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The Spiritual Naturalist Society: An interview with DT Strain

April 15, 2012
SNS website

SNS website

This week Humanist minister  DT Strain gives us the inside scoop on a new organization forming for Spiritual Naturalists.

B. T. Newberg:  First off, what is the SNS, and why should readers of Humanistic Paganism care?

DT Strain:  The Spiritual Naturalist Society is a new organization that will be filling an important role. While the roots of Spiritual Naturalism are old, a new spiritual naturalism is rising and coming into being everywhere.

This calls for a concerted effort to fill a new niche and support this emerging philosophy and way of life. The Society will cross traditional boundaries and pigeonholes because naturalists today are coming from, and growing within, a multitude of traditions, faiths, and philosophic backgrounds.

The Society’s mission is to spread awareness of spiritual naturalist thought and practice, and help bring spiritual naturalists together for mutual learning, growth, encouragement, and fellowship.

Humanistic Pagans are the perfect example of the naturalist end of the spectrum arising in all traditions, which should justify a high degree of interest in the Society. All of us need the humanistic and naturalistic Pagans to contribute their valuable experience and perspectives, and they will likewise benefit by having a voice in this community and movement.

BTN:  What’s the story behind the SNS?  What led you to this project?

DTS:  I was raised in a Christian home, later became an atheist, and then a Humanist. Today I am a Humanist minister and have served in secular and Humanist organizations, including as president of the Humanists of Houston.

My writing over the past eight years began as an effort to help develop Humanism further, bringing to it some of the remarkable wisdom I found exploring philosophy, especially ancient philosophy from the West and East – wisdom and practices that didn’t call on me to accept supernaturalism. In particular, I added Stoicism and Buddhism to my Humanism, and have found many other like-minded writers and readers. I call this project The Humanist Contemplative and there have been a few such local groups spring up around the country since.

Over this time, I repeatedly came across elements of naturalism arising in other faiths and traditions beyond my own. I learned about the naturalistic Buddhists at a local temple, whose beliefs could be described in Stephen Batchelor’s “Buddhism Without Beliefs.” With sites like yours, naturalist takes on Paganism are arising as well. There is even a naturalistic streak coming in from Christianity, as described in Lloyd Geering’s “Christianity without God“.

In these experiences a general picture began to emerge for me that all of these communities, and more, are gravitating toward a concept of a spirituality (in some form) which is fully compatible with a naturalistic worldview. The need and role for the SNS seemed obvious at that point and, after a couple of years in consideration and planning, it is finally coming to fruition.

In my ‘day job’ I have over 15 years of experience as Director of Marketing for national corporations, international non-profit organizations, and smaller businesses and organizations, so my intention is to put that experience to use in a practical way to help the Society and it’s mission.

BTN:  If the SNS had a motto or battle cry, what might it be?

DTS:  Helping people find happiness through compassion, reason, and practice.

BTN:  What can members expect to get out of the SNS?  And how can they give back to it?

DTS:  There are definitely some neat things we have planned for members, but the most central reason to be a member of the Society is the opportunity to support and contribute to the growth of Spiritual Naturalism and its knowledge and awareness.

That is ultimately about bringing people together and helping them find happiness in their lives. When you consider that this includes spreading practices that cultivate compassion, ethics, and other values, then members can rest assured knowing they are contributing to the most foundational of good causes – you might call it the ‘root operating system’ of our society and our lives, which affects literally every other issue on the planet.

For someone passionate about this exciting frontier, that opportunity alone would easily justify the modest dues of $8 per month. But in addition to this, members also get a number of other benefits. This will include access to a special area of our website with a growing database of materials and resources.

Access to our member forums is also included. We hope these forums will be not only a place of fellowship, but also a think tank and a forge out of which the community can make progress sharing wisdom, thoughts, and ideas.

We have a number of people that will be getting involved that will occasionally have special events for members, such as online lectures or discussions, and more. And then there are some tertiary benefits such as a membership pin, discounts in the SNS store, and so on.

BTN:  When will the SNS be open for biz?

DTS:  The best answer I can give to that is “soon!”

Right now, we’re asking all interested people can go to www.spiritualnaturalistsociety.org and enter their email address to receive updates. They can also join our Facebook page from there.

A number of the foundational elements are in place. The incorporation has been completed and we’re in the process of getting the 501(c)3 tax exempt status.

Simultaneously we’ve been filling out the basic content and materials which will be available online. The website is nearly completed, but the member functions will be next.

Another exciting element is the current building of our Advisory Board, where we will have a number of knowledgeable people from different backgrounds whose work reflects the values of the Society. These folks will not only offer advice on the direction of the organization, but will be invited to contribute materials and other features for members.

All of these things are coming together, not as quickly as we’d all like, but we’re moving there steadily. I would hope we could launch in the next month or so, but even after launch, more features and member benefits will continue to be added – not to mention the Society’s blog, which will become an ongoing news and educational resource for spiritual naturalism.

BTN:  Finally, if you had to sum up in just one sentence the philosophy behind the SNS, what would it be?

DTS:  As more people seek a spiritual practice that is consistent with the modern scientific understanding of the natural world, new institutions will be needed that cut across familiar labels to promote these sources of wisdom and provide community

- and that is the purpose of the Spiritual Naturalist Society.

The interviewee

DT Strain
DT Strain is a Humanist Minister, certified by the American Humanist Association (AHA) and a Spiritual Naturalist. 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.
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 www.HumanistContemplative.org.
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14 Comments
  1. Glen "Fishbowl" Gordon permalink
    April 15, 2012 7:14 pm

    I am rather excited about the Spiritual Naturalist Society. I do have some questions for DT. I consider myself a religious naturalist and a religious humanist and happen long time Unitarian Universalist. I do not want to muddy things with a debate of semantics, but I am curious about somethings. Why the term spiritual naturalism as opposed to religious naturalism. Do you feel there is a significant difference between the two or do you feel the terminology a mater of preference?

    Secondly, Me and some UU’s at my local church are looking at forming a group of Religious Naturalists. SNS fits in-line with the goals and motivations of said group. Will SNS offer some structure for local groups to form and run as local chapters of SNS. If so, what kind of structure and support would SNS offer? This group is open to the idea of affiliation with SNS if such an options s available. Would there be a group membership vs individual membership options?

    • April 19, 2012 6:26 pm

      >Why the term spiritual naturalism as opposed to religious naturalism. Do you feel there is a significant difference between the two or do you feel the terminology a mater of preference?

      Hi Glen. I see DT addresses the meaning of “spirituality” here:

      http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/index.php/about-us/what-is-spiritual-naturalism

      And a bit on “religion” here:

      http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/index.php/about-us/about-the-society

    • April 19, 2012 7:13 pm

      Hi Glen,

      Thanks for the comment. I think both terms are fine and each have their strengths, but I suppose it will come down to each individual’s perception of those terms. Here is a bit of language that will be on our site, which may help to clarify further…

      ===========
      Are We A Religion?

      People have many different definitions of ‘religion’ and think of the word in different ways. For some, Spiritual Naturalism is a religion because of its inclusion of ritual and practices that have been associated with other religions before. In fact, some prefer the term Religious Naturalism and they are equally welcomed members. For others, Spiritual Naturalism is not a religion, but a philosophy, because it has no supernatural or faith-based aspects. The official position of the Spiritual Naturalist Society is that it is up to each individual to decide for themselves whether to call (or not call) their views or themselves ‘religious’, ‘spiritual’, ‘philosophic’, or otherwise.

      • April 20, 2012 2:28 pm

        Thanks for the response, DT. I find the distinction between religious/spiritual rather semantic, but find the motivation of peoples choice of words interesting and revealing. I’ve red the links BT provided and am impressed with the clarity of your vision and mission. Which brings me to my second question. Might there be a group affiliation program in the near future? Because, our group would be interested in participating.

        • May 10, 2012 3:00 pm

          Hi Glen,

          Yes, actually we will be creating a page soon featuring ‘partner organizations’ and will be reaching out to like-minded orgs with overlapping missions. This partnership will, at minimum, be in the form of mutual moral support and link exchanges, but may hopefully involve other joint projects as the groups deem desirable and feasible.

          Thanks again for the kind words!

  2. April 17, 2012 8:30 pm

    This looks very promising, I look forward to watching it grow.

  3. April 19, 2012 6:22 pm

    The SNS is now live here:

    http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/

    I found the Resources section especially interesting.

Trackbacks

  1. Interview: what we can expect from SNS soon! | The Spiritual Naturalist Society
  2. Upcoming work « Humanistic Paganism
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