When God Is Gone Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist


In what he describes as a "late-life credo," renowned science writer Chet Raymo narrates his half-century journey from the traditional Catholicism of his youth to his present perspective as a "Catholic agnostic." As a scientist, Raymo holds to the skepticism that accepts only verifiable answers, but as a "religious naturalist," he never ceases his pursuit of "the beautiful and terrible mystery that soaks creation." Raymo assembles a stunning array of scientists, philosophers, mystics, and poets who help him ...

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In what he describes as a "late-life credo," renowned science writer Chet Raymo narrates his half-century journey from the traditional Catholicism of his youth to his present perspective as a "Catholic agnostic." As a scientist, Raymo holds to the skepticism that accepts only verifiable answers, but as a "religious naturalist," he never ceases his pursuit of "the beautiful and terrible mystery that soaks creation." Raymo assembles a stunning array of scientists, philosophers, mystics, and poets who help him discover "glimmers of the Absolute in every particular." Whether exploring the connection of the human body to the stars or the meaning of prayer of the heart, these challenging reflections will cause believers and agnostics alike to pause and pay attention.

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Editorial Reviews

Spirituality & Practice
Chet Raymo's weekly column "Science Musings" appeared in the Boston Globe for 20 years and is now online at www.sciencemusings.com. He is Professor Emeritus at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts, and author of 12 books including Natural Prayers. In this rigorous and wonder-filled paperback, Raymo describes his "late-life credo," which is a mystical brand of Catholicism. As an elder, he confesses that "faith no longer matters to me so much as attention, wonder, celebration, praise."
In this approach, Raymo takes a cue from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest who loved the natural world and saw it shot through with "the grandeur of God." As a religious naturalist, the author delves into the mystery of the universe and finds "glimmers of the Absolute in every particular." He states that "I don't know" may be science's most important contribution to human civilization. But even though this appreciation of mystery is also the realm of the mystics, the war between science and religion continues. Raymo makes reference to the attacks on religion by what he calls "militant slash-and-burn" atheists. Instead of turning to these God-debunkers or to God-clingers, the author relishes the religious naturalism of the Dominican friar Meister Eckhart.
He concludes that any religion worthy of humankind's future will be ecumenical, ecological, and embrace the scientific story of the world as the most reliable cosmology. He might also have added to the mix the spiritual practice of wonder. When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy beckons us to wonder in the presence of an enchanted universe infused with mystery.
—Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Library Journal

Raymo (professor emeritus, Stonehill Coll.; Honey from Stone), a former science columnist, is one of the most articulate and subtly elegant contemporary writers on science and spirit. Here, he offers a new kind of spirituality in the light of empirical science, writing candidly of his Catholic upbringing and his current agnosticism, poised "in the portal between knowledge and mystery, between the commonplace and the divine." He draws on sources ranging from Sigrid Undest to Saint-Exupéry to depict a wonder-filled religious naturalism. In an environment characterized by the strident antireligionism of such writers as Christopher Hitchens, Raymo's eloquence should win many readers. Highly recommended.

—Graham Christian
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933495132
  • Publisher: Ave Maria Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Pages: 148
  • Sales rank: 579,097
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Mr. Blue Redux: An Introduction     1
Like Shining from Shook Foil     7
Ancient Mother of the World     15
On Saying "I Don't Know"     25
The Sea Into Which All Rivers Flow     37
Wielding Ockham's Razor     49
Prayer of the Heart     65
The Body Balks Account     73
Connected All the Way Down     87
When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy     101
What Then of God?     113
The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces     127
The Modesty of Truth     137
Notes     143
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2008

    'I love the whole smoky, sexy, physicality of Catholicism'

    Author Chet Raymo was baptized a Roman Catholic Christian and raised by believing parents. He did undergraduate and graduate studies at Notre Dame University. He made a long teaching career at two Catholic universities. Yet long ago he abandoned core beliefs of Christianity, starting with the return to life of Jesus after his crucifixion, what Cardinal Avery Dulles calls 'the Jesus event' in history. The professor now styles himself a 'Catholic agnostic,' having moved his mind downstairs to a doctrinal basement which selectively adds traditional elements of morality and liturgy to a natural man-made religion of his own and others' devising. *** Like John Henry Newman's APOLOGIA PRO VITA SUA, Chet Raymo's WHEN GOD IS GONE EVERYTHING IS HOLY tells the story of the development of his own mind. Briefly, Raymo tried hard to be both a good orthodox Catholic and a scientist or teacher of science and was tortured by too much cognitive dissonance. He could not find an overarching vision or synthesis allowing him to practice both revealed religion and empirical science. One or the other had to depart from his psyche. He chose to excise, via an intellectual technique known as Ockham's razor, his old revealed Christian religion. He might have rejected religion root and branch altogether, as have many scientists. Instead he created one of his own, drawing on the poetic insights of dozens of persons cited in his text from pre-Socratic Heraclitus to Coleridge to Sigrid Undset. *** His new personal religion, styled 'Catholic agnosticism,' picks and chooses from what is left after Ockham's razor has done its work. Thus, 'I love the whole smoky, sexy, physicality of Catholicism' -- p. 21. What he has discarded includes 'the shabby panoply of miracles and the supernatural ... of traditional faith' -- p. 22. No God, no ultimate reality based on anthropomorphic projects of intellect, will, love, caring and personhood. *** Professor Raymo now believes that 'The point of religion ... is to celebrate the unfathomable mystery of creation' -- p. 4. This mystery comes to us through our senses and is grasped by a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkins, an anthropologist philosopher such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and by Nobel Prize winning novelist Sigrid Undset. Raymo's religion focuses on the perceptible, the concrete and the ordinary. It does not expect to find God making dramatic miraculous incursions into history. *** Raymo does not come across as either an original or a profound thinker. To religious believers he is mainly salient for his masterly way of speaking an important language which many of them have not learned. Raymo calls it 'the language of the scientific agnostic' -- p. 141. Science, of course, has its other languages in addition, as do technology, politics, the law, and other disciplined ways of approaching the world. *** In his seminal 1971, reissued 1982, THE SURVIVAL OF DOGMA, Cardinal Avery Dulles foresaw a world in which ever more very intelligent, caring people would create a Babel of new languages triumphantly celebrating the canons of experimental science and technology. These new men would have no patience for older tongues or ways of thinking, nor should they. Dulles predicted that sincere religious searchers among them would find simply incomprehensible religious structures and rites whose thought categories and words lagged hundreds of years behind other vital dimensions of human experience and growth in phenomenology, sociology, peace techniques, astronomy and on and on. *** Professor Raymo is a fair example of what Father Dulles foretold. Chet Raymo is no longer sure that he has a soul, but Avery Dulles is sure that he does. And that the burden is on Dulles and other believers to learn Raymo's particular 'newspeak' and make the case to the souls of Raymo and others in their own languages for an old-time revealed religion based on 'the Jesus event.' Some people, not unreasonbly in D

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