What Naturalism Means to Me by Ryan Cronin

With the new year, we are starting a new series called, “What Naturalism Means to Me”.  It is an opportunity for our readers, like you, to share what Naturalism means fto you.  We are looking for essays between 1000-3000 words.  Send your submissions to humanisticpaganism[at]gmail[dot]com.


When I first saw the call for submissions from Humanistic Paganism on this theme, I intended to write something philosophical; something about the role of Naturalism within a Pagan sensibility and the difference between a Naturalistic ecological understanding of the Sacred and a traditionally theistic one. But I realised, that doesn’t answer the question. It could explain what Naturalism means, but not what Naturalism means to me.

What does Naturalism mean to me? It means I have the right to exist. 

The strict religion of my childhood taught me that I was unworthy. As such, I must always put myself last in any situation – to do otherwise was to be selfish and prideful. I was to be meek and mild. Keep my head down, don’t ask questions, and always obey those above me.

Naturalism refutes this. There is in nature no great chain of being, with many at the bottom predestined to obey the few at the top. Those images of evolution-as-progress with man as the end state, that grace t-shirts aplenty, are wrong. We are not at the top, there is no top. Humans are a species of ape, one species in an ecosystem, one branch on the great twisting, multiform, varied tree of life, together with the other apes, other mammals, birds, fish, trees, bacteria and slime moulds. 

We are not special.

Some may look at this as a bleak worldview, but to me it is starkly liberating. Consider the flip side: if we are no more special than any other life on earth, then we have exactly as much right to exist as any other life on earth. 

We are, all of us, equal. Human and other-than-human alike. We are children of the earth and stars, forged through billions of years of evolution, fragments of the universe made conscious for a brief window of time. We exist. We are here. 

Naturalism means that I have a right to be here, to take up space, to live and grow and thrive, just as the squirrels in my garden do, or the silver birch at the end of the street, or the river winding its way through town; or the other 7 billion people of all ethnicities, religions, sexualities, genders and nations. 

And those rights don’t come from a hierarchy, or a government, or a god. They come from that which I consider truly Sacred – from Nature itself.

Of course, Naturalism presupposes limits to those rights: a species that destroys its ecosystem will not survive long, as we are swiftly finding out. And those rights are embedded in a relational nexus along with the rights of other humans, animals, plants and the earth itself. As Pagans, as Naturalists, we honour those relationships in our practices, both ritualistic and everyday. Deepening an awareness of our place in the cosmos allows us to see the bigger picture, to recognise those connections and relationships and navigate them with compassion, reason and honour.

But at its core, what Naturalism means to me is simple. I have a right to exist. And so do you.

About the Author

Ryan Cronin is a Pagan, an animist, and a Druid Apprentice studying with Druid College UK. He has an MA in religious studies specialising in the psychology of religious belief, and has been stumbling along a Druid path for around 7 years or so. He works as a university librarian, and can generally be found walking in his local woods, or hiding at home with a good book and a cup of strong tea. Ryan blogs at www.endlesserring.wordpress.com  

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3 Comments on “What Naturalism Means to Me by Ryan Cronin

  1. Reblogged this on Endless Erring and commented:

    A while ago, I responded to a call from Humanistic Paganism for posts on the theme “what does naturalism mean to me?”. My piece was published yesterday! While you’re there, check out the other writing on the HP blog, there are so many great contributors there that always give me plenty to think about.

  2. If I were to respond to What Narturalism means to me, it would be a less eloquent version of this.

    When my son was a toddler, I would tell him that all beings have gifts: Bees have mastered communication, cheetahs have speed, humans can build things. But one is not superior to another overall.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head there! That really is the key, isn’t it? Knowing that we are all here, we all deserve to be here and we all have our unique place in the greater ecosystem.

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