Pantheism (Greek: pan = all and Theos = God) literally means “God is All” and “All is God”. It is the view that everything is of an all-encompassing immanent God; or that the universe, or nature, and God are equivalent. More detailed definitions tend to emphasize the idea that natural law, existence, and/or the universe (the sum total of all that is, was, and shall be) is represented or personified in the theological principle of ‘God’.
The term “pantheist” — of which the word “pantheism” is a variation — 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. Some, such as Heraclitus, debated whether the entire substance of the universe was a force of logic, of thought in constant state of transformation.
Varieties of pantheism
This article distinguishes between two divergent groups of pantheists:
- Classical pantheism, which is expressed in the immanent God of Kabalistic Judaism, Advaita Vedanta Sanatana Dharma, and Monism, generally viewing God in a personal manner.
- Naturalistic pantheism, based on the relatively recent views of Baruch Spinoza 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), 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 two “flavours” of pantheism is 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 scientific terms.
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, if this is so, humans can have free will. 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 the Hindu concept of Jiva, wherein the human soul is an aspect of God not yet having reached enlightenment (moksha), after which it becomes Atman.
However, it should be noted that 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 critics argue that pantheism is little more than a redefinition of the word “God” to mean “existence”, “life” or “reality”. Many pantheists reply that even 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.
Cosmotheism, a small but controversial racialist group which considers itself a form of pantheism, has an evolutionary interpretation of God, seeing him to be impersonal, but not taking a clear stance as to his sentience. “Cosmotheism”, like the terms “pantheism”, “monotheism”, and “polytheism”, was not used in antiquity. The term seems to have been coined by Lamoignon de Malesherbes in 1782 with regard to Pliny the Elder; various scholars have used it since then, but to refer to different sorts of religious belief.
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 man, while others reject the idea of purpose and view existence as existing “for its own sake.”
The term neo-Pantheism could easily be applied to many of the present-day renditions of Pantheism. However most already have their specific definer such as Christian Pantheism, Scientific Pantheism, Naturalistic Pantheism, Classical Pantheism, Logical Pantheism or Zen Pantheism. They each have their own slightly different perspectives.
The narrative philosophy of Pantheism begins with Baruch Spinoza in the late seventeeth century and variations since then may be considered new as opposed to ancient Taoism and Gnosticism. However the title neo-Pantheism is currently more applicable to the version being proposed to congeal these different viewpoints in to one comprehensive modern paradigm. Consequently it is a much broader term than Pantheism in that it is a composite of many prevailing philosophies both pantheistic and otherwise.
Pantheism has features in common with panentheism, such as the idea that the universe is part of God. Technically, the two are separate, inasmuch as pantheism finds God synonymous with nature, and panentheism finds God to be greater than nature alone. Some find this distinction unhelpful, while others see it as a significant point of division. Many of the major faiths described as pantheistic could also be described as panentheistic, whereas naturalistic pantheism cannot (not seeing God as more than nature alone). For example, elements of both panentheism and pantheism are found in Hinduism. Certain interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and Shri Rudram support this view.
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 (in which he proscribes mankind to set up a socialist system, structuring itself on social and genetic statistics, education, and eugenics, idealy someday equating itself and possibly even merging with and conqeuring the Pantheist god itself. See: Omega Point) and there where also some sections of his great work Outline of History, which reflected this belief and his finding it in the teachings of Jesus Christ and Siddhartha. His book Shape of Things to Come (and the 1936 film Things to Come) also reflects this, in which mankind, surviving a Nuclear 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 Jewish Temple in Jerusalem has an instrumental role in “invent” God.
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 refferenced as a description of the Cosmotheist deity, as does Emile Durkheim’s Collective consciousness and Carl Jung’s collective unconscious.
Arthur C. Clark makes a possible reference to the Cosmotheist Noosphere in his 1953 book Childhood’s End, referring to it as the “Overmind”.
Pantheistic concepts in religion
In Hindu theology Moksha and achieving godness is the ultimate, both transcendent and immanent, the absolute infinite existence, the sum total of all that ever is, was, or ever shall be. As the sun has rays of light which emanate from the same source, the same holds true for the multifaceted aspects of God emanating from Brahman, like many colors of the same prism. This concept of God is of one unity, with the individual personal Gods being aspects of the One; thus, different deities are seen by different adherents as particularly well suited to their worship. Pantheism and panentheism are key components of Advaita theology.
In Smartist tradition, which follows Advaita philosophy, Brahman is seen as the one God, with aspects of God emanating therefrom. With all Hindus, there is a strong belief in all paths, or true religions, leading to One God.
Some of the Hindu aspects of God include Ganesa, Devi, Vishnu, and Siva.
Hindus who follow the Smarta tradition believe that these different aspects of God can bring worshippers closer to Moksha, end of the cycle of rebirth.
Other subdivisions of Vedanta do not strictly hold this tenet. For example, Dvaita school of Madhva holds Brahman to be only Vishnu. In contrast, Arya Samaj believes in worshipping Brahman directly, without conceptualizing God through form such as Ishta-deva or using an icon, the Hindu murti to focus. Arya Samaj only takes into consideration the formless Brahman while Advaita states that the formless Brahman (Nirguna Brahman) and the formful God Saguna Brahman are the same and hence worship of either is valid and equivalent.However, Advaita agrees with Arya Samaj that the Ultimate Reality is attributeless, in contrast to the theistic schools of Ramanuja, who also stressed panentheism, and Madhva, an advocate of duality.
Vedanta, specifically, Advaita, is a branch of Hindu philosophy which gives this matter a greater focus. Most Vedantic adherents are monists or “non-dualists” (i.e. Advaita Vedanta), seeing multiple manifestations of the one God or source of being, a view which is often confused by non-Hindus as being polytheistic.
According to Ayyavazhi theology, Ekam is supreme to all: the God beyond human consciousness. Though, through the concept of Ekam, Ayyavazhi states the Ultimate Oneness, there are some quotes in Vinchai in Akilam nine which indicate pantheism. In Akilam seven a new term ‘Ekan’ (One who appears as Ekam) was used to refer to God. In this expression, the Akilam lays the groundwork for viewing Ayyavazhi as a panthestic faith.
The radically immanent sense of the divine in Jewish mystical Kabbalah is said to have inspired Spinoza’s formulation of pantheism. However Spinoza’s views have not been accepted in Judaism. Additionally, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, had a mystical sense of the divine that could be described as panentheism.
From the tiny groups such as Process theology and Creation Spirituality, up to the Liberal Catholic Church, and as far back into history as the Brethren of the Free Spirit and many gnostics, the idea has had currency within some segments of Christianity for some time.
Islamic Sufism is regarded by some as being influenced by eastern philosophies (Indian and Persian) and has Pantheistic doctrines within its many varieties.
There are many elements of pantheism in Taoism, some forms of Buddhism, and Theosophy along with many varying denominations and individuals within and without denominations.
Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves pantheists.
Paul Carus called himself “an atheist who loves God”, and advocated “henism”, which is often seen as monist or pantheist in nature.
- “A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.” – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (1994)
While Sagan never described himself as a pantheist, many maintain that pantheism fit his views better than any other term. This claim, while widely accepted among pantheists of all varieties, remains somewhat controversial outside the pantheist community. A similar debate surrounds the attribution of pantheism to other notable figures, including Albert Einstein.
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) established the formal philosophy of Pantheism over 300 years ago. In his “Ethics” he wrote:
- “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived. God is the indwelling, and not the transient cause of all things.”
Albert Einstein appeared to agreewith Sinoza when he said:
:”I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings”.
- “A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest.. a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” -Albert Einstein
:”To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.” – Mikhail Gorbachev
Michael P. Levine – author of “Pantheism: A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity”
- “in the context of natural theology there is reason to believe that pantheism may fare well if compared with theism. This may be part of the reason why it has been the classic religious alternative to theism.”
In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Levine states that:
- “many people profess pantheistic beliefs — though somewhat obscurely. Pantheism remains a much neglected topic of inquiry. Given their prevalence, non-theistic notions of deity have not received the kind of careful philosophical attention they deserve. Certainly the central claims of pantheism are prima facie no more “fantastic” than the central claims of theism — and probably a great deal less so.”
Dag Hammarskiold – Secretary General of the U.N. (1953-1961)
:“God does not die on that day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reasoning. When the sense of the earth unites with the sense of one’s body, one becomes earth of the earth, a plant among plants, an animal born from the soil and fertilizing it. In this union, the body is confirmed in its pantheism”
- Collective unconscious
- List of Pantheists
- Mordekhay Nesiyahu
- Naturalistic spirituality
- Universal Pantheist Society
- World Pantheist Movement
פנתאיזם Pantheïsme 汎神論 Panteisme Panteizm Panteísmo Пантеизм Panteizmus Panteism 泛神论