The Essay

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.
This is a somewhat new kind of religion.

I am a deeply religious person. For those who know me, that may come as a shock. I didn’t even know myself until earlier this year, when my friend David explained religion’s etymology. Religion has been pigeonholed as something it is not, something far less useful than it could actually be.

To theists, religion represents an organized faith, a dedicated following of God and his prophets. To atheists, it has become anathema to science. If we return to the origins of the word, however, we find that it has a deeper meaning.

As David told me, to relig (as a verb, from the Latin: re- “again,” and -ligare “connect”), means to connect again. To reconnect to something greater; something whole outside oneself. We can relig with other human beings, becoming an integral part of a community. We can relig with nature, and the universe at large. Of course, we can also relig with God, whatever we take that word to mean. Religion is the process of reconnecting. Finding meaning and comfort in something larger than oneself. To be religious is to strive to reconnect.

Unfortunately, true religion, reconnection, is rare. We live in a world that has been rent asunder. On the Earth, we see ourselves apart from nature. In the world today, it is us versus them. Science and faith are now violently opposed. Our lives are full of broken connections.

We often disconnect to protect ourselves. Connections make us vulnerable to pain. If we could hear the death cry of every species, our lives would be too painful to live. If we felt deeply connected to those in Darfur, we would cry ourselves to sleep every night. Science may be truth, but there’s comfort in faith. Disconnecting allows the illusion of both.

Our generation has many challenges to face, and underlying each is a broken connection: between belief and truth, or between opposing beliefs. By disconnecting, we become indifferent. If we are not of nature, why care about the Earth? If they are not of our kind, why care for their plight? If science and faith cannot be reconciled, we feel compelled to pick one, and shut out the other.

Something is going to have to change. For while we think we are disconnecting, we are becoming more connected. Whatever you believe is the ultimate force: God, the Way, or the laws of ecology, it’s increasingly clear that we are all connected. We are all on this journey together: we, they, and every living thing. Interdependence has been declared.

Each generation has an overarching duty, that Thomas Berry once called its “Great Work.” Abolition, women’s suffrage, and the defeat of fascism; these are among the Great Works of the past. Our Great Work is one of religion: of reconnection and reconciliation.

To reconnect, we will need to rethink. To challenge our most fundamental assumptions, about what we know, and how we know it. All fields of thought will need to be connected, to approach consilience, the unity of knowledge. Economics must reconnect with ecology. The faiths must reconnect with each other, and with science. You and I must reconnect, with the whole of humanity, and life on Earth.

Wherever you have come from, and wherever you are going, devote yourself to reconnection. Heal, sustain, and build relationships. Dedicate yourself to bridging disciplines; search for truth wherever it lies. Through religion, reconnection, we can renew the world.

May our common journey bless us all.