[Levinovitz's] book feels like a series of essays — thoughtful, engaging forays into realms where the idea of the natural is most abused. It is remarkably wide-ranging. Levinovitz considers childbirth, hunter-gatherer societies, bears and wolves in Yellowstone Park, alternative medicine, 'wellness' brands such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, nature-based metaphors for economic systems, and doping and sex segregation in elite sport ... What knits all this together is his insight, as an American scholar of ethics and religion, that our faith in the power of nature is exactly that: a faith. ... but the book does much more than sneer and scoff — and this is what makes it interesting. Levinovitz is a convert; not to the cult of nature, but at least to respecting its value as a sort of religion ... It is a nuanced conclusion typical of a subtle and serious book.
Levinovitz cautions against pursuing moral answers in nature’s mirror ... Levinovitz gallops through many examples of the natural-equals-goodness association, from bitcoin enthusiasts to bodybuilders. His concluding call is to embrace an idea of nature that is less steadfast and monotheistic – one founded on the admission of 'philosophical confusion', where the criteria for goodness depends on context. This is a useful corrective to lazy thinking.
...a concise and imaginative exploration of the ways that people use and abuse the idea of the natural: sometimes sensibly, to be sure, but more often sloppily or even cynically in order to feel better about themselves, justify their actions and beliefs, or make a quick buck ... One wishes that Mr. Levinovitz had applied his ample learning a bit more systematically to the thorny question of when we’re most justified—health care, perhaps?—in resorting to what is natural as a guide to living. As it is, he provides a reasonable generic answer, which is that there are no hard and fast rules—that living in proper relation to what is natural involves endless compromise, ambiguity and paradox. And what, after all, could be more natural than that?
Levinovitz provides a reflective account of how his own attitude toward 'naturalness' changed through the journey of writing the book. Although he was initially skeptical about the use of the word, he came to recognize its importance as he unpacked the different values that people ascribe to it. The take-home message? Rather than dismissing 'natural' altogether, we should strive to acknowledge and explore its many facets, depending on the context. In this sense, Levinovitz’s book is an important call for more nuance over simplicity, for compromise over dogmatism, and for embracing uncertainty over certainty.
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 ... A useful stepping-off point for a relevant topic that will require further study and debate.
Levinovitz, professor of religion at James Madison University, makes a nuanced plea for a more informed relationship with the natural world in this evocative, convincing work ... Rich with interviews, anecdotes, and citations, Levinovitz’s work makes a strong case for the wisdom of compromise and humility. While Levinovitz is more articulate about what he’s against than what he’s for, he argues that 'passionate activism is completely compatible with acknowledging complexity and ambiguity.' It may seem paradoxical indeed, but this argument for removing 'natural' from the altar of absolute good will certainly start conversations, particularly among naturalists and environmentalists