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When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist Hardcover – September 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


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, Library Journal, October 1, 2008

Chet Raymo's weekly column "Science Musings" appeared in the Boston Globe for 20 years and is now online at 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,, October, 2008

From the Back Cover

Chet Raymo has enriched and graced our lives with this wonderfulbook, steeped in wisdom, warmth, and clarity. A classic.
Ursula Goodenough
Author of The Sacred Depths of Nature

Piercing, funny, brilliant, transcendent, angry, eloquent. One of the nation's finest naturalists and writers pours out his heart on the roaring prayer of Everything That Is and the idiocy of arguing over labels and possession of that which is beyond our ken but not our celebration and singing, which is what Raymo does with stunning power and passion.
Brian Doyle
Author of The Wet Engine

This is a magnificent book, but not one for the faint of heart. In an age of militant atheists and strident believers, Chet Raymo dares to stand, where mystics and philosophers have always stood, in the place of mystery.
Douglas Burton-Christie, PhD
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Raymo reminds us that human consciousness is plenty big enough to accommodate both science and a sense of the holy.
Nancy Mairs
Author of A Dynamic God

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 148 pages
  • Publisher: Sorin Books (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933495138
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933495132
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on August 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chet Raymo's newest book, When God Is Gone, Everything is Holy, follows in the tradition of reflective nature writers like Lewis Thomas and, more recently, Ursula Goodenough. Although repetitious in places, perhaps because at least some of the book reproduces previously published essays, the style is for the most part gracefully fluid and even in places poetic. Such skill is only to be expected from an author who quotes and clearly loves poets: Hopkins, Williams, Wordsworth, Whitman, Kazantzakis.

Raymo defends what he calls religious naturalism, and sometimes calls himself a Catholic agnostic. He long ago dropped the personal theism in which he was raised, but his life-long immersion in science has convinced him that nature is far greater than the human mind will ever encompass, and that the incredible beauty and complexity and mystery of the cosmos properly elicits from us responses of wonderment, reverence, gratitude, and celebration. The 100 trillion neuronal connections in the human brain; the genetically determined flight of a humming bird; the infinite spaces of a starry night that can exhilarate and terrify: these kind of phenomena, explored by science, rather than dusty and arcane tales of miracles, are the stuff of Raymo's religion.

Throughout the book runs a constant encouragement for us to cultivate simple awareness of the realness of things, an awareness of what poet Hopkins called the "inscape." In one of his most enigmatic and yet revelatory poems--one quoted by Raymo--William Carlos Williams reminds us of the basic truth that "so much depends" on our being able to really "see" the simple things of life like red wheel barrows glazed with rain water.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jim TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Some of the material in the 13 chapters of When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy was adapted from essays that originally appeared in Notre Dame Magazine, and the 1st chapter is adapted from an essay that originally appeared in Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality (misspelled in Raymo's book as "Spritus"). When God Is Gone is a short book at 148 pages, but it is packed with pithy insights into what it means to apprehend the world in a way that reveals mystery and sacredness without supernaturalism.

While many readers of When God Is Gone will no doubt reject Raymo's rejection of supernaturalism, they may appreciate that Raymo's tone, unlike that of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, is neither condescending nor "militantly atheistic" (as Raymo describes Dawkins).

Is it possible to be religious (or spiritual) without believing in a personal creator God? Is it possible to be a "Catholic agnostic"? Is it possible to believe that no such things as immaterial souls exist and that "[w]e are, for better or worse, thinking meat" without losing the very humanity that enables one to experience life as sacred? And as Raymo asks, "If petitionary prayer is ineffectual, is there any sense in which an agnostic might pray?" I think Raymo shows that a worldview informed by science is perfectly compatible with a worldview that is imbued with a robust sense of holiness.

In his endorsement of When God Is Gone, professional skeptic Michael Shermer calls Raymo's book "remarkably thoughtful and balanced," and indeed it is. Raymo remarks that Dawkins and Harris "go at religion like B-movie slashers armed with Ockham's razor, and by the time they are finished there is not much left but the gory shreds of miracles and superstitions. ...
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alton R. Jenkins on August 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a religious naturalist who grew up in a Southern Baptist church I often ponder how such a great change in one's worldview could come about. In his wonderful little book, When God Is Gone Everything Is Holy, The Making of a Religious Naturalist, Chet Raymo reflects on a similar change in his life, from a very religious Roman Catholic reared in the South to a religious naturalist who calls himself a "Catholic agnostic". His journey is remarkably similar to my own, even to the same names of those in our pantheons from which we have garnered much: poets Gerard Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver, early Christian thinkers Pelagius and Meister Eckhart, scientists Charles Darwin and Ursula Goodenough. Common also is the urgency to make our experiences of the material world, of nature, consonant with our spiritual understandings.

Raymo traces his development as a religious naturalist in beautiful words that only an experienced and talented writer can muster. His sense of mystery found in the cosmos and his love of science allow him to confirm that it is okay to say, "I don't know." Yet this sense of mystery is what makes living worthwhile:

"The prayer of the heart is not garrulous. It listens in silence, expectant. If, as so many of the mystics said, the creation is the primary revelation, then it is when we listen to what is that we hear the voice of God."

This book is a must read by all who "hear the voice of God" in nature and are awed by what it tells.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Q-fever VINE VOICE on September 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first couple of chapters were slow-going for me, especially when he was discussing the works of artists, authors, and poets. I'm sure Gerard Manley Hopkins was talented and highly regarded but I just wasn't getting into it. The book later improves as he begins to describe how one can be an unbeliever yet deeply "religious". He beautifully expresses the awe, reverence, and humility he feels "in the face of a mystery that transcends empirical knowing...." (p 104). Unfortunately, he does this repetitively, quoting the same authors and using the same examples chapter after chapter. But he does drive home what it means to be a "religious naturalist" and its rich pedigree. In the end, I was left with a better understanding of religious naturalism, but what I missed was "why". Sure, now I can see that someone *could* be religious but not believe in god, but to what end? By Raymos' own account, although he stopped believing in god he still *felt* religious. It's as though he replaced one object of worship with something else (well, *everything* else). He rationalizes his position by stating that humans have an evolutionary need to "celebrate the unfathomable mystery of creation". But why cling to *any* part of our "tribal inheritance". Because we feel as though we need to? Whether our desire to be religious stems from early childhood indoctrination, evolution, or both, I say let's forsake the entirety of the "worship culture" of our forbears. Why? Because I think that there is an inherent danger in finding *anything* holy or sacred. History has shown that what people see as sacred they also see as immutable. This is antithetical to science.Read more ›
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