The Wonders and Joys of Pantheism

 

Pantheism

I think I put off the inevitable topic of religion long enough. I absolutely love talking about religion with people who are willing to entertain ideas other than their own or at least look at the subject objectively. However, in all honesty, I’ve been hesitant to write about it because the topic of religion is so controversial and my religion is just obscure enough that what I say here could be the basis for people’s judgments of the religion as a whole. Therefore, I must proceed with caution.

Let me just toss in a disclaimer right now that what I say here does not necessarily represent the religion as a whole or any other individual that identifies as a member. Like everything else I say here, this is just one person’s thoughts and beliefs. If you’re unsure of what any individual specifically believes, it’s best to just ask them. Also, as I’m writing this it’s starting to sound like a recruitment flyer, but I swear to you it’s not. I strongly feel that we should all pursue whatever religion feels right for ourselves. I’m just shedding some light on my own.

 

The Basics

First of all, what even is pantheism? I didn’t know what it was until about two years ago, when someone told me that my beliefs sounded a lot like it. It quite simply is the belief that “God” is the universe, nature, and every part of our being. God is not some supernatural force looking down on us from above or some puppet master pulling the strings on how the universe progresses. God isn’t even really a God by most definitions.*

A common misconception stems from the structure of the word. Pan- means all, and theist means god-believing. This garners a proclivity to thinking pantheism means believing in all gods or all religions.** That’s not the case. Occasionally, the word will be used for that sense, and it’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s more of a modifier. For example: “Last night’s church event was a pantheistic service in the park that welcomed members from all religions.” If the word is being used to describe a specific religion, it’s referring to what I’m describing here. I like to think that the word pantheism instead is derived from “believing all is god” because that is much more similar to the actual belief.

We were all created from nature, and when we die, we will be placed back into nature. Our whole existence is infused with nature, and the particles that comprise us are the same ones that comprise the rest of the universe. Therefore, it only makes sense to extol nature with the highest reverence.***

Some religions evoke a fear or anxiety of death or devalue life by treating it as a means to prepare for the afterlife. Conversely, pantheism sees life as precious and valuable. There is no punishment for sins when we die, and so we should not fear death. When we die, our bodies are recycled into nature, and in that way, we live eternally (or at least until, perhaps, the universe becomes stagnant or collapses in on itself).

There are three pillars to pantheism: healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy earth. They’re fairly simple. We’re encouraged to extend both our knowledge and mindfulness to understand more of this beautiful universe around us. Our body is not just a container or vehicle for our soul; it is a part of us, quite possibly the entirety of us. Therefore, it only makes sense to take care of it and keep it healthy. Since nature is the supreme entity, we should also care for and respect it. These aren’t rules or commandments or qualifications. They’re simply guiding principles for how we feel we should approach life. There is no punishment for not following them.

 

The Difference between Pantheism and Panentheism

There is another religion out there with an eerily similar name: panentheism. The similarity isn’t coincidental, but there are very distinct differences between the two. Panentheism takes pantheism and merges it with traditional theism. Pantheism looks at the universe as “God.” Panentheism puts “God” above the universe. In other words, the universe is God, but God is more than just the universe. The universe still has a direct impact on God, because God is seen as having characteristics of a living being. When something happens in the universe, it directly affects God. As the universe grows and develops, so does God grow and learn. This is what makes panentheism unique from traditional theism, where God is unchanging and relatively unaffected by the universe.

 

Pantheism and Science

The thing that attracts me most to pantheism is that it allows me to feel a part of something greater than myself without ignoring science and logic. Science has pretty much negated the likelihood of a greater being. Theoretical physics has studied the universe enough to have a pretty good idea of how it began, how it develops, and potentially how it will end. While there is the common argument that none of this has been “proven” and they’re all just “theories,” the theories are backed by strong evidence, they are able to make predictions, and they are widely accepted within the scientific community. Refuting them on the grounds of not being definite is more a personal, individual choice than a fault of research. We can never go back and witness the Big Bang, and so we’ll never be definite about it, but we don’t need to be.

Physics shows that the universe began with a point of infinite mass and infinitesimal size that expanded into the universe we know today. This actually doesn’t in and of itself negate the existence of a greater being, but instead opens the doors for creationism. After all, what or who created this dense little thing? We can’t really know because it’s a singularity, so maybe it was God or the Spaghetti Monster or Chuck Norris with a BB gun. However, since the exact moment of the Big Bang, the universe has followed the same exact rules up to this day, meaning that if there were a greater being, it has done nothing to affect the universe since he or she created it. This makes the argument of traditional theism a bit harder to substantiate without changing one’s view of God’s power.****

 

Sexed Up Atheism? Or Even a Religion at All?

Some people say that pantheism isn’t even a religion. If you’re one of those people, just leave now.

Okay, I didn’t mean that. You may stay, but let’s not argue that because the argument always boils down to a matter of interpreting the definition of religion. It doesn’t really go anywhere. Pantheism is a religion in that it is a system of belief and worship in regards to a greater power (the universe). It is not a religion in the sense of being a belief in a supernatural power, religious orders, or a set of teachings based on a spiritual teacher, etc. We do have churches, though (I’ve never been, but they are out there). I call it a religion because it usually tells people what they want to know when they ask me what my religion is, and I like having a religion. Otherwise, my actual religion would just be agnostic, and that’s not very interesting.

The other issue: is it really all that different from atheism? They do share a lot of similar beliefs. There is no greater being ruling over us. There is no afterlife. We look to science for explanations. However, atheism in itself doesn’t promote ties to nature or a feeling of being part of something greater than oneself. So yes, I guess it can be called sexed-up atheism, if we must, but this again becomes a matter of interpretation of words. Atheism by definition is simply “the belief that there is no god.” Pantheism by definition is “the belief that the universe is god.” So, depending on whom you ask, pantheists might believe in god, or they might not. It all depends on what you consider “god” to mean.

In my opinion, neither of these arguments really matters because they don’t get at the essence of pantheism. They’re just hung up on particulars dealing with labels. {Insert here another one of my rants about how much I hate labels}.

 

Conclusion

I’m not going to end this post the way I usually do, by urging us all to accept and respect each other as we are, because I’m sure by now I’m getting horribly redundant. However, I will say that religion is a belief and only a belief. It doesn’t dictate who we are. Who we are, ideally, dictates our religion. Our culture and upbringing also play a part, though, so let’s not judge each other based on religion. We’re all good people just trying to make sense of this strange yet beautifully complex life.

 

Footnotes:

*Fun fact: According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, there are 4 separate definitions for the word “God,” one of which refers to a person sitting in the gallery section of a theater. So yes, we can all be gods if we’re willing to bring binoculars to the next showing of Chicago.

 

**Another gem I get asked: “So you, like, worship pans?” This joke was funny maybe twice, but it’s getting kind of old. Let’s come up with some better jokes, yeah?

 

***I’m not using obfuscated words in this post to sound pretentious. I’m just practicing for the GRE.

 

****I intentionally made this section short to avoid having a theological debate. The purpose of this specific post is to inform on pantheism, not to crush theology.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Religion and Spirituality, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s