Every day is Earth Day for humanists and naturalists. But there’s no time like springtime to celebrate the earth and reflect on our relationship to the natural world. Especially here in Minnesota. The long-awaited changes from increased daylight and warmer temperatures are becoming more apparent every passing day. Minnesota’s springtime rebirth brings an awareness and vitality to life that borders on the therapeutic. Mindful observation of this cyclical change easily leads one to the philosophy of naturalism and a deeper connection to the earth itself.
This “cycle of life” concept of change and time runs deep through many non-Western cultures, but also resonates with me (and my “Nordic” mind) and increasingly with those who have left theism—or at the very least –monotheism behind. Humans are indeed an integral part of the natural world—not above or apart from it--and are dependent on its processes and rhythms for our survival. At its core, this “cycle of life” mentality is an evidence- based approach to reality. Every day—not just on official “Earth Day” – we can practice naturalism by recognizing our relationship to specific geographic ecosystems and how human activity is affecting their various interdependencies and cycles.
Fortunately, civil society has been reasonably pro-active in establishing some protected “nature centers” throughout the country where we can learn from trained “naturalists” and experience the flora and fauna of specific ecosystems. Troubling, however, is that we too often comport ourselves as if human existence and our social systems are somehow separate from our biological kin that we “visit” at these special locations. Indeed we need to re-frame our thinking about the planet as one giant nature center that needs to be as well-tended and protected as those environments we set apart. As we try to do on Earth Day. But then go on to live like every day is Earth Day.
Cycle-of-life processes and seasonal changes observable within the human lifespan, however, function within a larger evolutionary framework that also informs a naturalist worldview. Time and change are on a one-way trajectory for all intents and purposes when viewed within the context of our solar system and galaxy. Of course, on a “universal” scale there yet may be cosmic cycles and time travel to be discovered. But here on the planet, evolution continues with ever increasing speed as humans intentionally and irreversibly participate in changing the biological world, even our own species, and the social and technological systems we’ve created. It’s a disconcerting thought, but since we have yet to decipher any divine force to save us from ourselves or cosmic destruction I embrace the possibilities we might have within a naturalist worldview.
In fact, humans are evolving characters in a cosmic story, “Big History,” shaped by scientific laws, natural selection, human consciousness and collective learning. We have agency like no other creatures on earth. And that is why I meld my naturalism with humanism. Humanism encompasses a holistic worldview wherein we, as rational creatures, commit to the ethical project of creating lives worth living, seeking the well-being of all and maintaining the sustainability of the planet.
Humanism is not an idolatry of the human mind or species, but the recognition that we are the ones who make our lives matter, determine what is valuable in the world we inhabit and give meaning to our existence. In the past, religion served these purposes. But in a multi-cultural and interconnected world, religion has outlived its usefulness. Humanism--with its pursuit of global ethics and the universally accessible epistemology and experience of naturalism--offers a better way to make sense of life on the planet. Thus every day becomes earth day--our day—to treasure the world and keep it habitable for all.