Pantheism (Greek: (pan) = all and θεός (theos) = God, literally "God is all" -ism) is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing immanent God. In pantheism, the Universe (Nature) and God are considered equivalent and synonymous. More detailed definitions tend to emphasize the idea that God is better understood as an abstract principle representing natural law, existence, and the Universe (the sum total of all that was, is and shall be), rather than as an anthropomorphic entity.
History of Pantheism
The term "pantheist"—from which the word "pantheism" is derived—was purportedly first used by Irish writer John Toland in his 1705 work, Socinianism Truly Stated, by a pantheist. However, the concept has been discussed as far back as the time of the philosophers of Ancient Greece, by Thales, Parmenides and Heraclitus. The Jewish backgrounds for pantheism may reach as far back as the Torah itself in its account of creation in Genesis and its earlier prophetic material in which clearly "acts of nature" (such as floods, storms, volcanoes, etc.) are all identified as "God's hand" through personification idioms, thus explaining the open references to the concept in both New Testament and Kabbalistic literature.
In 1785 a major controversy began between Friedrich Jacobi and Moses Mendelssohn, which eventually involved many important people of the time. Jacobi claimed that Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's pantheism was materialistic in that it thought of all Nature and God as one extended substance. For Jacobi, this was the result of the Enlightenment's devotion to reason and it would lead to atheism. Mendelssohn disagreed by asserting that pantheism was the same as theism.
Schopenhauer on Pantheism
On the whole, one might be surprised that even in the seventeenth century pantheism did not gain a complete victory over theism; for the most original, finest, and most thorough European expositions of it (none of them, of course, will bear comparison with the Upanishads of the Vedas) all came to light at that period, namely through Bruno, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Scotus Eriugena. After Scotus Eriugena had been lost and forgotten for many centuries, he was again discovered at Oxford and in 1681, thus four years after Spinoza's death, his work first saw the light in print. This seems to prove that the insight of individuals cannot make itself felt so long as the spirit of the age is not ripe to receive it. On the other hand, in our day (1851) pantheism, although presented only in Schelling's eclectic and confused revival thereof, has become the dominant mode of thought of scholars and even of educated people. This is because Kant had preceded it with his overthrow of theistic dogmatism and had cleared the way for it, whereby the spirit of the age was ready for it, just as a ploughed field is ready for the seed.|Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real"
Varieties of pantheism
This article distinguishes between three divergent groups of pantheists:
- Classical pantheism, which is expressed in the immanent God of Kabalistic Judaism, Hinduism, Animism, Monism, neopaganism, and the New Age, generally viewing God in either a personal or cosmic manner.
- Biblical pantheism, which is expressed in the writings of the Bible with the understanding of personification linguistics as a cultural communication idiom in Hebrew language. [Isa 55:12] [Acts 17:28] [Ps. 90:1]
- Naturalistic pantheism, based on the relatively recent views of Baruch Spinoza (who may have been influenced by Biblical pantheism) and John Toland (who coined the term "pantheism"), as well as contemporary influences.
The vast majority of persons who can be identified as "pantheistic" are of the classical variety (such as Hindus, Sufis, Unitarians, neopagans, New Agers, Etc.), while most persons who self-identify as "pantheist" alone (rather than as members of another religion) are of the naturalistic variety. The division between the three strains of pantheism are not entirely clear in all situations, and remains a source of some controversy in pantheist circles. Classical pantheists generally accept the religious doctrine that there is a spiritual basis to all reality, while naturalistic pantheists generally do not and thus see the world in somewhat more naturalistic terms. Confusion between the concepts of pantheism and atheism may be an ancient problem in linguistics. Rome referred to early Christians as atheists, and the explanations of this semantic phenomenon vary, one of which refers to the confusion between these two concepts.
Methods of explanation
An oft-cited feature of pantheism is that each individual human, being part of the Universe or nature, is part of God. One issue discussed by pantheists is how free will may exist in this framework. In answer, the following analogy is sometimes given (particularly by classical pantheists): "you are to God as an individual blood cell in your vein is to you." The analogy further maintains that while a cell may be aware of its own environs, and even has some choices (free will) between right and wrong (killing a bacterium, becoming malignant, or perhaps just doing nothing, among countless others), it likely has little conception of the greater being of which it is a part. Another way to understand this relationship is through the Hindu phrase, tat tvam asi - "that thou art", wherein the human soul/self or Atman is understood to be the same as God or Brahman - only people do not realize it. In this Hindu context, they believe that one must be liberated through enlightenment (moksha) in order to experience and fully understand this relationship - the part becomes no longer dissimilar from the whole.
Not all pantheists accept the idea of free will, with determinism being particularly widespread among naturalistic pantheists. Although individual interpretations of pantheism may suggest certain implications for the nature and existence of free will and/or determinism, pantheism itself does not include any requirement of belief either way. However, the issue is widely discussed, as it is in many other religions and philosophies.
Some argue that pantheism is little more than a redefinition of the word "God" to mean "existence", "life" or "reality". Many pantheists would say that if this is so, such a shift in the way we think about these ideas can serve to create both a new and a potentially far more insightful conception of both existence and God.
Perhaps the most significant debate within the pantheistic community is about the nature of God. Classical pantheism believes in a personal, conscious, and omniscient God, and sees this God as uniting all true religions. Naturalistic pantheism believes in an unconscious, non-sentient Universe, which, while being holy and beautiful, is seen as being a God in a non-traditional and impersonal sense.
The viewpoints encompassed within the pantheistic community are necessarily diverse, but the central idea of the Universe being an all-encompassing unity and the sanctity of both nature and its natural laws are found throughout. Some pantheists also posit a common purpose for nature and humans, while others reject the idea of purpose and view existence as existing "for its own sake."
There are many elements of pantheism in some forms of Buddhism, Neopaganism, and Theosophy along with many varying denominations and individuals within and without denominations. See also the Neopagan section of Gaia and the Church of All Worlds.
Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves pantheists as do members of the Unity School of Christianity (New Thought).
Pantheism is an integral concept in many New Age religions and philosophies.
Classical pantheism has many features in common with panentheism, such as the idea that the universe is physically part of a creator god or gods. Technically, the two are separate. Whereas pantheism finds a god or gods to manifest their presence through the material universe as one unified substance or reality, panentheism finds a god or gods to be greater than the material universe alone. Some people find the distinction between these two beliefs as ambiguous and unhelpful, while others see it as a significant point of division.
Many of the major world religions described as pantheistic could also be described as panentheistic. For example, elements of both pantheism and panentheism are found in Hinduism. Certain interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and Shri Rudram support this view.
However, naturalistic pantheism, founded by the World Pantheist Movement cannot be seen as theistic, since it employs the term god or gods as merely a synonym for nature and a non-sentient cosmos.
While the term is rarely used, and is most often simply a synonym for Pantheism, this unusual philosophy has been used rather differently, but in all cases, the feeling was that God was something created by man, perhaps even an end state of human evolution, through social planning, eugenics and other forms of genetic engineering.
H. G. Wells subscribed to a form of Cosmotheism, which he called the "world brain" (from a book of essays by the same name he printed in 1937, one of which details the creation of a Library-encyclopedia hybrid), and detailed even more in his book God the Invisible King (in which he proscribes mankind to set up a socialist system, structuring itself on social and genetic statistics, education, and eugenics, ideally someday equating itself and possibly even merging with and conquering the Pantheist god itself. See: Omega Point) and there were also some sections of his work Outline of History, which reflected this belief and his finding it in the teachings of Jesus and Siddhartha (Buddha). His book Shape of Things to Come (and the 1936 film Things to Come) also reflects this, in which mankind, surviving an apocalyptic war and an extended Feudal period, unites to form a collectivist Utopia.
In modern Israel, Cosmotheism was described by Mordekhay Nesiyahu, one of the foremost ideologists of the Israeli Labor Movement and a lecturer in its college Beit Berl. He felt that God was something which did not exist before man, and was a secular entity which the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had an instrumental role in "inventing".
In the 20th century United States, William Luther Pierce, a white nationalist associated with the American Nazi Party and founder of the National Alliance also utilised the term "Cosmotheism". In his eyes (similar to H. G. Wells'), God would be the end result of eugenics and racial hygiene (See: Nazism, Francis Galton and Theosophy).
Vladimir Vernadsky's and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Noosphere" could be referred to as a description of the Cosmotheist deity, as does Emile Durkheim's Collective consciousness and Carl Jung's collective unconscious.
Pandeism is a kind of Pantheism which incorporates a form of Deism, holding that the Universe is identical to God, but also that God was previously a conscious and sentient force or entity that designed and created the Universe. God only became an unconscious and nonsentient God by becoming the Universe. Other than this distinction (and the possibility that the Universe will one day return to the state of being God), Pandeistic beliefs are identical to Pantheism.
According to Schopenhauer, pantheism has no ethics.However, some pantheists hold that the pantheist viewpoint is the most ethical viewpoint; Neo-Pantheistic ethics are based on the belief that any action initiated resonates throughout all of existence. What is good and evil is not mandated from something outside of us, but is a result of our interconnectedness. Instead of consideration based upon fear of divine punishment or hope of divine reward, the better Pantheistic ethical decision comes from an awareness of mutual interrelation.
Traditional forms and definitions of pantheism, would however, refer to their classical bodies of sacred texts and teachers for definitions of ethics.