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Pantheism – Is my God bigger than your God?

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our em...

Benedict de Spinoza (Photo: Wikipedia)

Pantheism (Greek: pan [all] + theos [God] = All is God) is the belief that God and creation are one.

Subtle differences and schools can be found within pantheism. Naturalistic pantheism sees nature and the cosmos as God, a cosmology found New Age theories advancing the idea that “We are the Universe.”

Others say that God exists in but is also greater than the universe. That is, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This view is sometimes called panentheism. Panentheism is evident in Taoism and aspects of Hinduism, as well as the philosophical works of Spinoza¹ and Hegel.

Both pantheism and panentheism differ from Theism and Deism. But these belief systems, themselves, are not the same. Theism and Deism both understand God as transcendent to creation but they differ on the degree to which God interacts with creation—from a great deal to not at all, respectively.

The religion scholar R. C. Zaehner suggests another term, panenhenism, for the belief that the universe is a unified whole without reference to any kind of ‘God.’

Zaehner’s term anticipates semiotic and postmodern agendas that deconstruct words like ‘God’ and the meaning these words connote to different individuals and groups—such as feminists, as well as visible, invisible, outspoken and silent minorities.

Talking about idea of pantheism can be fruitless because terms like “the universe” or “nature” mean different things to different people. For some, these are limiting terms because they do not include heaven and hell, as well as the spiritual powers and beings believed to reside in these places.

Others, however, claim that the words “universe” or “nature” simply point to “All That Is,” which would include heaven, hell and everything else in between.

Wikipedia sums up the general meaning of pantheism as follows:

In the mid-eighteenth century, the English theologian Daniel Waterland defined pantheism this way: “It supposes God and nature, or God and the whole universe, to be one and the same substance—one universal being; insomuch that men’s souls are only modifications of the divine substance.” In the early nineteenth century, the German theologian Julius Wegscheider  defined pantheism as the belief that God and the world established by God are one and the same.²

The Catholic Church has always opposed pantheism as an ultimate worldview.³ For Catholics, the Holy Spirit is incomparably higher and yet more personal than some force (or forces) of the created universe. For those who have experienced the difference, this seems obvious.

For those who haven’t experienced any difference, Catholics (and others) who say God is transcendent yet immanent probably seem brainwashed by their tradition. Reductionism isn’t only about cretins in white lab coats. It’s about anyone who tries to drag others down to their level of experience and understanding.

Image via Wikipedia

Related » Akhenaton, Connotation, Denotation, Monotheism, Polytheism

¹ Wikipedia’s entry on Pantheism seems almost devotional in its praise of Spinoza’s great intellectual achievement. True, he anticipates the enlightenment and Biblical criticism. But in my opinion, he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about when it comes to cosmology. A simple street person could be far wiser but some of us tend to exalt those who craft elaborate intellectual systems, even if they are built, layer by layer, on flawed or limited assumptions about the nature of reality.

² Ibid.

³ This opposition has not always been loving, to say the least. Giordano Bruno, essentially a pantheist, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600. See


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English: God Saman

God Saman by Freelk via Wikipedia

There are at least three main and possibly interrelated ways of conceptualizing God, as well as three main ways of relating to the deity.

Conceptualizing God

First, in monotheism, God is generally seen as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good transcendent but immanent (God dwells in creation but is also beyond it) being that created and rules over all of creation (e.g. Christianity, Judaism and Islam).

Second, one form of pantheism also known as polytheism boasts many gods, often ruled over by a master deity (e.g. the Greek Zeus).

Some non-Catholics say that the Catholic saints degrade Christianity with a form of polytheism. But this is a misunderstanding. Catholic saints mediate through contemplative prayer, not unlike people living on Earth who pray for one another.

Also, some say the Christian Holy Trinity is polytheistic. But this, too, is a misrepresentation because Christians generally agree that the three persons of the Trinity share a unity of substance which is One.

Meanwhile, some say that the Hindu gods and goddesses are polytheistic. But most Hindus point out that they are manifestations of the Brahman, an unmanifest ground of All That Is.

The third main way of conceptualizing God is expressed in naturalistic pantheism. Here, the forces of nature (and usually the cosmos) are identified with God. Some believe that monotheism and polytheism may coexist within a hierarchy of value. On the individual experiential level, that would mean progressing through a belief in The Many to discovering a (usually described as higher) level of monotheistic worship.

Stamp description / Briefmarkenbeschreibung De...

Stamp commemorating the 100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965) via Wikipedia

Relating to God

The monotheistic approach to relating to God is aptly described by the Jewish theologian Martin Buber as an I-Thou relationship. This is experienced as a

  1. feeling of awe
  2. healthy fear of offending the deity
  3. keen sense of personal humility

Another way of relating to the deity is seeing oneself as potentially identical to God. This second way is divided into three types:

  1. mythic identification
  2. mythic eternalization
  3. mythic inflation

A third way of relating to God is more about phenomenology, that is, about a person’s unique experience. Michel Henry (1922–2002), for instance, talks about God as the “essence of Life” experienced by the individual. His view of God doesn’t go much beyond that because phenomenologists believe we can’t really know much (if anything) beyond ourselves.

Related Posts » Agnosticism, Atheism, Deism, Mythic Dissociation, Mythic Subordination, Ontological Argument, Panenhenism, Panentheism, Panpsychism, Theism