Pantheism

Thursday, February 23, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Pantheism is the view that the world is either identical to God, or an expression of God’s nature. It comes from ‘pan’ meaning all, and ‘theism,’ which means belief in God. So according to pantheism, “God is everything and everything is God.” 

This may sound like a familiar Judeo-Christian concept, namely God’s immanence, which is the idea that God pervades or is ever-present throughout the universe. However, pantheism differs from traditional theistic religions in two important ways.

First, pantheism rejects the idea that God is transcendent. According to traditional Western conceptions of God, He is an entity that is above and beyond the universe. So, although God may be fully present in the universe, He is also outside of it. Simply put, He transcends the totality of objects in the world. When pantheists say that “God is everything and everything is God,” this is meant to capture that idea that God does not transcend the world.

A second important difference between pantheism and traditional theistic religions is that pantheists also reject the idea of God’s personhood. The pantheist God is not a personal God, the kind of entity that could have beliefs, desires, intentions, or agency. Unlike the traditional God of theism, the pantheistic God does not have a will and cannot act in or upon the universe. These are the kind of things that only a person, or a person-like entity, could do. For the pantheist, God is the non-personal divinity that pervades all existence. It is the divine Unity of the world.

While these two points may clarify how pantheism and traditional theism differ, they may make us wonder if there’s much difference between pantheism and atheism. After all, pantheism denies the existence of a transcendent, personal God, which is the God of traditional theism. So, in that sense, pantheism seems to be a form of atheism. It’s not clear what exactly pantheists are talking about when they talk of “God.” If pantheists just consider God to be the totality of all existence, then why talk of “God” at all? Moreover, if that’s what “God” means to the pantheist, then the slogan “God is everything and everything is God” now seems circular and redundant. As Schopenhauer, a critic of pantheism, says, “to call the world ‘God’ is not to explain it; it is only to enrich our language with a superfluous synonym for the word ‘world’.”

But Schopenhauer seems to be operating with a very narrow definition of God here. Why suppose that God must be personal and transcendent in order to be God? This limits the concept of God in an ad hoc way that privileges the traditional theistic view of divinity. Looking at other non-theistic religious traditions, we find many conceptions of a divinity that pervades all existence, like Lao Tzu’s Tao, Sankara’s Brahman, and arguably also Hegel’s Geist and Plotinus’s One. To call all these views “atheist” simply because they reject the traditional theistic conception of a personal, transcendent God is to miss the point. Atheism, after all, is not a religion.

If we accept that pantheism differs from atheism, in that it does posit some kind of divinity in the world whereas atheism does not, it’s still a little difficult to see in what sense pantheism is a religion. There are no pantheist churches or services, for example, and it’s not even clear if there are any particular pantheist rituals or practices. Do practices like prayer or worship even make sense in the pantheist scheme of things?

Love of nature is often associated with pantheism, but that does not seem to be a central tenet of the religion. Self-professed pantheists like Wordsworth, Whitman, and other Romantic poets certainly had a deep love of nature, but that was not necessarily the case for pantheists like Spinoza and Lao Tzu. Nevertheless, for some pantheists the idea that nature is something that inspires awe, wonder, and reverence is important. This attitude toward nature is perhaps what motivates many contemporary pantheists to identify themselves as such. It is no coincidence that there are strong ties between pantheism and the ecology movement.

Given some of the issues raised here, I look forward to having a number of questions clarified during our upcoming show. One important question is: what exactly is the relationship between pantheism and atheism? Are they complementary or conflicting views of the world? Can we distinguish pantheism from traditional theism without the view simply collapsing into atheism? Is pantheism really a religion, or just a metaphysical view of the world? Does it have distinctive rituals or practices? What would motivate someone to identify as a pantheist? And how central is reverence for nature to pantheism?

Joining the conversation with John and Ken will be Philip Clayton, Dean of the Claremont School of Theology and Provost of Claremont Lincoln University. He is also the co-author of The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy and Faith.

 

Comments (30)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, February 23, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Hmmmm. Pantheism/Pantheists

Hmmmm. Pantheism/Pantheists sound(s) like believers in evolution who do not wish to be identified with evolution thinking. I only arrived at that hypothesis after reading your post and seeing the title of your guest's book. See, there is no predicament* befitting the title of the book. Science derives from method and proof (as Russell said: the things that we know.) Philosophy and Faith derive from the things (as Russell also said) we believe (or don't) but DON'T know. This territory has been traversed by greater minds than mine, but, you know, just sayin'. Best Wishes for Mr. Clayton. Advice to all who would write about religion, philosophy and science in the same book? Be clear about what your arguments/assertions are, before choosing a title for your work. And then think on it a spell before making a decision. Some of us still pay attention.
(*see: Stephen Jay Gould's ROCKS OF AGES, 1998)

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Thursday, February 23, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Harold, Clayton has an

Harold, Clayton has an interesting view about pantheism as the metaphysical position that best supports the pursuit of science. He argues that it is the reasoning person's religious response to the world because it doesn't interfere with science. Philosophers tend to think about science and faith as pulling in opposite directions, so his view is quite novel. I hope you can tune in to hear more!

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, February 23, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I believe it is just a

I believe it is just a metaphysical view and not a religious ideology or so. Was there any philosopher who announced himself a pantheist, yet was an active member in a religion? If so, then it seems we can take the Christian God and stick him in everything while sticking everything in him.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, February 24, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

God is One as All is One.

God is One as All is One.
The Universe is not a twoneverse; it is united except for those who would divide us.
Science and religion or theories and faiths divide the Universe with uncertainty while the single truth of Oneness, simply, absolutely, or most certainly unites us All. If theories and faiths were true they would be called truth.
United we stand, divided we fall, which One are you?
There is no greater power or strength than One.
Am I a theist or an atheist? I am simply a trueist who loves the truth,
And as for the worshop of nature's Oneness, nature's absolute, nature's truth, or nature ourselves, I prefer to just be,
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, February 24, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

If religion is defined as "an

If religion is defined as "an effort to make sense of a mysterious world, and to get into satisfactory relations with the mysterious powers that control it," (Herbert J. Muller) then pantheism may well be included as one in the multiplicity of religions. It seems that pantheism has found its most organized form in Hinduism. As Charles Francis Potter put it, "Underlying all sects of Hinduism is usually some sort of pantheism." Every organized religion has a ritual appeal, emotional appeal and intellectual appeal but is in danger of degenerating into "systems of rigid belief and oppressive moral fantasies." (Jacob Needleman) The ultimate test of a religion is not to provide answers but to inspire people to find meaning and direction within their life.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, February 24, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

No, Laura. The view, as you

No, Laura. The view, as you have capsulized it, is not novel to me. Nor was it to Gould when he wrote ROCKS OF AGES. Well. We do focus on what we have observations, experiences and opinions (OEOs) about.( Beliefs are in another mode or category, seems to me). Or, alternatively, we may focus on something/someone in which/whom, we have some vested interest. I bought two books yesterday. for two dollars each, I got Paul Davies' THE LAST THREE MINUTES, and Stephen J. Gould's WONDERFUL LIFE. (Hint: I have no vested interested in the lives, notions and writings of these men---but, I do value their OEOs, as scientists first and humans second)
Pantheism?: Read Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. I did not know the word pantheism when I read that sci-fi novel, uh, fifty years ago. I do know the word now---probably paid attention to it when I hit about age 55. We are all on our own learning curve. Yeah. Pretty much.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, February 24, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

The "God principle"

The "God principle"
Pantheism is too limited for me.
God is our expression of our inability to to understand!
The god principle is the Universe.
It's the only "thing" that fits all the descriptions, both theological and scientific; Infinite in time, space and energy/power!
The Universe is/are multidimensional 'field(s)" of possibilities/probabilities, unable to depict/grasp = ever changing in all it's aspects= Neti, Neti, Neti; do I have to continue?
Creator and destructor of all "life". Heaven and hell at the same time/space (multi dimentional)
In the beginning there was a void, then there was a "sound"= the Big Bang
It's our finite/primitive/obsolete senses / brain that makes us focus on "substances" limited in time, space and energy.
All religions (= the business of spirituality), "materialized" / limited "God" in words, pictures, statues, stars/planets and even living organisms including ourselves and e.t.'s
and thus creating a huge pandemonium of limited God's.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, February 25, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I am he as you are he as you

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.......
J. Lennon

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Saturday, February 25, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

WHY GOD, HOW GOD

WHY GOD, HOW GOD
John sagely asked: why create a god with qualities which ?might not make Him lovable??
God: NOT who or what is it, but: the object of our (who or what is ?we?) love.
The instinct to religiously believe is:
1. to fulfill the ache to give that amazing gift we feel, of our love, and
2. to be confirmed in what we think is good and right, and
3. to refer to a consciousness outside our own (but which we have no evidence of).
In all monotheistic religions, it is some human prophet who provides a roadmap to follow to accomplish 1,2 and 3.
Because we are only aware of one consciousness, each of us, alone, can only invest consciousness in anything else (i.e., other than ourself). We are, each of us, the only participant in this. This is the truest pantheism. 1 = ALL (am I right in this, MJA? I am learning from you).

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, February 25, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Here is a truth I found that

Here is a truth I found that connects everything, ya everything:
Albert Einstein died searching for an equation that unifies energy or everything, a unified field theory UFT. or theory of everything TOE. He reduced or simplified the universe to his most famous equation e = mc2 then unfortunately got lost and went the other way. Had he simply reduced his own equation to its simplist or single truth, to =, he would have found the proof or truth he was looking for.
It was C or the speed of light that stood in his Way.
Equal or =, mathematically or empirically, is the equation for truth, the truth that unites us all..
When all is equal all is truly One.
Equal cannot be challanged, it can only be obscured.
It is the equation's single absolute.
Thanks John Ken and Philip for the great show,
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, February 25, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

PS: its a truth that will set

PS: its a truth that will set you free.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, February 25, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I actually haven't heard a

I actually haven't heard a single man says he is pantheist and I am not sure I will soon hear it, because there is nothing wrong with that concept and believe but think again, if you believe God is everything you will say that you believe in Christ, Buddha or Allah isn't that right?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, February 26, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I like this theory about God

I like this theory about God much more than the conventional view most people have of him. I think it's absurd to think of God as an old man sitting in a throne in the sky, and that he (or it, better said) is more of a universal force within all of us. I think it's interesting to note that life feeds on death to be sustained, so all living beings are intrinsically connected to one another and hence contribute to each other's existence, independently of whether we do it in a direct or indirect way.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, February 26, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Saying "the universe is God"

Saying "the universe is God" is like saying "the painting is the painter." Nonsense.
We seem to be spending a lot of effort on why we come up with a concept of God. That is looking at it backwards. We did not create God. The question more accurately is why He bothered to create us.
And with all due respect to Bertrand Russell, science is quite often about what we don't know - in fact at the professional level I think it focuses mostly there. Religion on the other hand is quite often focused on what we have experienced and therefore do quite intimately know.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, February 27, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Good luck with that one,

Good luck with that one, Nathan. Good luck---indeed. Bibles, Korans, and Kitabi'aqdas' did not tell us about how to estimate gravity, electromagnetism and strong and weak forces. Oh well, never mind. We shall both be long dead--- and no one will yet know. Biblically, 'the way is so certain, a fool should not err.' Hmmmmph. Said the Camel.

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Monday, February 27, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Gregory Bateson has an

Gregory Bateson has an interesting take on all this. How and whether pantheism relates to the sacred came up a couple times during the show. Pantheism is thought to be more science-compatible since it has the more metaphysical stuff stripped out of it. Bateson, a scientist, ties them together like this. He sees the sacred as being something off-limits, secret, myterious. He says that revealing information can, in some cases, upset some sort of balance or convention. To take an example from biology, when a beetle grows a freak extra leg, what it has is both a right leg and a left leg in place of one leg. The information that tells it which one to grow has somehow been canceled out, and in its place the extra info for growing the other leg applies. He suggests that this type of argument can help explain all the mystery in Christianity.
This ties in, by the way, with what came up in the Conundrum segment at the end of the show. John Perry said that if a felon finds it impossible to get a job because he's a felon, then maybe it's OK for him to lie about it. Keeping the felony secret is better for the felon, and by implication maybe even for the employer. Of course, all the information available on the Internet now would tend to work against this. Just one of those unintended consequences of technology.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Surely Nathan a painting can

Surely Nathan a painting can be called a da Dinci
And the Universe, united, infinite, immeasurable,devine, wonderful, nature, all powerful, God, is, One.
As for telling a lie for money, truth is the Way.
=

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

PANTHEISM

PANTHEISM
There is one duality: matter and consciousness, and there is no intersection of the two. The existence of matter can always be proven by science ? somehow, always ? this is definitional. Consciousness does not exist in this way, and it cannot be proven to exist using any scientific method. God is not matter: everyone knows this. So God is a consciousness thingy. And God cannot be proven to exist by scientific means.
But statistically God is a human necessity: the number of atheists is so small as to be statistically unimportant. What is important is that (statistically) every human being believes in God or god-like stuff; ergo, God is a human necessity (for reasons I gave in my previous comment). This is what pantheism means: God is a necessity of human consciousness. Everywhere that consciousness goes, so God goes.
The big problem that agnostics and atheists have is that they define God as something so enormous that its existence is impossible. But all they really have to do is to acknowledge the human necessity for belief, and, really, that is god enough.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Tintern Abbey? Only on NPR.

Tintern Abbey? Only on NPR. Thanks for the fun surprise of a few of my favorite lines...

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I suggest the name of a

I suggest the name of a pantheistic god: Metaphor ad Infinitum. LIfe is poetry. That gives us the oneness, and maybe the greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts, without the consciousness or intention that bugs many about theisms, at least me.
Couple that with The Church of Universal Life maxims (yes, that's the church from Modesto, CA, that started off as a tax and draft dodge, but ended up ordaining lots of amateur minsters (including me) who have performed lots of non-church weddings : 1) do the right thing; 2) it's up to you to figure out what the right right thing is. Kind of existentialism.
There you have a good foundation for a religion that only needs to be filled out with some catchy ritual and a lot of fundraising.
One love,
x

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I would like EVERYONE to read

I would like EVERYONE to read: "God's Problem" by Bart D. Ehrman. Am sure glad I did, it offered me FREEDOM.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, March 3, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Rather than reading a book,

Rather than reading a book, check out nature, its as Onderful as truth gets.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, March 3, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

During the interview, Dr.

During the interview, Dr. Clayton (mis)quoted a medieval mystic -- who I presume to be Julian of Norwich -- as saying "and all shall be one, and all manner of thing shall be one," I believe in support of the idea that pantheism/panentheism as a religious practice has been around for a long time. However, Julian never said any such thing: what she actually wrote in her Revelations of Divine Love was "and all shall be *well*, and all manner of thing shall be *well*" (referring to the relationship between God and humanity in general, but I think also to her own state in particular, deathly ill as she was when she wrote those words).
As surprisingly open-minded as Julian is her Revelations (especially as a medieval Christian in an era when the church was quick to stifle any theological experimentation that wavered even slightly from established dogma), it is simply false to suggest that she was a pantheist/panentheist. She was intensely and affectively devoted to God, and there is nothing in her writings indicating that she viewed God and herself/creation as qualitatively co-substantial (in a Monistic sense), despite the significant "unity" that she did feel with God.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Mike, come on...saying a

Mike, come on...saying a painting is "a Da Vinci" does not mean it IS da Vinci. That would be ridiculous.
Dave, I've read my Bible a few times, I'm not aware of that quote you used. In the Bible fools err constantly, that is why they're called that. The Bible may not directly discuss the four forces or quantum mechanics - neither does Churchill's "History of the English Speaking Peoples," for example, but that does not make it any less true. There are many kinds of knowledge - true, objective, hard facts knowledge - that are completely outside science.
To get back to Pantheism - I think mirugai is right that humans have a necessity for belief. Pantheism is comfortable in that one can have belief without consequences - there is no Person there that might make demands, set limits, or in any way interfere with one's own desires. Just the nice thought that the universe isn't as indifferent as it seems. Comfortable - also pointless.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I think we created the God

I think we created the God not to fill the void but to escape the responsibility. And I think to say I don't know is much better than to make up fairytales.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, March 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Adriana: I don't think so.

Adriana: I don't think so. Many religions teach that God (or the gods, in ancient Egyptian religion for example) will judge each person for every action and even every thought. "Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." Sounds more like guaranteed responsibility than escape from it. It would be better to imagine no God (or gods) if one wanted to escape responsibility - then there are no eternal consequences, and nothing one does ultimately matters at all.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I think the whole concept of

I think the whole concept of god being one "being" is outdated. I'm not religious myself, but I think that in order for someone to believe, he has to consider what could make sense, so, one only "superior being" having energy, intelligence and power to be present in the life of all creatures in the whole universe??

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Jpmanzi,The answers to your

Jpmanzi,The answers to your qoentiuss would probably depend on who you were talking to. I think the phrase scientific pantheism is just alluding to the fact that pantheism does not make any irrational assumptions. If science decrees some fact or idea then pantheists wouldn't wish to deny that fact. So they probably are the same, but why anyone adds the term scientific I am not really sure.The second part, is pantheism just another name for spiritual atheism is a more difficult question. I am sure that there are some who would call themselves spiritual atheists and pantheists at the same time. However, I don't think a spiritual atheist is necessarily a pantheist, nor is a pantheist a spiritual atheist. So no they are not the same.There may be some overlap between the two but there is also plenty of scope for a person to be one and not the other.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, August 11, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

WHY TALK OF GOD AT ALL?

WHY TALK OF GOD AT ALL?
Through the show, Clayton very rightly tried to emphasize that our conversations tend to be locked in the language of the monotheisms. A broader historical / anthropological perspective would help us all out. (Ironically, Clayton gave a case in point, referring to "orthodox" Christianity as the primary ideas we refer to, when I think he really means Protestantism, not specifically Orthodox Christianity; everyone always forgets about that other branch....)
With that in mind, I too find it odd that self-described pantheists would continue using the word God. That use is essentially monotheistic. But one of the main points of departure is that pantheism rejects a personal God. Why begin with a unitary, transcendent god, and then spread him out over the universe? It's just as strange as saying, "everything is the ancestors." Well, only if the ancestors are your only metaphor for divinity. Hopefully, neither ancestors nor Yahweh is our only possible metaphor. Shouldn't pantheism have it's own language?
IS IT A RELIGION?
Though it's clear pantheism is not an organized religious institution, it's rather silly to ask whether it's a religion on the grounds that it doesn't have a lot of the things Christianity has. Neither do many other world religions, especially historical ones, have much in common with Christianity. Many do not focus on morality, or afterives, or cosmology; but we still call them religions.
Anyway, maybe the better comparison is between pantheism and monotheism, or some other ism -- and not particular religions. Maybe we haven't seen an instantiated pantheistic religion yet, with rituals or ethics or other specifics about how to live. Maybe it will arrive eventually, or maybe pantheism will always be an offshoot of existing religions.
I know everyone's background in the West is likely to be Christanity-centric, mine probably is too, but let's not forget that pantheism, if it's a religion, would sit beside many other practices in the historic of humanity, and should be judged against all of that. Personally I think it's rather intriguing, but it may just be a big 'ism' for now, awaiting real fleshing out.

LeeN's picture

LeeN

Monday, July 7, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

What has continually bothered

What has continually bothered me about "Philosophy Talk" and its selected subject matter has been the lack of inclusion of Native American thinking with regard to metaphysics and spirituality/religion.
Relative to the program discussing pantheism, this was, in my thinking, an ignorant and biased exclusion; especially given that pathetic inclusion of the SF "New Ager" who was spouting absolute nonsense and make believe.
Many years ago, I came across the writings of Vine Deloria jr (a Standing Rock Sioux, retired Professor of Political Science [U of Az], retired Professor of History [U of CO], former executive of National Congress of American Indians). Deloria was named by Time magazine during the 1970's as one of the most influential religious thinkers in the twentieth century; and yet even in the Stanford philosophy website database, the single inclusion for Deloria relates to his role as a lawyer. Apparently, these qualifications are insufficient to be included in the Stanford philosophy department, and John and Ken's readings, knowledge and discussions.
"God is Red", in my opinion, explains aspects of Native American thinking in terms understandable to Euro-centric philosophy students. His further books including "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence" and "Spirit and Reason" further articulate Native American thinking and theory. These writings should be included in the readings of all open minded thinkers, and especially those who are environmentalists and who are concerned about biodiversity and planetary health (and therein recognizing the sanctity and spirituality of other species and the synergistic totality of Gaia -- i. e. pantheism).

 
 
 

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