Welcome to ‘aweism,’ the nonreligious impulse you can’t explain

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Phil Zuckerman photo by Flora Elliott Zuckerman

Phil Zuckerman photo by Flora Elliott Zuckerman

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(RNS) "Secular people don’t believe in anything supernatural, but that doesn’t render us sterile souls," Phil Zuckerman said. "But because religion has constructed the language with which we describe existential wonder, it is almost like that is not our territory. But it most certainly is."


  • Joe DeCaro

    ” ‘aweism,’ the nonreligious impulse you can’t explain”?

    Perhaps someone can explain why the Religious News Service has more to do with the nonreligious than the religious?

  • Tom Flynn

    Joe, it might be because the growth of the “nones” and the nonreligious is one of the biggest religion stories of the decade. Just a thought.

  • Thanks for introducing me to Zuckerman’s work. My vocabulary has been limited in attempting to describe spirituality or spiritual experience outside of a faith context. Too often, religious people can only define spiritual experience in relationship to a belief in God. However, I content that spirituality is a foundational dimension of human experience. Belief in a deity is one way to understand and organize spirituality and spiritual experience, but it is not the only way.

  • thecla

    What is ‘organized religion’ if not the machinery for producing awe? Of course it isn’t the only way to get it. You can get it through the experience of art and of nature, and through other experiences. But church is another way of getting the experience—more reliably, with less effort. Anyway, the more ways we have to get the buzz, the better.

    So what’s the problem? Believe what you please, behave as you will, and use church as the machinery to produce that experience. That’s what church is for. Church produces that experience.

  • Larry

    “What is ‘organized religion’ if not the machinery for producing awe?”

    1. A method of forging a group identity through arbitrary and capricious distinctions from other faiths and sects.

    2. A way to avoid awe by following the lazy, non-contemplative, boring answer “God did it”

  • samuel Johnston

    In his autobiography, Darwin describes similar feelings upon encountering the Amazon jungle. In his old age, he remarks that he still has those feelings, but he no longer attributes them to religious belief.

  • Karla

    Lou Kavar-It doesn’t matter how spiritual people are if they aren’t Biblical they
    are still lost and are headed for hell. Read Romans 1:18-32 and Psalm 14:1.
    Bible is clear that Jesus is the Messiah and the only way to heaven!

  • Thecla

    Wow! looks like this email address has been blocked too.

  • Thecla

    OK, not blocked. Yes, evangelicalism is that and I have no sympathy for that style of religiousity. But mainline churches do provide the metaphysical thrills, though liturgy, and don’t get down on other religions, or people who aren’t religious believers. And don’t give the lazy answer ‘God did it.’ Please let’s be fair: liberal, mainline churches provide wonderful spooky thrilling stuff and don’t make any demands. They cater for educated upper middle class people.

  • Zuckerman said,
    “….religion has constructed the language with which we describe existential wonder, it is almost like that is not our territory. But it most certainly is. It is there. We just haven’t owned it …and I am trying to do that.”

    A very noble project!
    I’m sure he will succeed.

    As an Atheist who jettisoned religion rather late in life, it has been a joy to erase Godly viewpoints and discover the full range of what life has to offer. I feel like a kid again.

    Secularism has so much more to offer than the narrow, rotting ideas in churches.

    I just ordered my copy of “Living the Secular Life” and
    I’m looking forward to reading it.

  • Kirk Taylor

    Max you and me both! But I’m heading to my local bookstore for my copy.
    I like the phrase “jettisoned religion”, btw. It is a conscious act, and one that is like letting go of unnecessary weight.

  • Frank

    Of course it’s God they just don’t realize it. Sad.

  • samuel Johnston

    “Of course it’s God they just don’t realize it. Sad.”
    How do you know that? Do not quote the Bible, just me how it is that YOU know?
    Do you have any honor or honesty left in you at all? Has it all been removed by brainwashing? Admit that you are just repeating what you have heard – or explain yourself! I am calling you out!

  • The Great God Pan

    Calling out Frank is like calling out a fortune cookie. The cookie has already told you everything it knows and you’re not going to get anything else out of it.

  • samuel Johnston

    I know, I just lost my temper. At least I feel better.

  • Frank

    The truth to a foolish person can be upsetting.

  • Larry

    But once in a while you get the occasional fortune, “Help, I am trapped in a cookie factory” or some of these:

  • Mirth

    Karla, you are the lost one, if you think all of God’s will can fit inside of one biblical quotation.

    Instead of gravely lecturing others about their lostness, better tend to your own soul.

  • Karla

    Mirth-That’s why we all need to Repent and read all of the Bible not
    just part of it. Bible says to Repent or perish so we all must Repent!
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved. We must Repent!
    Read Luke 13 whole chapter also 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 whole chapters.
    Thank you for the feedback. I hope you read all the Bible/follow Jesus.

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  • Rick Spencer

    Karla… Yes, the New Testament in the Bible does indeed state that. However, it was compiled about 20 centuries ago! Contemporary, enlightened, thinking is very different to that of the communities so very long ago. Anyway, what is the point of eternal life in ‘a’ heaven? I would be happy to know that my energy (‘soul’) will be transformed into a star in the outer universe! Love and light… Rick