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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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

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Cosmology

Hildegard of Bingen receives divine inspiration – Image via Wikipedia

Cosmology is a term used by anthropologists, philosophers, scholars of religion and theologians to denote an individual or group understanding of the world, the universe and beyond. This “map” may or may not include an account of creation.

In contemporary science the term cosmology denotes the creation, structure and evolution of the universe, as with the Big Bang theory.

For all their social legitimacy and status, from a spiritual standpoint modern scientific cosmologies can fall short by ignoring the possibilities of hellish, purgatorial, astral and heavenly realms that could permeate and interact with life on Earth and, indeed, life throughout the universe (assuming life exists beyond our planet).

Perhaps most scientific cosmologists in the 21st century are so focused on their way of seeing the world that there’s little or no room in their hearts, minds and souls to experience numinosity. If they did, they’d probably revise their theories to make them more comprehensive.

Cosmology arguably bears a direct relation to ethics. But these two spheres of inquiry are usually kept apart by philosophers, scholars and theologians. This arbitrary separation of cosmology and ethics has its pitfalls. For instance, a dominant cosmology that excludes the importance of numinosity is probably not going to seriously consider persons claiming to experience numinosity. As a result, persons of numinosity might be marginalized and discriminated against.

The Milky Way Galaxy measured on different wavelengths – Image via Tumblr

While many may naively suppose that science pins down truth, a look at the range of current scientific cosmologies (note: plural) will hopefully dispel that belief.

Instead of truth, what we arguably find is a group of stories, not entirely unlike the ancient myths that preceded them. True, these more recent stories are based on scientific (i.e. measurable and replicable) observation.¹ But their fragmentary nature highlights the fact that human beings cannot really grasp the whole. Not that there’s any harm in trying. But when researchers lose their sense of humility and start overreaching the limits of their observations, all sorts of problems can arise.

For an excellent list of the latest scientific imaginings, see Historical Cosmologies (the latter entries in the chart). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmology. And for a brief timeline see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_cosmology.

¹ At least, this is what we’re told. In reality fraud and deceit can creep into the halls of science, just any other human endeavor. See Broad and Wade, Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science.