in defense of pantheism

This post responds to the issues raised in the post, "Pantheism: it's like Atheism by James Cameron" at Mitch Sullivan's blog, "the big A Word".

The main monotheistic religions hold that deity is transcendent, stands outside of time and space, separate and distinct from creation and the various parts of creation, material, immaterial and otherwise. How can God be outside the world, and omnipresent in it? Beats me! Please let me know if you find out.

There are many versions of pantheism. Crudely and simplistically it's a belief structure in which deity is believed to be "immanent" in time and space; "indwelling" zir own creation including all parts, so that deity is believed to be present in me, you, that rock over there, the planet, etc. But more than present, more than being inside or within, deity comprises creation, is you, me etc. And vice versa: that you are, I am, the girl next door is deity. So that deity is not merely inside or within, deity identifies as creation. Deity is creation and creation is deity. The two are one.

Now to respond to the specifics. I believe the article makes a number of assumptions, as follows:

1. "People have the urge to worship"
SOME people have the urge to worship, not all. Nor is it even correct to say that all deists have the urge to worship. There's no cosmic law that says, if you have deity you've got to have worship too. I, for one, practise a spirituality in which worship is absolutely NOT required. But if you really, really have to have worship, then the immanence of deity would mean that anyone and everyone could be the object of worship. But I for one choose to dispense with worship, as discussed in attributes of my preferred deity.

2. "Basically, these are the folk who have rejected the idea of a personal god"
Pantheism does not preclude the possibility of a personal god, (or as I prefer to say "personal relationship with deity"). It's true that many pantheists are unable and/or unwilling to follow their belief systems to the logical conclusion, and therefore wistfully and reluctantly (but wrongly) dismiss the possibility of a personal relationship with deity. However, that reluctant dismissal does not mean there is an inherent quality in pantheism that precludes a personal relationship with deity. All it means is that some people have arrived at a conclusion that may not be correct for all people.

3. "they've removed the supernatural elements"
In similar vein to the above, there is nothing in Pantheism that specifically and/or explicitly precludes so-called "supernatural elements". Many pantheists can and do incorporate supernatural elements in their belief systems. In pantheism, there are no "wrong" beliefs---no heresy, no excommunication. One of the best bits in pantheism is that there are no priests telling you what you should or should not believe, or telling you that you are believing in the wrong way, or in the wrong things. A pantheist may practise a form of pantheism in which supernatural elements are excluded. Or a form in which supernatural elements are included. There is no law or injunction or concept in pantheism that says "thou shalt have no supernatural elements!" In pantheism, if you want 'em in, have 'em in! If you want 'em out, have 'em out! Whatever tickles your fancy. It's all good.

{And by the way, what is a supernatural element? Are they not simply elements which currently are not understood (but which in the future may very well be)? As Arthur C Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". There is no such thing as the supernatural. Everything is natural, including those things which we currently don't understand. To digress, in similar vein there are no "natural" vs "unnatural" chemicals. All chemicals are natural including those made by humans.)

4. "If not at the feet of a god, we are subservient to nature"
The major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) in their own holy books say that God made nature subservient to humankind and granted humankind "dominion" over nature.

5. "time they would otherwise have spent praying 'meditating', 'emoting'..."
See point 1 above. Pantheism does not involve or demand worship, prayer, meditation or emoting. Doesn't rule those activities out, but doesn't rule them in either. It is an unwarranted and unsupported assumption that all forms of deity inevitably involve or demand worship, as discussed in attributes of my preferred deity. In similar vein, the statement "Most people want something to bow down to," is also an unwarranted assumption.

6. "There is something within us that demands that we place ourselves at the bottom of the ladder"
Who says? Speak for yourself. I'm not aware of anything in me that demands I place myself at the bottom of the ladder. Or at the top of the ladder. In fact, there is only a ladder in the minds of people who believe there is a ladder. There is nothing in pantheism that demands an adherent must place zirself at a particular link on the great chain of being.

What is the purpose of pantheism? Must pantheism have a purpose? I don't agree that belief structures MUST necessarily have a purpose, must be driven by teleological imperatives. But in any event, all belief structures including pantheism do in fact offer their adherents a valuable teleology that facilitates a richer, more satisfying life experience. So, what is the purpose of any belief structure, including pantheism?

Answer: the provision of meaning and purpose. The purpose of any belief structure is to provide believers purpose and meaning. I spent many years believing that I'm just a walking sack of meat. And was very unhappy in that belief, although I didn't know why at the time. When I located and implemented a belief structure that suited and continues to suit me, I felt and continue to feel happier, better, more alive, and that my life has meaning and purpose.

Now, don't get me wrong: Perhaps it's all an illusion. Perhaps beliefs in the numinous provide a false or a fake sense of meaning and purpose. Perhaps it's all just endorphins released by the brain. Perhaps. Tell you what, though, illusion or not, it sure as hell works! Recent research projects have mapped brain-changes that occur in deep meditation. I guess for some people it's reassuring to know there's a materialist, reductionist "explanation" of meditation. Of course, the existence of an "explanation" neither validates nor invalidates the practice itself.

I think that many of the problems besetting human culture today --- including accelerating trends among young people of self-mutilation, suicide, substance abuse, violent crime etc --- are caused by a lack of meaning and purpose.

Now a snapshot of the style of pantheism I practise:

I believe that I am part of everything.

Everything is a big word, so much so that I've had to invent a term for it: Everything That Is (ETI). ETI includes material and immaterial things, past present and future things, definite and possible things.

I believe that ETI is alive and intelligent (ETI definitely contains parts that are alive --- us). But, you might argue, how can a lump of rock or a cloud of gas be intelligent or aware? Clearly, you say, they can't. Therefore, you argue, ETI is NOT alive, aware, intelligent. The rebuttal to your argument is based on gestalt psychology, ie, in terms of the groups of parts comprising the whole: My foot is not smart, but that doesn't mean I'm not smart). I believe that ETI is aware, learning, growing (big bang, expansion of the universe) and is interested in what happens to its parts (namely us, among many other things). The James Havelock concept of Gaia is relevant here.

ETI does not require worship. ETI does not require "people" to believe in it. (I prefer to use the phrase, "believe that" as opposed to "believe in" as in unidentified flying opinions. No sin. No guilt. No laws. No commandments. No heaven. No hell. No wrath. No withering a tree that does not fruit out of season. No tests of faith: No demands that you sacrifice your first born son.

ETI lays down no commandments. ETI does not demand obedience. In fact, because ETI encompasses all values, ETI is values-free, ie, does not favour or promote good over evil, right over wrong, correct over incorrect. or vice versa.

ETI is independent of context. Because ETI encompasses all contexts, ETI is context-independent, as described in banquet for bacteria. There are local contexts, but no absolute or universal contexts, (other than everything itself --- the biggest context of all).

Pantheism is not inimical to religious or scientific thought and concepts. There is nothing in pantheism that excludes, precludes, denies or prohibits non-theistic thinking of the reductionist or the holist kinds. Pantheism is quite happy and comfortable to incorporate the idea that the "birth" of this thing we call "the universe" took place via the mechanism called "the Big Bang" some 14 billion years ago.

In fact, the Big Bang is ETI breathing out. When the pull of gravity becomes enough to slow, then halt, then reverse the expansion of the universe, the Big Crunch will get underway. The Big Bang/Big Crunch cycle is the breathing of ETI, or the heartbeat of God, if you prefer, or the reincarnation cycle of God, if you prefer. Metaphorically speaking. As all language statements are, to a greater or lesser degree.


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Gregory Sams said...

I tried to email this but it bounced back:

I enjoyed your comprehensive piece on pantheism, and the open nature of your ongoing search.

It prompts me to let you know about my recent book, Sun of gOd, the only one in print that addresses the idea of solar consciousness in a modern light. I think you would like it, describing, as it does, a universe filled with intelligence and design that has no need for an Intelligent Designer.

The book provides a structural underpinning for viewing the Universe as a living bottom-up construct, functioning as does our brain, with no central controller telling which neurons to link with which.

As the recent review in Resurgence magazine, by David Jay Brown, put it:
"Simply one of the wisest, most lucid and most thoughtfully written books that I have ever encountered on integrating spirituality with science and other disciplines."

If you are interested in reading the book, I could suggest my publishers send you a copy.

Best regards,

masterymistery said...

Hi Greg, thanks for your comment. "Sun of God" sounds very interesting. I'll certainly look out for it. As you and I realise, there is nothing in principle prohibiting a framework in which all belief structures, including science, can be reconciled and live together happily ever after.

Love the way you put it in your comment: "...the Universe as a living bottom-up construct..." And also, the part about there being " central controller..." in the brain/mind. You've probably read Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained.

I'm currently looking at the emergence of solar consciousness as the patriarchal revolution that overthrew the neolithic matriarchal belief structures centered on the Goddess.

This issue is explored in Joseph Campbell's four volume series on mythology, the Masks of God. Well worth looking at.


Alice Audrey said...

I really like the indwelling creation concept. As to worship - it's a lot of fun, but I think a lot of people simply forget to do it.

masterymistery said...

Hi Alice, agree with you about worship. I just think it should be optional not mandatory. I would be reluctant to embrace a belief structure demanding or even requiring worship. Thanks for your comment, Cheers.

Tom & Icy said...

An omni present is a gift for the person who wants to have been there--done that.

Brian Miller said...

interesting article...trying to wrap my head around your definition of worship. if worship is purely a response, no response is required? curious, as if nothing is required then is it even really a belief? which in and of itself is an act of worship...

masterymistery said...

Tom, your gnomic pronouncements always bring a smile to my face. Thanks for your comment.

masterymistery said...

Hi Brian, I think that worship can take many forms aside from getting on your knees and praying. But whatever the form of worship, speaking personally, I'll pass.

I've located /selected / created / developed a cosmology in which matters of faith and belief are totally at the behest of the adherent. That is, in which worship is not compulsory, nor are there any commandments or even guidelines on how to live life.

I identify with deity that doesn't tell me what to do, lays down no commandments, doesn't need to be worshipped, doesn't threaten me with punishment, is never wrathful, and doesn't need or want interpreters (ie priests!).

So, yes, for me nothing is required. Deity does not require or ask for a response, just loves me no matter what.

It's similar in some ways to friendship, or love: A friend/lover you enjoy being with. A friend/lover you can ask advice from. A friend/lover whose tastes and interests in some but not all respects are similar to your own. A friend/lover who doesn't demand anything of you. A friend/lover who knows you very well and would never use that knowledge to harm you.

I think there is an implied question in your comment: that if nothing is required then what is it all FOR? What is the purpose? The answer is: no purpose. Why must it have a purpose?

There is no clear purpose to the relationships I have with my friends. And when I am at the point of making a new friend, I don't ask (or care) what the purpose of that relationship should be, or is, or will be.

(Although, now that I come to think of it, there is at least one purpose inherent in my belief system: and that is to make me feel good, happy, satisfied, etc. And it achieves that purpose. )

Your point about belief being an act of worship is correct, but doesn't change anything for me. I approach it in terms of cost/benefit analysis.

I find value / benefit in my cosmology. And to obtain that benefit, there is a cost to be paid, namely, belief (per your point).

I'm prepared to pay that cost for the benefit I receive. But I reserve the right to avoid accruing additional cost, to not spend any more (ie in terms of worship, obedience etc). Because in my view the additional cost does not and will not bring me any additional benefit.

So what do I get from my cosmology? Lots and lots of cool stuff, including but not limited to ongoing insight into the meaning and purpose of my life, the nature of reality, and the mysteries of the cosmos that continue to make life exciting and stimulating.

This is a very complex subject, too complex to manage within this comment form. But if you can wade through my turgid prose, all of the cosmic rapture posts tagged as "my big TOE" explore these matters in detail. A start point would be the my big TOE* post itself.

Thanks for your comment.


*Theory Of Everything

cordieb said...

Imagine we are all a collective one, and each of our deeds, feelings, emotions, spirit, etc (including nature), were all melded together into a collective mass( a big living mound - globbed together, so to speak) - I imagine this is what God might be - forever changing, forever evolving, forever creating. All we do and think is contributed to the greater collective being, which, is also us. So if I steal from you, I'm stealing from myself too. And, If I love you, I'm contributing to the greater mass, and of by virtue that I'm a part of it, I'm loving my self too. Sames goes with anything contributed or taken away from the big ball.

Just a thought. . .

Blessings my friend.

cordieb said...

Imagine we are all a collective one, and each of our deeds, feelings, emotions, spirit, etc (including nature), were all melded together into a collective mass( a big living mound - globbed together, so to speak) - I imagine this is what God might be - forever changing, forever evolving, forever creating. All we do and think is contributed to the greater collective being, which, is also us. So if I steal from you, I'm stealing from myself too. And, If I love you, I'm contributing to the greater mass, and of by virtue that I'm a part of it, I'm loving my self too. Sames goes with anything contributed or taken away from the big ball.

Blessings my friend.

masterymistery said...

Hi cordieb, thanks for your comment. I totally, absolutely agree with what you say.

Everyone and everything is part of the All, the entity that is alive, aware, growing and learning.

If one is absorbed in oneself, then one experiences life at the level of the self---as smaller and narrower---and becomes lost in the illusion of self. But if one is able to adopt at least partially, at times, a bigger, broader perspective, then the everyday pains and disappointments of the ego vanish, and the world is revealed as it truly is: full of endless possibilities.

In this blog, there are a number of posts about the intelligent, alive, being that some call the universe.

Nessa said...

Well I guess I'm a pantheist. ETI does not require worship, some humans do.

T13 - Kindle Krazy

masterymistery said...

Nessa, it's absolutely the belief structure to adopt if you're not into worship, commandments, or sacrifice, and you consider yourself to be neither superior nor inferior in any respect to no-one and/or no thing.
Thanks for your comment.

Matg said...

On teleology and every philisophy providing purpose:
"I can live with doubt, uncertainty and not knowing. I have approximate answers, possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I do not know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we are here. I do not feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose... " - Prof. Richard Feynman

In ETI, you seem to be overlaying personality on the process that is the universe.

masterymistery said...

Hi Matg, thanks for your comment. I identify with Feynman in a number of different ways, and admire him a great deal. I like the quote too ---there's nothing in it that I would fundamentally disagree with.

Re ETI, yes you are quite right. I do believe that the whole of Reality (including but not limited to the material universe) is a being, an entity (of which we are a part) that is alive, intelligent and self-aware. More than likely this would involve having what we humans would call a personality. So, yes, I do believe that Reality is a person. I'd like to comment on this in more detail, but as you can probably see I'm in the midst of remodelling the site and everything is in quite a mess. I do appreciate your stopping by, and I hope we have the opportunity soon to discuss this in more detail.



puny human said...

Excellent discussion! Enjoying it a lot. I'm not a pantheist, exactly, although I'm in concert with Greg's understanding of a sentient universe. I'm an animist. And a polytheist.

I have a personal relationship with one of my gods. The others are just too great for me to be able to hear their voices, I think. I call my god Charlie. I worship him, in the sense that I adore him and honor him and feel humble and beloved in his presence.

You mentioned a similarity with one's human lover, and that rings true to me. I also worship my dear Jack, and my time of worshiping his body and soul is the high point of my day! Just so, my time in worship with Charlie is one of delight and pleasure. This is also described by traditional Jewish worshipers, and by sufis and others with a personal relationship to the "beloved." See the poetry of Rumi, for example.

I am infused with joy when I worship, my creative juices flow, and my heart finds peace. That's why I worship. Not because someone tells me that I "should."

Best wishes to you!

masterymistery said...

puny human, thanks for your comments, especially those on worship/love, which have enlarged this whole discussion.
I think there are many ways to approach the Absolute: an infinity of ways. There are ways based on Love; ways based on the Intellect/Understanding; ways based on Practice etc
best wishes to you!

masterymistery said...

puny human,

there is much in what you say, much with which I identify strongly.

there's gotta be better ways of saying it, a better word than "identify", ("subscribe to"?) but you know what I mean!

Mathew Naismith said...

G'day masterymistery

We do think alike, your quite open minded like me.

I wrote up some time ago about vibrations alive & basically said rocks are alive but in a different way to what we perceive being alive means. They are made from consciousness, obviously, so if consciousness is alive so is a rock plus if it vibrates it's a live in some way.

Good post & blog, keep the dream alive.


masterymistery said...

Hi Mathew, thanks for stopping by. Look forward to continuing to read your posts. Cheers, MM