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 choose to dispense with worship.

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. As the Bible puts it, "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered." And look where "dominion" has brought us. We are only starting to realize that there is ample cause to fear humans, that dread of humans is fully justified. Our cruelty towards all living things, including ourselves is dreadful indeed. If humans are so smart, how come they continue to poison themselves and their living environment?

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, or more specifically, "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".) 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. 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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