At the center of the “religion” question for me is the challenge of reductionist science and the “new atheists” that derive their vision and energy from it. I am referring to Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins among others, who are material reductionists. They reduce everything to matter as it appears in its most primitive forms, which are studied by physics and chemistry. These men share a strident antipathy toward religion, which predictably has earned them the sobriquet, atheist. But just as to be anti-religion is not necessarily to be atheist … so too, to be materialist is not necessarily to deny the existence of a transcendent material dynamism in the universe, the source of our human selves and our sense of the sacred. I am a materialist, but this is where the reductionists and I part company. They deny any such dynamism. I am speaking of material energy as the very mystery of existence itself that displays a depth and significance that deserves to be explored on its own terms. For I claim matter’s energy is, very simply, the energy to exist. The implications of that statement are transcendent. They explain our experience, our world, and everything in it.
What the anti-religion people rightly denounce is the fantasy that there is another world different from this one, built of a different kind of existence, that explains and controls what goes on here and of which religion has infallible knowledge. I agree with their denunciation, totally. There is no other world. I can easily understand why they fulminate against the religions whose rival claims to the “truth” about that non-existent world have been used to justify some of the worst intra-species violence that humankind has unleashed upon itself. But that is not all. The “atheists” rightly excoriate religions for explaining disasters, from earthquakes to genocidal holocausts, as events consciously “permitted” by a supposedly loving personal “God” — who resides in that other world — who could prevent these horrors if “he” wanted, but inexplicably chooses not to. The fact that believers are not fazed by such patent absurdity, reveals the extremes to which people will go to preserve their illusions. Religionists who claim to eschew “naïve” providence, for their part, insist that “God” absolutely respects the natural order. But these same people are loath to explain the so-called miracles that are adduced as proof of their own religion’s unique status with “God,” and the encouragement they give their members to ask this “God” for a wide range of favors that by-pass the natural order. They can deny it all they want, but miracles are, in fact, the very stock-in-trade of the western religious enterprise. Religion built on this kind of “God” is called “theism.”
The “God” characterized by theist theology is a “God” of intervention and miracles, a hovering micro-managing providence, a “person” who saves us from the very same death that his own alleged intentional design of the universe is said to have created. The real “God,” I submit, does none of these things, as we may have noticed, and therefore is not the kind of “God” characterized by theism. In the real world, theism is simply not credible. I am not a theist.
I take my stand with science. It is the one and only arbiter of the “facts.”
There are no physical “facts” known to religion that cannot be observed and verified by science, but that doesn’t eliminate religion. There is nothing supernatural, but that doesn’t eliminate the sacred. There is no other world, but that doesn’t eradicate the unfathomable depths of this one. There are no miracles of any kind and never were, but that doesn’t deny matter’s self-transcending creativity. There is no “revelation,” but that doesn’t mean we do not intimately understand who we are and how we are related to existence. And the anthropomorphic humanoid “God” that all the religions of the book claim literally “intervernes in human history,” simply does not exist, … but that doesn’t mean there is no “God.”
The “God” that actually does exist, is the self-donating, self-extruding source and matrix of the material energy responsible for the existence and character of this universe, exactly as it functions and exactly as we see it with our telescopes and mircroscopes and endoscopes and exactly as we describe it with our mathematical measurements.
It bears emphasizing that, even in the perennial categories developed by our own tradition, the “divine” characteristics of matter’s existential energy — existence — are staring us in the face. Material energy is neither created nor destroyed, thus approximating the esse in se subsistens which is the classic scholastic “definition” of “God;” it is the universal matrix in which all things “live and move and have their being” which was exactly Paul’s characterization of “God” that he gave at the Areopagus in Athens; it is responsible for the existence of every form and function in the universe which was the whole point of the Genesis account of creation; it has displayed a self-transcending creativity whereby new things — including living and intelligent things — emerge from a seemingly limitless potential, the sharing of its very “self,” which evokes a kenosis (self-emptying) acknowledged as the unmistakable hallmark of divinity. And, most important of all, the “things” that emerge from and remain immersed in this matrix universally display a conatus — a blind drive for endless existence — that reveals the interior dynamism that they receive from their existential source. All things bear a striking resemblance to what they are made of. They are its image and likeness.
All things have but one interest and one goal, derived from one energy with one self-explanatory purpose — esse, “to be,” to exist.
Traditional theistic religion, by insisting, as it does, on a metaphysically separate “spirit,” cannot accompany us into the world that The Mystery of Matter reveals; and those who think they can simply “tweak” our perennial religious terminology to make it fit, risk sliding us back into an illusory dualism by the back door, and our last state would be worse than the first. Let me be clear: matter’s existential energy is not “spirit,” it is matter. A superficial attempt at a semantic syncretism — taking “energy” as “spirit” — would belie the scientific reality and it would have us continue to maintain two contrary worlds with their corresponding concepts to which we would have recourse as the needs demanded. It is a dysfunctional practice we have employed in the West for 500 years at least … and we are schizoid because of it! Our new unitary vision is better off, perhaps, not being contaminated with any association with traditional theism, and especially the “G” word.
The “G” word, of course, is “God.” I use it reluctantly, fully aware that even the quotation marks cannot eradicate the permanent scar of humanoid theism it carries. Our vision offers a new ground for understanding this amazing universe and our unsuppressible sense of the sacred … and it opens the door to religion in a new key: one that plumbs the depths of this world and ourselves as its progeny, rather than trying to blast us at escape velocity out into another.
The mystery that I speak of does not refer to an enigma to be solved, but rather, in the sense of the Greek word mysterion, “the place where the numinous resides, and reveals itself.” With this perspective the material universe becomes the sacred ground from which religion emerges and in which it remains rooted and draws its life. Such a religion will not look to another world for explanations, nor will it direct us there for “salvation” or our ultimate destiny. If it “saves” us at all it will be by healing the schizoid notions that up to now have split us asunder — body from soul, person from person, individual from community, humankind from the earth.
 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Penguin, 2007; Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Haughten Mifflin, Boston, 2006
 Esse in se subsistens, “Self-subsistent being.” cf Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologíae, Prima pars, q.3 ff, passim.
 The Acts of the Apostles, ch 17
 Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 1998
 The Mystery of Matter, IED press, 2010, preface. Mysterion is traditionally translated into Latin as sacramentum.