a religion with no dogma, where people care more about what you do in the world than your source of truth. I love that the sermons are diverse in their topics. I love that the laity also have the opportunity to give sermons. I love its democratic and radical egalitarian spirit.

But it’s not enough for me.

Unitarian Universalism appeals to the intellectual parts of me. As an academic who completed a dissertation in political philosophy, I have a deep-seated need for logical argument and defensible principles. The rational quality of UUism therefore appeals to me. UUism’s progressive activism also appeals to me as a political theorist. So, Unitarian Universalism fits well into my spiritual life because of its compatibility with my professional life.

But I often worry that my philosophical training causes me to unduly privilege the rational over other ways of knowing. To privilege the universal over particular, local knowledges. And UU alone doesn’t discourage those tendencies in me. The humanist tradition is strong in Unitarian Universalism. And for the most part, that’s what appeals to me about the tradition.

And yet…

I feel like I need more than just rationalism and logically, morally defensible principles. I need wonder. I need mysticism. I need to experience my interconnection and oneness with all things in a deep and personal way. And UUism just can’t give me that. It’s simply not built into the experience of attending a UU society. The UU society can give me intelligent lectures and opportunities for social justice work in my community. But it cannot give me the feeling of transcendence. Or, at least is hasn’t yet.

And that’s fine…

Created by 40 members, adults and youth, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greely, CO, over a period of four years under the leadership of artist Judy Meyers. Presented at the Easter service in 1978.

Because I can experience those things through Pagan worship. Paganism expresses my deepest values and commitments in a different way. Through ritual, meditation, and symbols, Paganism allows me to connect to the Earth, the Universe, and life in a deep and meaningful way. It links me to other people, to plants and animals, to all of creation. It opens up the space for me for creative, emotional, intuitive thinking. It’s a balance for all the rational analysis I engage in daily. It is the tradition through which I can have profoundly moving experiences of the interconnectedness of all things (instead of intellectual agreement with the interconnectedness of all things).

Paganism grounds me in the natural world. Unitarian Universalism grounds me in the human, social world. And I am deeply grateful for these two expansive and inclusive traditions.

Both the Pagan community and the UU community are pluralistic communities in which people come together because of overlapping values and common concerns. In neither tradition is there one right way. In neither tradition is there one authoritative book that presumed to answer every moral question that could arise. In both traditions, people in community come together as seekers, listening to each others’ questions and tentative answers without requiring agreement about either the questions to be asked in spiritual seeking, or the answers one must find. Just as there are Goddess worshippers, Wiccans, Druids, Reconstructionists, and Naturalists, and still others in the Pagan community, there are Humanists, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, and still others in the UU community. Each community recognizes multiple potential sources of meaning in human life. And membership in each community has allowed me to honor the plurality I experience in my own life.

The Author

Crafter Yearly earned a PhD in political philosophy and now works as a professor at a teaching institution in the midwest. Her research is in the areas of antiracism, feminism, and social constructivism. She was introduced to Paganism by Wiccans, but has come over time to adopt a purely naturalistic reverence for the Earth and the Universe. She lives her Paganism by celebrating the movements of the sun and the moon, connecting to the cycles of the earth through crafting handmade goods, and connecting to her body through yoga and dance. Crafter Yearly maintains a blog at:

The Centrality of Emotion, Part 2: An Ancient Approach to Modern Science

August 24, 2014

“The Thinker in The Gates of Hell” at the Musée Rodin

How can we bring our emotions into right relationship with reality?

This is a key question today, not only for Naturalistic Pagans, but also Secular Buddhists, Humanistic Jews, and other naturalists. Since we hold science in high esteem, a natural place to begin is academia. However, ask this question to nearly any modern scientist or philosopher, and you won’t get a very coherent response.

Emotion is largely peripheral to modern higher learning. As we saw in Part 1, however, it was central to ancient philosophy. At the same time, ancient philosophy suffers from one major flaw: its theories are rooted in outdated models of the mind and world.

It seems the ancient and modern worlds each hold different parts of the puzzle. So the question becomes: how can we discover a path that makes emotion genuinely central, but which is also rooted in today’s best scientific evidence?

Reviving an Ancient Approach

One way to do this is to bring the two pieces of the puzzle together: apply the ancient approach to emotion to a modern scientific model.

To review quickly from Part 1 of this series, the ancient method can be summarized in three steps:

  1. analyze how emotion arises,
  2. diagnose the point(s) at which influence is possible, and
  3. train yourself in the skills necessary to do this successfully

I see no reason why this method cannot be applied to today’s best models. This post will attempt to do precisely that, taking an ancient approach to modern appraisal theory.

A Modern Model of Emotion: Appraisal Theory

Recent decades have seen significant progress in understanding how emotions arise. Theories are hotly debated, but one of the top contenders is something called appraisal theory. Central to it is the insight that mind and heart are not separate or opposed: rather, they produce emotion together.

1. How Emotion Arises

Here is the theory in its most basic form. When some stimulus is perceived, for example a car that cuts you off in traffic, the mind begins a fast and largely unconscious process of cognitive appraisal. In other words, it determines whether and how the stimulus is relevant to your goals: for example, is the car compromising your goal of safety, or your desire for fair and just sharing of the road?* The result of this appraisal process then initiates a physiological response. For example, you may feel your hands tighten around the steering wheel as your body prepares for fight-or-flight. The sum total of this cognitive and physiological process is felt subjectively as emotion. In this case, it may appear as anger, or more specifically road rage.

Here is a graphic representation of the model:**

Appraisal Theory Model

This model of emotion provides the first step of the ancient approach: 1) analyze how emotion arises. The next step asks us to diagnose the point or points at which influence is possible.

2. How to Influence an Emotion As It Is Arising

The cognitive appraisal described thus far is extremely fast and largely unconscious, which would seem to offer dim prospects for intervening in the process. However, a further insight provides what we are looking for: as the initial process is unfolding, it can trigger secondary appraisals.

Many theorists posit multiple appraisals happening simultaneously through parallel processing. For example, the tightening of your grip on the wheel is itself a stimulus that can catalyze a second appraisal, even before the first is completely finished. In this way, the process feeds back on itself in a rich, multidimensional way that allows us to realize – consciously or unconsciously – what is happening inside us and influence the process in a more fruitful direction. We can, for example, recognize road rage in the making and calm ourselves.

Of course, the problem is we rarely seem to recognize emotions arising that quickly. Often we have to be told by others before we see it: a friend says “why are you raising your voice?” and you shout back “I’m not raising my voice!” If we lack the skills to effectively implement secondary appraisals, we lose the opportunity to take responsibility for our emotions. That’s where the third step of the ancient approach comes in: 3) train yourself in the skills necessary to do this successfully.

3. How to Train for Effective Influencing of Emotions

This last step is perhaps the most neglected by modern science and philosophy. Only very recently, with the slow acceptance of practices like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is academia even beginning to tackle it. In contrast, ancient philosophies offered students a complete toolbox of practices designed precisely for this purpose.

For example, the Stoics practiced oikeiosis, or “appropriation”, in which one broadens one’s circle of concern beyond oneself to include family, community, and eventually all people (these days, we might go further to include the whole ecosystem). Such a broadened perspective modifies appraisals to be relevant beyond one’s own narrow personal goal set, thus influencing the direction in which emotion unfolds. Likewise, Confucian ceremonialism heightens attention to ritual forms and the relationships between participants, so that one’s goals are again broadened beyond narrow personal interests. Incidentally, Pagan ritual can be understood in much the same way as widening one’s goals to integrate nature, community, and mind. In fact, a great many of the practices engaged in by Naturalistic Pagans, Secular Buddhists, Humanistic Jews, and other naturalists, become comprehensible once their relevance to the unfolding of emotion is understood. By broadening one’s perspective, practices like these influence the appraisal process in directions fruitful for a rich and happy emotional life in closer sync with reality.

Before one can apply such broadening practices in actual situations, though, one must first recognize the need to do so. This takes mindfulness, which is perhaps the most foundational and crucial skill of them all. Most ancient philosophies had some form of mindfulness practice, at least implicitly, while some trained explicitly in it, such as Buddhists practicing mindfulness of the breath or Stoics practicing prosoche. Mindfulness is what enables deeper perspective-broadening practices to be implemented in real-life situations. In light of this, academia’s recent recognition of MBSR as a legitimate practice appears a crucial step in the right direction.

Equipped with practices training mindfulness and perspective-broadening, a person can begin to develop the skills necessary to take responsibility for his or her emotional life.

The Ancient and Modern Together

How can we bring our emotions into right relationship with reality? This article has proposed one way to do so, by putting together the two halves of the puzzle. We can integrate the ancient approach to emotion with modern scientific understandings of reality.

Of course, this series has only provided the most schematic of presentations. In the online educational course I am currently developing for the Spiritual Naturalist Society, students will explore these ideas in greater depth and begin implementing them in their daily lives. When the course is ready, it will be publicly available to all. Naturalistic Pagans are invited to look for it soon, hopefully within the next year.

Naturalists of all kinds, Pagan or otherwise, can take full advantage of this powerful approach. Even as we embrace modern science, we need not content ourselves with a solely objective relationship to reality. Nor must we accept philosophical models of mind and world long-since outdated. Instead, we can apply the ancient approach to modern models. In this way, we can discover a path that makes emotion genuinely and appropriately central, while also being rooted in today’s best current scientific evidence.

In short, we can live in right relationship to both objective and subjective reality.

*This process is theorized in terms of appraisal variables. The variable of goal relevance determines the intensity of emotion based on how relevant it is to personal goals. The variable of goal congruence determines whether the resulting emotion will be pleasant or unpleasant based on whether the stimulus helps or hinders goals. Finally, a number of other goals, such as coping potential, agency/blame, and degree of certainty, combine to specify the particular emotion that manifests.
**The model actually gets far more complicated than this, but the finer details can be left to theorists. For our purposes, this representation captures the most essential elements. It is simplified somewhat from that presented by Agnes Moors’ article “Theories of Emotion Causation: A Review”, in the 2010 volume Cognition and Emotion, edited by De Houwer and Hermans.

About B. T. Newberg

B. T. Newberg

B. T. Newberg

B. T. founded in 2011, and served as managing editor till 2013.  His writings on naturalistic spirituality can be found at PatheosPagan Square, the Spiritual Naturalist Society, as well as right here on HP.  Since the year 2000, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  After leaving the Lutheranism of his raising, he experimented with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism.  Currently he combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth.

Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  He also researches the relation between religion, psychology, and evolution at  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea, B. T. Newberg currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and cat.

B. T. currently serves as advising editor for HP.

See B. T. Newberg’s other posts.

“The Centrality of Emotion, Part 1: What Ancient Philosophy Offers Modern Naturalists” by B. T. Newberg

August 23, 2014

“The Scream of Nature” by Edvard Munch

Emotion is central. As much as we naturalists embrace objective science, the reason we do so is for the sake of the subjective. If it were not for the emotional response to nature, community, and the depths of our own minds – in short, the re-enchantment of our world – there would be little point to Naturalistic Paganism at all.

This is something I’ve realized as I’ve been working to create an online educational course for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. In order to make it applicable to all paths of Spiritual Naturalism, not just Pagan ones, I’ve had to drill down into the core of what we do. What I’ve discovered is that emotion is central, but a principled approach to cultivating it is hardly to be found in the science we so cherish. Rather, we must return to ancient philosophy for a model. Part 1 of this article explores this issue, while Part 2 attempts to integrate ancient philosophy and modern science.

A Path of Head and Heart

Whether you are a Naturalistic Pagan or a Secular Buddhist or a Humanistic Jew, at the center of it all is emotion. This has been recognized by leaders in the modern naturalist movement, for example DT Strain and Tom Clark, and no doubt numerous others. What these modern thinkers affirm is that the spiritual response to life involves not only intellectual assent to a set of principles, but also a fully-embodied life practice motivated by emotion. In other words, it is a path of head and heart.

However, despite the obvious importance of emotion to our daily lives and its recognition among spiritual leaders, there is relatively little in modern science or philosophy that has anything to do with it. With few exceptions*, science and philosophy have let the question of a subjectively happy life slide to the periphery. To judge by modern higher learning, emotion is not central at all.

It wasn’t always that way. Ancient philosophy, as scholar Martha Nussbaum observes, was primarily a “therapy of desire.” The central question was how best to live. Happiness, in the sense of a meaningful and worthwhile life, was the goal, and the question was what emotional desires led most directly to that blessed state.

So, if the ancient world had what the modern is missing, perhaps we would do well to take a deeper look at why and how they made emotion central.

Why Emotion Is Central

Philosophers in the ancient world placed emotion at the center. The reason is aptly summarized by the 8th cen. Buddhist Shantideva, who said (to paraphrase): “To keep your foot from being hurt on a stone, you need not cover the world in leather; all you have to do is cover your own two feet.” In other words, if the world is emotionally painful, don’t expect it to change for you; just change yourself.

This sentiment was echoed throughout the ancient world. For example, the Stoics of ancient Greece – far from being emotionless, as the common misconception would have it – believed only those emotions which were in accord with reality were conducive to happiness. You cannot help but suffer if you yearn for what can never be; happiness comes from deep acceptance of how the world actually is. Meanwhile, far away in ancient China, Confucius and Lao-tzu were in complete agreement: we must flow with the Dao, not against it. All these philosophers taught the central insight that happiness comes only from emotional reconciliation to the universe, not as we wish it to be but as it truly is.

So, in short, ancient philosophy’s approach to happiness is to cultivate an emotional life that is in right relationship to reality. Thus, the rationale for the centrality of emotion is clear. As Shantideva reminds us, if the world is painful, you need not wait for the world to change; all you need to do is change yourself.

How Emotion Is Central

Philosophers didn’t just bloviate on emotion; they got their hands dirty. Each school analyzed exactly how it arises in order to discover how best to work with it.

McEvilley details the theories of the various schools, but the general method can be summed up in three simple steps:

  1. analyze how emotions arise
  2. diagnose the point(s) at which influence is possible, and
  3. train yourself in the skills necessary to do this successfully

For example, the Buddha put forth the twelve links of paticca-samuppada, or co-dependent arising, showing how attachment leads to suffering and where the process can be interrupted. Something similar was advanced by the Stoics, detailing how the mind processes an emotional impulse until it reaches a point where one may withhold assent if it is not in accord with reality. Such understandings of the emotional process allowed the philosopher leverage on her own emotions: by understanding how the process occurs, she learned how to influence it in more fruitful directions, thereby taking responsibility for her own emotional life.

From the Ancient World to the Modern

In short, the ancient world had what the modern world is largely missing, namely a workable method for making emotion genuinely central to one’s life path. There is one major problem, however: all of these philosophies are products of their times, drawing on long-outdated models of the mind and world. The Buddha’s paticca-samuppada, for example, includes not only emotion but also karma and rebirth, both of which stick out like a sore thumb to modern naturalists.** Today’s scientific models are far more accurate.

So, it seems the ancient and modern worlds each hold one half of the puzzle: the former has the right approach to the subjective, the latter to the objective.

Is there any way we can bring these two together? Can we apply the ancient approach to the most accurate, up-to-date, evidence-based models of emotion? Part 2 of this series takes up this challenge.

Meanwhile, what’s your take on this idea? Do you think it’s possible to bring the ancient approach to modern scientific models of emotion? Or do you foresee problems?

*The few exceptions include Positive Psychology, which grew out of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which in turn was inspired by ancient Stoic philosophy. Another important exception, which we’ll meet in Part 2, is appraisal theory, one of several modern theories of how emotion arises.
**Of course, this is not always interpreted in a supernatural way. Secular Buddhists tend to interpret these as metaphors, with karma as the straight-forward cause-and-effect consequences of action, and rebirth as the moment-to-moment re-arising of consciousness. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder what a modern paticca samuppada might look like if it started with scientific evidence, rather than being accommodated to it (which is the aim of Part 2 of this article).

About B. T. Newberg

B. T. Newberg

B. T. Newberg

B. T. founded in 2011, and served as managing editor till 2013.  His writings on naturalistic spirituality can be found at PatheosPagan Square, the Spiritual Naturalist Society, as well as right here on HP.  Since the year 2000, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  After leaving the Lutheranism of his raising, he experimented with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism.  Currently he combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth.

Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  He also researches the relation between religion, psychology, and evolution at  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea, B. T. Newberg currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and cat.

B. T. currently serves as advising editor for HP.

See B. T. Newberg’s other posts.

Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1: An Anthology of Articles from the Spiritual Naturalist Society is available for sale!

August 22, 2014

From SNS’s press release:

Spirituality Without the Supernatural? New Book Offers Bold Vision

Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1: An Anthology of Articles from the Spiritual Naturalist Society

Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1: An Anthology of Articles from the Spiritual Naturalist Society

“We are talking about a full and rich spiritual practice inspired by the wisdom from a variety of traditions, philosophies, and religions, as well as a respect for the natural universe as revealed by science.”

For most, the term ‘spirituality’ evokes the supernatural, such as the afterlife, God, prayer, and so on. But some who aren’t believers in those things are, nonetheless, taking spiritual practices head on. A new book gives a sweeping panorama of what practitioners call Spiritual Naturalism. “Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1 is an anthology of articles from the first year of the Spiritual Naturalist Society ( and is available at and Barnes & Noble online.

While many might call them atheists, the organization’s executive director, Daniel Strain, says, “I think you’ll find that most Spiritual Naturalists aren’t like the atheists commonly found in the media and encountered in online forums. Our aim is to be compassionate, mindful, and humble. Our practice involves cultivating these qualities in ourselves.”

But how can there be a spirituality without, well… spirits? Strain explains, “The root of spirituality comes from the Latin ‘spiritus’ which meant wind or breath – the essence of something, so it’s actually a much broader term. It’s like calling all tissue Kleenex or referring to all soft drinks as Coke. The supernatural religions are simply the dominant brand.”

There are still leftover artifacts of that broader meaning in our language today, Strain points out. For example, we still talk about ‘school spirit’ or ‘the spirit of the law’ without meaning anything supernatural. “Therefore, the spirit of a thing is the essence of a thing. For us, spirituality is about the essential things in life, as opposed to the mundane or profane.”

If you believe in God and salvation, then those will be what you find to be ‘the essential’ things. But what about these Spiritual Naturalists? The organization, now in its second year, wanted to make clear they are talking about something much deeper than merely atheists meditating.” Strain says, “We are talking about a full and rich spiritual practice inspired by the wisdom from a variety of traditions, philosophies, and religions, as well as a respect for the natural universe as revealed by science. Naturalistic practices like these have existed in the past, such as with the Stoics who were materialists, and even some schools of Buddhism, as the Buddha specifically discouraged speculation about the supernatural and things beyond our experience, in favor of a more practical approach that sought to address suffering here and now. We want to reunite the natural universe and that sense of the sacred.”

There have been seminal works in religious and spiritual naturalism before, but the Society’s book takes the next steps in applied naturalistic spirituality. Arranged by theme, its articles address how science fits in, advice on practice and ritual, handling tough times, applied issues, and their take on a variety of religions and philosophies. Rather than talk about what not to believe in, Exploring Spiritual Naturalism describes comprehensive life paths for flourishing. As Strain puts it, “These practices are nothing less than a path to freedom from fear and the bonds of circumstance as a condition for happiness.”

Readers can get the book at these links:

Call for Papers: “Life and Death”

August 22, 2014

“Death and the Maiden” by PJ Lynch

Our new semi-seasonal theme begins with the fall equinox, September 23.  Our early fall theme will be “Life and Death”.  What does “life” mean to Naturalistic Pagans?  And what role does an awareness of death play in our spirituality as Naturalistic Pagans?  Send your submissions to humanisticpaganism [at] gmail [dot] com by September 23.



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