Buddhism, Taoism & Religious Naturalism

Because of their non-theistic nature, Buddhism and Taoism are unique among the world’s religions in that they can be practiced without belief in the supernatural. Some have termed this approach as religious naturalism:

Religious naturalism is a type of naturalism. Hence we start with naturalism. This
is a set of beliefs and attitudes that focuses on this world. On the negative side it
involves the assertion that there seems to be no ontologically distinct and
superior realm (such as God, soul or heaven) to ground, explain, or give meaning
to this world. 

On the positive side it affirms that attention should be focused on
the events and processes of this world to provide what degree of explanation and
meaning are possible to this life. While this world is not self-sufficient in the
sense of providing by itself all of the meaning that we would like, it is sufficient in
the sense of providing enough meaning for us to cope. 

Religious naturalism is a set of beliefs and attitudes that affirm that there are
religious aspects of this world which can be understood within a naturalistic
framework. There are some happenings or processes in our experience which
elicit responses which can appropriately be called religious. These experiences
and responses are similar enough to those nurtured by the paradigm cases of
religion that they may be called religious without stretching the word beyond

Charles Milligan, life-long student of American religious naturalism,
puts it, by religious naturalism “I take to be any naturalistic world view or
philosophy in which religious thought, values and commitments hold an important
and not merely incidental part. Or perhaps more simply, where religious
discourse plays an integral role." 

Charley Hardwick, whose Events of Grace is a recent naturalistic theology,
utilizes a similar approach. Drawing on the philosopher Rem Edwards, he finds
four basic features in naturalism.
These are: (1) that only the world of nature is real; (2) that nature is
necessary in the sense of requiring no sufficient reason beyond itself to
account either for its origin or ontological ground; (3) that nature as a
whole may be understood without appeal to any kind of intelligence or
purposive agent; and, (4) that all causes are natural causes so that every
natural event is itself a product of other natural events.


The experience of enlightenment in Buddhism and Taoism is realizing the interconnectedness of all things, that our small self is not separate or distinct from the Whole. Such an experience need not be supernatural in character.