NATURAL by Alan Levinovitz


How Faith in Nature's Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science
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A religious scholar warns against nature worship in all its forms in this examination of the belief that natural products are always superior and that natural laws correctly dictate human behavior.

Levinovitz, who teaches religious studies at James Madison University, believes that “nature” and “natural” have mistakenly become synonyms for “God” and “holy.” Accordingly, consumers today often think that whatever is promoted as natural automatically has positive values for one’s health and for the environment. But nature’s goodness should not be taken on faith. “Unlearning the orthodoxies of nature worship,” writes the author, “will be liberating—and not just from the guilt of feeding our children the occasional non-organic snack. It will allow us to seek complicated truths instead of being tied to mythic binaries.” Levinovitz tackles an array of subjects—e.g., natural childbirth, artificial flavorings, the close-to-nature lifestyle of early humans, natural healing, women in sports, and social Darwinism—and usually offers helpful examples to provide context. He quotes pointedly, but when advancing his own arguments, he doesn’t mince words. Levinovitz assails Deepak Chopra for his involvement with Wellness Real Estate, whose multimillion-dollar condos promise to align the buyer with nature’s intended rhythms; Gwyneth Paltrow for her expensive lifestyle brand, Goop; and Whole Foods Market for its “uniting claims about material quality and ethical quality under the rubric of what’s natural.” Indeed, shopping at Whole Foods transforms into “consecrated consumption, in which the ritual of shopping becomes a kind of spiritualized retail therapy dedicated to nature.” The author also examines myths about violations of so-called natural law, among them homosexuality and interracial sex, which have been regarded as having deleterious effects on society and hence have been legislated against; and the Catholic Church’s controversial stances regarding birth control and reproduction. In Levinovitz’s view, the core problem is the confirmed certainty about the goodness of nature when in fact, “our relationship to nature is paradoxical and uncertain.”

A useful stepping-off point for a relevant topic that will require further study and debate.

Pub Date: April 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-8070-1087-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2020