[The Dionysian Naturalist] “Enchanting Naturalism, Part 2” by Wayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D.

Continued from Part 1.

Enchanted Naturalism

As a form of naturalism, “enchanted naturalism” continues to be grounded in scientific discovery and empirical observation of the real world.  Yet, it is committed to contributing to a meaningful dialogue between religion and science and to their potential rapprochement.  Enchanted naturalism is open to spiritual interpretation.  It infuses a mythopoetic language of reference into the scientific evidence it employs, and it seeks to transcend the objective and materialist answers with subjective, archetypal, and metaphysical concerns.  Regarding this world as holy and alive (as “vibrant matter”), it highlights our spiritual connections to the cosmos.  Anima mundi — the soul of the world — becomes revived.

I think that a key question becomes whether we can enhance these spiritual elements in our worldview without falling into the traps of childlike sentimentality, superstitious beliefs, or primitivist nostalgia.

Enchanted naturalism does not support the return to superstition and pseudoscience.  It is an acknowledgement of the central role of religion in human affairs and meaning-making, and our human need to distinguish that which is sacred from that which is profane.  Enchanted naturalism returns mystery and majesty to the natural world (where they have always already existed).  The world cannot be fully understood, nor is it as predictable as was once thought.  Research into quantum mechanics places uncertainty at the heart of cosmic evolution.

The dominant perspective informing scientific research and scholarship is disenchanted naturalism.  It observes the world through a detached objective perspective.  It has no interest in softening its cosmology to mesh with any religious sensibility.  Any notion of mystery or wonder has been removed from its approach to the natural world.  The consequences of this way of thinking about nature have been near ecological collapse.  Thinking about nature as inert matter for us humans to use has led to ecological exploitation and environmental destruction.  To “save our planet” we must re-sacralize our natural world.  No people who truly revere nature would allow it to be destroyed.  Thus, enchanting naturalism is essential to the survival of life on this planet.

Rather than seeing a world that has become totally disenchanted, there seems to be agreement that humans possess a nascent awareness and appreciation of life as sacred which needs to be articulated and encouraged.  Mircea Eliade, the great historian of religion, observed that our sense of the sacred has, in a sense, gone underground into our private lives.  Sacrality lives on in our unconscious and imaginative life and can be re-activated through myth. Others see a contested terrain in which the forces of disenchantment are countered by resistant forces of enchantment.

The feeling of enchantment is like being under the influence of a magical spell — one is lost in mystery and feels joy and security.  These are non-rational experiences in which ego deflates and cosmic consciousness spreads outward.  We feel at one with the Universe, a deep sense of kinship with all life around us, and a powerful sense of belonging.  These intimate bonds with the world around us inform an emergent ethic of caring in which all life is respected.  An ecological consciousness encourages us to take responsibility for how we live.

In enchanting naturalism we open it up to dialogue with religious traditions.  To that end I have proclaimed our Universe to be a “sacred living system”.  This conceptualization allows for enchantment to emerge.  I believe that a sacred life energy flows through everything, animate and inanimate.

Enchanted naturalism retains the concern for being informed by the latest scientific discoveries, but opens up space for transcendent sensibilities, cosmic consciousness, and mystical awareness.  As stated, anima mundi — the soul of the world — has been revived.  Through acts of enchantment we can overcome our alienation from the natural world and again feel the magic of a spring morning, a shooting star on a warm summer night, or the majesty of a snow-capped mountain.

To change from a disenchanted to a enchanted naturalism one need only acknowledge that one is in the presence of the sacred.  We must open ourselves to “the Other” in all its diverse forms.  We must open our awareness to dimensions of reality we often miss. We engage with the mystery of the Universe with ways of knowing that integrate imagination, aesthetic sensibility, and spiritual intuition.

Modernity is still able to enchant.  Extraordinary goings-on intrude on the mundane and familiar, transfixing us with their singular novelty, leading us to feel alive and re-charged.  The enchantment we experience may ward off the existential resentment that plagues us.  An enchanted naturalism both pushes against the Western tradition that makes enchantment depend upon a Divine will and launches an assault on scientific reductionism.  The natural world is redefined outside the confines of mechanistic and teleological metaphysics and matter is not defined as passive nor inactive.

Existence consecrates itself in ecstasy.  Out of the primordial singularity we call the Big Bang, a sacred life force pushes forward celebrating its own transformation.  Everything that is, both animate and inanimate, emerges from this sacred common origin, whose very purpose is to multiply forms of sacredness.  Every entity has it place and its purpose in our cosmos and finds its origin in this great flaring of energy.  This makes us kin with all that exists.  A deep sense of belonging provides us with ample reasons to protect our planet.  The road from hydrogen to human that constitutes cosmic evolution has been a long one.  Through us the Universe is finally becoming capable of reflecting upon its own journey.  What an amazing story!!!

An “enchanted naturalism” holds that natural science does not have all the answers to the nature of reality and much remains a mystery.  It sees that the Universe’s purpose is to manifest sacredness and humanity’s purpose is to be the Universe reflecting upon its own journey.  This incredible journey evokes wonder from all who hear it and is the root enchantment out of which all other enchantments emerge.  These feelings of enchantment can motivate us to find sustainable ways of living and to forge a global ethic of caring.

About the Author

lSslgGSWayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D. is a Santa Barbara-based social justice activist, writer, and educator who uses spiritual practices to create a better world.  Specifically, Wayne is very active in helping our neighbors of the streets transition into permanent housing and environmental issues.  He has taught at the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley campus of the University of California, Ventura College, the Fielding Graduate University and Antioch University Santa Barbara.

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