Are you bored of the endless debate between evolutionists and creationists, theists and atheists? Not sure which is more ridiculous: Hollywood’s War on Religion or Hollywood’s War on Unbelievers? Did the whole “Ham on Nye” charade leave you shaking your head, wondering how we got into this dichotomous theological mess and what a third voice would sound like?
There is good news. The universe is bored with it too. Change is on the horizon.
I believe the stage is set for pantheism to emerge as the hallmark worldview for a new human era, the focal point of a great paradigm shift for the 21st century. It is tantalizingly close even now, and many are already touching its pulse without knowing so. Pantheism is the alpha of theism and the omega of atheism, the end goal of the romantic heart, the rational mind, and the homeward bound soul. And the awesome part is that nothing needs to happen to deliver us. The Reality at the root of pantheism is here now, waiting for you to discover it for yourself.
Richard Dawkins, the eminent biologist and New Atheist mouthpiece who seems bent on chopping down everything held sacred by everyone, briefly mentioned pantheism in his book The God Delusion, dismissing it as “sexed-up atheism.” He was right, in a way. But he got it exactly backwards. The small container goes inside the bigger one. Atheism is pantheism for prudes.
Wikipedia defines pantheism as “the belief that the universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God.” It is mistaken, however, to assume that pantheism is a religious movement in the classic sense. In creating a platform for science, philosophy, spirituality, and art to come together with the fervor of religion, pantheism becomes a unitive phenomenon much greater than any of these alone.
One peculiar thing about pantheism is how obscure yet ordinary it is, and the big secret about it is that there is no secret at all. There is no esoterica behind the knowledge of pantheism. The pantheist experience is nothing other than cognitive awareness of non-dual Reality –simply put, this is the individual becoming aware that her self-awareness does not make her separate from her surroundings, that any sense of separation is illusory.
When we look out at the world, we perceive distinct objects that have names and spatial integrity, and we think unique thoughts about our perceptions. This does not change with a non-dual perspective; it simply becomes clear that distinction and dualistic thoughts do not cause separation in Reality. The unity is in the background, like the pages of a book or the canvas of a painting –and you, the observer, are part of that unity.
At first, this non-dual Reality is as invisible as the retinae of your eyes– which means that you will never see it until you realize that it is the absolute ground of your vision, and everything you see is happening upon it.
Therefore, where the dualistic-minded atheist looks for evidence of God and sees nothing, the pantheist uses non-dual logic to realize that God, the source and ground of all phenomena, is everything he sees, and he will literally never take his eyes off of it.
The non-duality behind pantheism is the logical extension of something we have all known superrationally to varying degrees: the simple experience of being One with that which you love, recognized for what it really means: you are not “you” alone. Your ultimate Reality is shared with all other beings and things that exist (“and all that is gone, and all that’s to come”).
Love is the bond between what appears to be disconnected. To love means to share our whole being, to let down the intellectual walls we built to protect and separate our sense of self from others. The pantheist simply takes love to its logical conclusion. Once the experience of non-duality visits us, there is no reason to think that anything in the universe is separate from us or anything else– therefore, when we open ourselves to the universe, the universe loves us back. The boundaries we drew around us and between us disappear, and love rushes in.
The implication is profound: There is more to your life than a flicker of existence as an organism. Your true Self is the universe, boundless and eternal. To see the world as a pantheist is literally to be the universe being aware of itself.
The experience of pantheistic insight, therefore, is unchained Love, extending our sense of self omnidirectionally, cleansed of sentimentality and possessiveness, released from the selfish grip of the ego that wants to constrict Love and channel it only to where its interests are served.
Though it shares the Greek root word theos, translated as “God,” pantheism stretches the God concept beyond anything debated by theists or atheists. That dialectic occurs within the confines of dualism, the mode of thought created by the walls of separate selfhood, projecting God as a mysterious infinite being somehow separate from its creation. The theos postulated by pantheism is numinous and ineffable, immeasurable and transcendent of all categories, including that of an “object” to be analyzed by subjects. Theism provided humanity’s first thesis statement on this universal transcendence; atheism provided the antithesis. Pantheism is the synthesis, humanity’s answer for why we feel the reality of God so strongly yet cannot see it –in truth, we can’t NOT see it. The seer is the seen, and the theos is free from our God-shaped box.
This is why we say that pantheism is an emergent paradigm, not a new religion in competition with the old. People may draw new mythic or religious conclusions from the refined depictions of pantheism, or they can re-envision their ancient traditions in light of pantheist perception, but neither option is essential to the experience nor the expression of such. One of the most visible organizations, the World Pantheist Movement, is entirely naturalistic, and organizes a large community of pantheists around a shared reverence for Nature and social justice. It is this kind of practical, applied pantheism that will likely spearhead our best efforts to resolve the stark reality of climate change, with all its sociological and ecological impacts, over the next few generations. On the other hand, pantheists who remain well-versed in the language of religion, with their essential neutrality yet deep understanding of the basis of faith, tend toward the theological melting pot of Perennialism. (The merging of the two philosophies, pan-Perennialism, is discussed here.) It is they who may stand the best chance of championing the slow but steady progress of peace between religious partisans. Both ends of the spectrum will likely be needed.
By taking no sides, pantheism stays vital and available to all. Its influence is intrinsic to the practice of every human religion –think of it as the leavening agent that enables an individual to rise above the verbal limitations of his/her own theological suppositions– and, according to the sound rational assessment of Werner Heisenberg and others, it is the same for the natural sciences as well. Therefore pantheism neither confirms nor denies any gods or other avatars of our interior landscapes, but it creates boundless space for the human imagination to envision them– or not, in favor of keeping that sacred space open for whatever may enter it, or focusing on our sacred exterior world.
It is a desire to hold space for the ineffable blank slate of pantheism that makes us slow to give a name to the Oneness we perceive– not, as is often assumed, a lack of reverence for the general religious experience or even a specific traditional framework for it. To the contrary, reverence seems to be the one and only constant across the pantheistic paths. When Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature,” he wasn’t relegating God to the mundane or profane — he was elevating Nature to the divine. Likewise, a Christian mystic may harbor a profound belief in the healing power of his Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that salvation consists of the pantheistic notion of forgetting all traces of the illusion that he was ever separate from the infinite Body of Christ in the first place. And then there are eloquent pantheists like Walt Whitman who find all the evidence for the unity of God that they need in a leaf of grass.
It truly does take all types. There is plenty of room under the pantheist sky for Heisenberg and Dawkins, Ham and Nye. As Einstein implied in saying, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” pantheism values creativity and all-inclusiveness over correctness and precision. If loving everyone and everything is wrong, pantheists don’t want to be right.
Originally published 1 Aug 2014; revised 31 Dec 2018.
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