1- Are all Pantheists united in a single belief?
2- How do people come to Pantheism?
3- What’s the relationship between pantheism and paganism?
4- Do pantheists believe in life after death or in the existence of a soul?
5- When Pantheism says that god is the universe, does that mean that god is immanent in the universe?
6- If the universe is god, the word “god” becomes merely a synonym for “Universe”, and this seems to eliminate the necessity for the idea of “god”. Is pantheism not another form of atheism?
7- How does pantheism relate to the idea of evil and of salvation?
8- Are there any kinds of ceremonies or sacraments in pantheism?
9- Can this experience of “unicity” or oneness be experienced absolutely?
10- As a religious alternative, what does pantheism offer?
11- Is this form of pantheism therefore scientific?
12- How can I find out more and find a good bibliography of pantheism?
The pantheist considers the Universe as a whole “divine”. Of course different understandings of this perception can potentially offer different versions or facets of pantheism. Perhaps there exist as many forms of pantheism as there are people, since the pantheist is is the leader and author of his own religiosity, which means that pantheism is essentially a creative religion. Pantheism does have,
however, a central vision, which includes some essential factors:
(1) the denial of what I usually call “transcendentalism” – that is, the belief in of a creative or metaphysical entity which is personalised and external to the Universe;
(2) the affirmation that god is the Universe itself, or for some, more specifically, the essential “unity” of all things;
(3) the “divine” feeling that comes when one appreciates the beauty, grandeur and mystery of universal nature;
(4) the desire to praise, exalt and love life and nature..
In fact, the perception that the Universe is divine comes through experiencing an illuminating feeling when one contemplates the Universe. For its part, this feeling is the source of an intuitive process, which opens the way to a humbler, more ecstatic and more reverent relationship with nature, and also an impulse to search for a clearer and more profound perception of integration and harmony. Therefore, when the pantheist considers that the Universe is divine, that the Earth is sacred, he does it with the same sense of reverence, respect and love that the members of other religious movements dedicate to their own divinities. Pantheist perception opens the way to: genuine mysticism, where great metaphysical values are unleashed; a sense of “paradoxality” (where experience annuls logic, as in a feeling of “unicity”, where the “I” exists and does not exist at the same time); and even a feeling of “transcendence”, (where the human being can experience a feeling of infinity).
Some people have the privilege of being natural pantheists because of cultural influences. Such is the case of people living more closely in contact with indigenous cultures, or at least further from social influences dominated by theism. In other cases, depending on their previous affiliations, people reach this position after a process of searching balanced between “flight” and”approach”, a path strewn with challenges within their own system of belief and emotions, as well as with meetings with a hitherto unsuspected harmony and beauty.
This process, this “flight” in our metaphor, could represent the leaving behind of supernatural ideas about the origin of the Universe, of absolute anthropocentrism, or of the idea that life on this planet is as it were merely a preparation for a better life. The “approach” happens through the stimulation – either spontaneously or through the practice of mediation – of an ecstatic, “oceanic” feeling of integration, union and plenitude with Nature itself. The result of this process is an understanding that Nature is in fact our glorious and sublime cradle, the source of our origin, the scene of our lives, the final instance of our existence, a full and sacred place where the being perceives itself as being in the right place and, therefore, ceasing to long for other paradises or ideal places.
The very term “pagan” is ambiguous, since most dictionaries do not possess a direct definition – often it’s explained as referring to all those who “are not baptised in the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church”. In its positive sense, the term is used to refer to practitioners of those generally polytheistic or animistic rites which started in ancient times and went on until the beginning of the fourth century – rites which often involved the worship of nature, its cycles and various aspects at the heart of primitive agrarian culture. With the exception of Naturalism, these rites have little to do with modern Pantheism, though some modern spiritualist movements describe themselves as “pagan” or adherents of “neo-paganism” or “neo-shamanism”, because they find more in common with these ancient rites than with the central dogmas of the roman apostolic church. Some adherents of neo-paganism believe that the divinity “manifests” itself in the universe, in everything which exists, and they use apparently polytheistic rituals and forms only as a metaphorical, symbolic approximation to the idea of a universal divinity: this could be described as a form of pantheism. Some individuals feel the need to use symbols and characters to mediate their relationship with nature, as a means of connection, without moving away from the basic pantheistic vision.
There is no official doctrine which establishes what a pantheist is supposed to believe. There is only a base, a cognitive nucleus, which has already been described: it involves the acceptance and perception of the fact that god is exclusively the Universe, in its known and unknown aspects, coupled with a “numinous” feeling, with the experience of the sacred in its relationship with nature.This simple base leaves ample space for each person to find and develop the ideas which seem to him most comfortable and sensible, in accordance with his needs or tendencies. It’s possible to imagine some forms of pantheism incorporating the belief in a soul which carries on existing after the death of the individual, but in fact most modern pantheists consider the mind, the feelings and the consciousness as aspects of “soma”, of the body, which – with the death of the individual – will dissolve along with the organism, whose matter/energy will go out into the Universe. The process of the generation of life itself is what can be understood, depending on the cosmological preferences of each person, as being somehow without beginning and without end, eternal.
Some forms of neo-paganism believe this, and they can be considered pantheists in the sense that they accept the central point, which is the denial of god as being an entity absolutely external to nature, or transcendent. In my view, this can be considered a “soft” form of pantheism, the “full” form being the understanding that there is no “something” immanent, absorbed into the universe, but that the universe itself is exactly what theists call god. To clarify further, the pantheist god is the universe itself, as understood by science, as perceived by the eyes and by other sensory organs. Once this understanding has been reached, we go on to use the word “Universe” with a capital “U” and the word “god” with a small “g”. The Universe is god. The pantheist god is visible, palpable, present, obvious, absolute and evident, as clear as the light of the sun. Many of its mysteries are the mysteries pointed out by science, by cosmology and by physics.
The only people who can describe pantheists as atheists are those who preach the truth of a personal and transcendent god. In fact, pantheist beliefs mean that the word “universe” is used in a different sense from the way it is used in everyday speech, in the sense that it is considered sacred and worthy of profound respect,divine – in its profound mysteries – the origin of life and of consciousness. What the pantheist calls the “Universe” is not identical to the way the word is used by other religious people and by atheists. In some way, humanity uses the idea of God to suggest the superlative, the incomprehensible, the numinous, that which goes beyond our normal limits. For the pantheist, this same idea of the “divine” is attributed to the Universe. This position is totally different from that of the atheist, who rejects the idea that something can be divine in the sense of sacred: in fact pantheism offers a new alternative between theism and atheism.
Pantheism does not declare that it is essential to its concept of the divine that nature should be perfect in all its manifestations. Nature is as it is, and allows, on various levels, happenings which we categorise as bad, evil etc, on the basis of criteria which define what is good. Just because nature, as a whole, is considered divine, that does not mean that all parts of the system need to be good or divine. The parts of a whole do not need to have the same properties as the whole itself: a new, modern house could be constructed with old bricks and wood; a species can exist for millennia while its individual members live only a few years; a bonsai can be perfect, but some of its leaves can be imperfect.
The idea of a metaphysical or theological evil is foreign to pantheism – in fact, it’s the specific property of theist doctrines which because they have the idea of an all-powerful and all-knowing god who is perfect, creative and superior to everything which exists – also need a suitable and convincing explanation for the creation, origin, existence and activity of evil, within the dominion, authority and area of responsibility of the same supreme being with the afore-mentioned virtues. Because it doesn’t believe in a transcendent god, pantheism eliminates the problem.
Since for the pantheist, everything is part in some way or another of a natural Universe, there is no preoccupation with finding a “metaphysical salvation”. Everything in the universe is fluid, everything is transformed, without exception, including the various forms of individuality. Typically pantheists do not believe in a soul which survives after death. For pantheists, there is a “movement in search of the divine”. The pantheist perceives, by observation, intuition and analysis, that everything which exists is already a totality, of a unity, of which he is already part and into which he tends to integrate, identify and unite himself, from the subjective, cognitive and emotional (spiritual, in our terms) point of view, in order to experience and get to know this “unicity”. To perceive, to experience and to feel this totality can even be understood as the equivalent of “salvation”, of transcendence, in a comparative analysis.
If pantheists have a well defined system of belief, then of course there should follow from this some kind of practice, a way of being and living. Since nature offers innumerable variations and subtleties, one would expect variety in ways of relating to her, especially because aesthetics and an appreciation of beauty are a characteristic of the pantheist spirit. The cycles of Nature tend to be the framework for thedevelopment of pantheist ceremonies.
Particularly central to pantheist practice is the cultivation of the perception that there is an interdependence among all things. And this suggests an essential unity. To use a Nietzschean expression, this cultivation is carried out through the study of ecology and of natural sciences – intellectually speaking, in an “Apollonian” way – and also in a sensory way, through intuitive perception, by meditation – in a “Dionysian” way. From this follows the development of a new culture, a culture of “unicity”, as a physical and spiritual reality.
As far as I am concerned, experiencing ecstatic states of absorption and union with Nature form the existential nucleus of pantheist practice. From this essential culture, expressing itself in different people, come varied practices and lifestyles, though still clearly identifiable as pantheist: a multiplicity of creative ways of living and celebrating the same feeling, the same Universe.
Nature is not only the pantheist’s divinity; it’s also his temple. The adornments of the pantheist temple are the most evident and most striking phenomena of Nature, like the Sun, the Moon, the mountains, the most beautiful and inspiring landscapes, the starry skies, the rainbow, the birds, the flowers, all universal beauty.
In the Ayahuasca Pantheist Society, members meet about once a month to study and exchange ideas, to meditate on pantheist ideas, and also, through use of the psycho-active potion known as Ayahuasca, to taste a mystical feeling of union. The four “pillars of the temple” are the most important staging posts of Nature: the seasons, which give the cyclical progression both of climate and of ritualistic activities; and the two solstices and equinoxes.
Of course this experience is necessarily relative, as no finite being is given the ability to understand or apprehend – either through intuition or through intellect – the universal totality. The best way to get to know it intellectually is certainly through the inductive reasoning used by science, but it’s clear that this method is not
certain or absolute, since it is always contingent and subject to revision in the light of new paradigms and information. From the other side, from the perceptive point of view, we only gain contact with reality in accordance with a neuro-sensory programming conditioned by our genes through our sensory organs. It’s clear that these systems were chosen not for their ability to recognise the infinite and to philosophise, but for their utility: they allow a sufficiently valid perception of reality for us to exist and reproduce. Even equipped with instruments, telescopes and microscopes, we depend in the end on a scientific analysis of the information we have gathered, and in the end we return to the methodological uncertainty described above.
Besides these inherent limitations, there are other, insurmountable obstacles which qualify our capacity to understand. Linear logic works well for medium-sized things, but at the limits of the infinitely large and the infinitely small, it comes up against insoluble paradoxes, infinite regressions or mysterious beginnings. Questions like the understanding of logical continuity between different scales; static matter and life; or life and consciousness, for example, seem to be beyond our current human potential. As a philosopher once said: the size of our understanding is like an island in the middle of the sea: the more it grows, the larger grow the beaches of the unknown. At the level of meanings and “whys”, there are no answers. After all, no-one will ever know why “something exists” instead of “nothing exists”. So, after centuries of investigation and study, we know something of reality, and we also know that we will never be able to answer many questions which we ask. Just as the eye cannot look at itself, we cannot see the roots of consciousness.
If our science is condemned to be relative, the basic mysteries will always be absolute, and perhaps this is the fundamental mystical sense of the idea of an “essentially imperfect” human being, in terms of some hermeneutics, like the Christian one, for example.
At least we know that we do not know, and I believe that this state of “essential ignorance” is just as vital for the health of our consciousness as the air is for the flight of birds and water for fish. I believe that mystics – whatever type, Buddhists or otherwise – come up against the same paradoxes. Mystical union does not give access to a new factual knowledge, but it makes possible the experience of unity and the transformation of the consciousness itself.
The objective is simply to reach the greatest possible understanding of this state of things, and to try – through mediation and mystical union – to experience this union from a qualitative point of view. No-one believes they will be able to understand everything; nor do they say they can experience this oneness in all its intensity. Our energy, our ability to feel and take in information, is also limited and finite. We are a drop of consciousness suspended in the universal infinite.
Like any religion, it offers social spaces where people of the same communion of ideas can meet and share happy moments. Accepting pantheism as a philosophy of life and a religion, we choose a profoundly positive attitude, sublime in relation to the life which is manifested on our planet, Earth. Instead of admiring
Nature as a production, a magnificent work of a creative god, we
pay reverence directly to God/nature, for its force and power, for its beauty, its mysteries and infinite grandeur, for its divinity. Considering this world as a sublime space of which we are legitimately part, we become part of the universal family without any reservations. The planet Earth becomes our real home, and because of this and as a direct consequence, we take on a deep interest in ecology – it’s a priority for us to ensure conservation and the most beautiful possible expression of Nature. Pantheism offers a mystical path in search of the realisation of unity.
If its purpose were only to “deny transcendentalism”, then its position could indeed be described as scientific, logical and positivist – but this denial is not essentially pantheist; it is atheist. The actual essence of pantheism is the vision of “Nature as God” and “Nature as sacred, divine”, as well as the intention to praise
“God/Nature”. These ideas are not part of science, which is the
dominion of quantities rather than qualities. So, in my opinion, it would be difficult to reduce pantheism to a “scientific” attempt to understand the world. Our vision of pantheism, if it needs an adjective, is better described as a “Holistic Pantheism”. On the other hand, pantheism at no point enters into conflict with science, since it is not trying to “explain” the Universe (which simply exists, subject and object of itself) – and for this very reason it accepts and approves of the attempts by scientific cosmology to explain something of its origins. Above all else, pantheism tries to cultivate a relationship with nature. Many artists, poets and scientists are also pantheists.
Various important sites are suggested in our links. In English I enthusiastically recommend the site of the World Pantheist Movement (WPM), whose director Paul Harrison is author of a very interesting and concise book, “Elements of Pantheism”, currently available in free electronic publishing and recently reedited. I also recommend the site of the “Universal Pantheist
Society”, founded in 1975, where various interesting texts are
published. In Portuguese, the site “Pantheism in Portuguese” is totally devoted to divulging pantheism. In all of these, a good bibliography can be found.