Musings of a Pagan Mythicist, by Maggie Jay Lee: “Michael Dowd and Religion 3.0”

I would like to share with you a video by Michael Dowd titled “Religion 3.0: Inspiring Science, Realistic Hope”. Michael Dowd is a naturalistic Christian and the author of Thank God for Evolution. He and his wife and collaborator Connie Barlow have been traveling around North America spreading the good news of evolution since 2002. This video is a guest sermon he gave at Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Prescott, Arizona on April 13, 2014. It really sums up some of my own core beliefs and values.

Dowd’s religion 3.0 is not a new religion, but a new way of understanding, validating and drawing forth new meaning from religious traditions. It is a religious orientation, grounded not in the authority of elders or written scriptures, but in our best evidentiary understanding of reality as collectively interpreted. It is a religious orientation, deeply engaged with the revelations of science, with what it means to be part of an evolving 13.8 billion year Universe.

Dowd lists six things that make up his personal religious credo, his what, why and where of religion, which I think will resonate with most naturalistic pagans.

Michael Dowd’s religious credo:

(1) Reality is my God;

(2) Evidence is my scripture;

(3) Big History is my creation story;

(4) Ecology is my theology;

(5) Integrity is my salvation;

(6) Ensuring a just and healthy future is my mission.

Doing Religion 3.0 requires that we seek to understand and strive to be in right relationship with Reality, with the World as it really is. Dowd list three important aspects of Reality: Nature, Time and Mystery. I really like that he includes Mystery. Mystery is that part of reality that we are unaware of, that we may never be aware of, or as Dowd says “all that we don’t even know that we don’t know”. Without an acknowledgement of Mystery, there can be no reverence, and without reverence, religion is hollow.

Although science does offer us our best understanding of Reality, getting in right relationship with Reality requires more than the acquisition of knowledge. I believe it is rather something that grows out of cultivating the right attitude, the right way of being in the World. According to Dowd, to be in right relationship we must cultivate what Martin Buber called an I‐Thou, rather than an I‐It, relationship with Reality.

“Humanity has been out of right relationship with Reality because we have related to Nature, Time and Mystery not as Divine; so we have been treating Nature as an It to be exploited and used by us, rather than a Thou to be related to in an honorable, respectful way. Martin Buber, the famous Jewish theologian, wrote a book called I and Thou, and what he said was that, if you treat any person or aspect of Nature as an It to be exploited and used by you, rather than a Thou to be related to in an honorable, respectful way, then the Divine is not present, God is not present.” ‐ Michael Dowd, “Religion 3.0: Inspiring Science, Realistic Hope” video, at 7:05

Relating to Nature, Time and Mystery as a Thou requires extending the sense that we feel in our selves, that sense of being fully alive, to the world around us, so that the World is not a dead thing, but a living presence. To do this is to personify the World, even if only subtly. Sacred personification is not a false romantic pretense put on Nature, but is rather a metaphor which points to that which cannot be stated explicitly without a loss of meaning. Sacred personification is the heart of all religions, including version 3.0.

Thomas Berry said that: “We will never enter a just, healthy, and life sustaining future on the resources of the existing religious traditions, and we cannot get there without them.” (as quoted by Dowd, at 14:04). I believe we humans still need religion, maybe more than ever, but we need a different sort of religion from what has come before. We need religion 3.0 and Naturalistic Paganism is a part of this religious revolution.

The Author

M. J. Lee
In addition to writing the Musings of a Pagan Mythicist column here at HumanisticPaganism, Maggie Jay Lee is interested in growing a new religious culture grounded in the everyday shared world and the public revelations of science, that celebrates our relationship with Cosmos, Earth and each other, and strives to bring us into right relationship with the Nature inside and outside of us. She draws inspiration from modern cosmology, evolutionary psychology, and the myths and wisdom traditions of ancient Hellas. M. Jay is a member of the Universal Pantheists Society and the Spiritual Naturalist Society, and she has studied with Glenys Livingston author of PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. She celebrates the creative unfolding of Gaia in west Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, two dogs and cat.

4 Comments on “Musings of a Pagan Mythicist, by Maggie Jay Lee: “Michael Dowd and Religion 3.0”

  1. I love that you highlight Michael Dowd. I think he is one of the most important movers and shakers in naturalism today.

    How could we rephrase his credo in Pagan terms?

    How about this, for example:

    (1) Reality is my pantheon;

    (2) Evidence is my oracle;

    (3) Big History is my mythology;

    (4) Ecology is my tradition;

    (5) Integrity is my ritual;

    (6) Ensuring a just and healthy future is my offering.

    I’m sure there are better ways to do this. Thoughts, anyone?

    • I love this B.T. I especially like the first, third, and last.

      The only one that doesn’t really resonate with me is “integrity is our ritual”, since I think ritual per se is an important part of NP.

      We recite a similar creed at my UU congregation:

      “Love is the doctrine of this church.
      The quest for truth is its sacrament.
      And service is its prayer.”

      I’d like to post this as a post of its own and draw additional comments if that’s okay.


  2. B.T., I like your idea. Your first two work for me, but the others seem to lose some of their potency. I’d rather say Big History is my cosmology, but I’ll have to give the rest some thought.

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