neo-Pantheism as Religious Naturalism
Pantheism is a booth in the RN Big Tent. It is the belief that all (Pan) is God (Theos). Pantheism today is a multi-concept paradigm like religious Naturalism ranging from the theistic to the atheistic. Most versions are naturalistic and recognize the spiritualism to be found in witnessing Nature.
Pantheism may be the world’s oldest religion. There is a strong element of it in two of the oldest religions on Earth – Taoism and Hinduism. There was some Pantheism in early Christianity (since lost but re-emerging strongly now in the environmental movement) and Deism is closely related to Pantheism. Many of the founders of our government were Deists as were our great naturalist poets.
Recently there has been an increase of interest in this belief. Today most scientists, environmentalists, naturalists and biologists are pantheistic however the intelligent design debate is driving many of them pass Pantheism to a full blown atheism. The majority are not aware of their affinity to Pantheism due to a lack of familiarity with it.
Pantheism until recently was a theistic concept. Baruch Spinoza, 17th century philosopher and author of Ethics, was the father of Pantheism. He was Jewish and a theist (God necessarily exists, God is the indwelling, God’s existence is an eternal truth) but obviously was not defining God as Christianity/Judaism did then. Spinoza did not use God as a metaphor. Both Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan stated they believed in the God of Spinoza. I am of the opinion that Spinoza’s theistic thinking contributed to Einstein’s scientific theories.
Neo-theists are moving towards more naturalistic concepts. A number of modern theologians are becoming pantheistic as postulated by Spinoza in that they sense God as natural (Tillich – God above God and God as Being-itself; Gordon Kaufman – God as Creativity; Spong – Transcending Reality or Ground of Being). Tillich’s ‘God above God’ provides a naturalistic answer for the anxiety of doubt and meaningless, mystical longing and loneliness that strict atheistic perspectives do not.
There is very little literature available about Pantheism. Paul Harrison has compiled a history of this beautiful philosophy in his Elements of Pantheism. Michael Levine’s book Pantheism: A Non-theistic Concept of Deity is worth reading. Some of his work can also be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy web site (P- pantheism). Additional background reading is the Taoist manual Tao Te Chang and Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics. The RN bibliography lists more.
Four years ago I started to write a book formulating my own paradigm calling it neo-Pantheism. I could just as easily have called it humanistic naturalism (see Murry perspective) or religious naturalism (see Goodenough) . I currently define it as follows:
neo-Pantheism - a paradigm characterized by an awesome mysterious Universe with a Goddess-like essence to it that shows us the Tao (way), an unconventional type of monotheism (if one chooses) and a spirituality that is an emotional response to awareness of the world. Its ethical base is human survival, wellbeing, enlightenment, family and virtue. Sexual equality and self-responsibility (Karma) are advocated. It is guided by science and reason and worships nothing as divine. It envisions a grand Destiny for mankind in a hopefully sane and intelligent future world.
I believe it is possible to define a concept of God in purely naturalistic ways and have done so. This entity is the totality of Reality and its resultant emergent characteristics. The ‘God’ word is a reasonable one that can be used to title this emergent entity but I have chosen to use the female name Panthea as more appropriate to defereniate from the traditional God/Yahwey/Allah.
Basic tenets of my neo-Pantheism are:
A modern, more rational religious/philosophical paradigm for living is needed by mankind because the old ones haven’t gotten the job done. Past and current versions of Pantheism are also deficient in some respects. Any rational paradigm must be compatible with reality and provable. neo-Pantheism negates some ancient mystical beliefs. There are no transcendental gods, masters or other spirits. There are no supernatural spirits residing in Nature, persons or things. Neither are there any souls, afterlives or Heaven. Also there are no miracles or spontaneous events, because the Cosmos operates according to her natural laws of cause and effect. Nature is a self designed project in progress (aseity).
There are no supernatural answers to reality or human existence, science and reason can well explain physical mysteries and human evolution. Science provides valid temporary answers that beget more exacting truths.
This singular Cosmos is eternal, evolving, rational, verifiable and the causation of all happenings and things. Our vast Universe is a grand, powerful, creative, mysterious and beautiful composite of many and all things. It merits awe and appreciation but not worshiping.
There is an essence to Nature that some may wish to call Panthea, a Goddess of limited and worldly attributes. She is a necessary entity. A naturalistic spirituality results from this essence making neo-Pantheism a kind of non-theist monotheism. This spirituality is sensed and felt by most humans to some degree.
Rightness and the rules for human compliance to it are self evident. The family of man for its own sake must be moral and guided by the rules of rightness.
The prime objective of human life is survival. The highest moral purpose of mankind is wellbeing. Individuals should be guided by a good will.
Any future religious belief must facilitate a healthier human existence. Thus it should promote democratic freedom, racial tolerance, female dignity, the right to be as one is or desires to be, population control, compassionate euthanasia, biological research, human evolution and a sustainable natural environment. This paradigm must likewise diminish war, crime, immorality, human misery, ignorance, supernaturalism, power/wealth concentration, elitism, and those activities that minimized the potentiality of any individual. It must recognize the frailities of mankind and work to replace them with robust strengths.
Humanity can have a grand destiny. A composite (consilience) of the best of human thinking rather than any single dogma will best guide its continued evolution.
I should have a book finished soon (I think I also said that 3 years ago). I need a bit more time to work out all the logic so it holds up to stout criticism. I think I can do that because Religious Naturalism with its big social tent is an idea whose time has finally come. I hope the concepts I will offer will enhance the evolution of the RN Big Ten to a cathedral of real substance.
Jerald Robertson, January,2008