Before we look at the evidence for Pantheism, we first need to understand what Pantheism is. Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines it as “the doctrine that God is not a personality, but that all laws, forces, manifestations, etc. of the universe are God; the belief that God and the universe are one and the same.” This is actually a pretty good definition as far as dictionaries go.
Two Important Points
I want to point out two very important points in this definition. First, notice that Pantheists believe “that God is not a personality.” If you believe that God is a person, you are not a Pantheist. Pantheists tend to view the Divine in Nature as a Higher Power, a Force, a Way, or a Unity. This was the view of such Pantheists as the Presocratics, Taoism, Plotinus, and Bruno. Spiritual Naturalists prefer to call this Nature, with a capital “N”.
Second, the other important point in the above definition is, that Pantheists hold that “God and the universe are one.” This is clearly implied by the term Pantheism itself. Pan is the Greek word for “all” and theism is from the Greek word theos meaning “god.” So Pantheism literally means “all is God.” For Pantheists, God and the Universe are, as far as existence is concerned, “one and the same.” That is, the Universe and God are ontologically equivalent.
This is an important point. If the Pantheist’s God is ontologically equivalent to the Universe, that is, if the Universe is God, then if the Universe exists then the Pantheist’s God exists. The Universe exists, therefore the Pantheist’s God exists. The issue for Pantheism is dealing with the appropriateness of calling the Universe Divine.
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a little bit better definition when it says that, “Pantheism essentially involves two assertions: that everything that exists constitutes a unity and that this all inclusive unity is divine.” And, as Michael P. Levine points outs, “Different versions of Pantheism offer different accounts of the meaning of ‘unity’ and ‘divinity’” (25). I don’t think most people struggle with the fact that the Universe is a unity. The problem most people have is calling this unity “God.”
Two Issues with Pantheism
There are two issues that arise from calling the Universe “God.” The first deals with the identification of the Universe with God. The second deals with the appropriateness of such a designation. Let’s begin with the first issue.
If the Universe is God and God is the Universe, why not just call it the Universe? Why complicate things? Let’s face it, the word “God” is a loaded word that instantly brings up such images as a man with a white beard. This is why I prefer the word “Divine,” which Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines as “of or like God or a god.” From this point on I will use “Divine” instead of “God.”
In fact, some people refrain from even using the word Divine. For example, Paul Harrison defines Pantheism as “Profound spiritual reverence for the Universe/Nature” (2). Too me, this surrenders too much. In what sense is it still Pantheism?
Okay, but the question still remains, if the Universe is Divine and the Divine is the Universe, why not just call it the Universe? Why use Divine at all. Isn’t it redundant? If the Universe and the Divine are are identical things, why add to the confusion? Because the Universe and the Divine are not completely identical.
Yes, as far as existence is concerned, the Universe and the Divine are ontologically equivalent. But that is only half of the story. We not only have an objective and intellectual nature, we have a subjective and experiential nature as well. Objectively it is the Universe, the Cosmos, and Nature; but subjectively it is the unity that we are a part of, a Divine connection that we feel deep within us.
Evidence that Reality is Divine
So Pantheists believe that the Universe has certain characteristics that make it appropriate to consider it Divine and worthy of reverence. It is kind of like a father. He is objectively a man, but relationally he is a Dad. The same is true of the Universe. It is objectively the Cosmos, but subjectively it is Mother Nature. It is the relationship that makes the difference.
The Universe has certain impersonal characteristics that are usually reserved for God:
(1) Creator – The Universe created us, so it is a Creator.
(2) Sustainer and Provider – Nature not only brought us into existence, it provides for our continued existence.
(3) Omnipotent – Nature is as close to all-powerful as you can get.
(4) Omnipresent – The Universe is present everywhere.
(5) Omniscient – The Universe is all-knowing by having conscious beings within it.
(6) Oneness – The Universe is an all-inclusive Unity.
(7) Aseity – The Cosmos is self-existent and self-sufficient.
(8) Eternal – The Universe is eternal, it has always existed in some form.
This last one is a statement of faith, not science. Current science cannot tell us what was before the big bang. It is an open question. It is possible that the Universe is actually eternal, forever expanding and contracting. Or it could be eternal in some kind of multiverse form. It is the Pantheist’s answer to Theist’s, who insist that you can’t get something from nothing. If that is true, then why not stop with what we know exists (the Universe), rather than add an unnecessary entity (a supernatural God) whose existence is unknown.
It is an interesting fact that the attributes of the Theistic God can be divided into two sections, those that refer equally to the world, and those that refer to the ideal super human. It would appear that humanity created God by combining the characteristics of the Universe and the ideals of the perfect man. Let’s face it, theistic religions were built by men for men.
Evidence of Something Greater
Why is it that, as Linda A. Mercadante reports, “the percentage of atheists has remained only around 2-3% for decades” (93)? This is the case even as more and more people leave the church. Many, if not most, of these people can be included under the banner of Spiritual But Not Religious. According to Linda A. Mercadante, almost all of the “Spiritual But Not Religious” people she interviewed “believed in something and that something was usually greater than their individual selves” (93).
I would argue that the reason most people don’t become atheists is because they feel that there is a Cosmic Force, a Higher Power, a Something Greater that exists. They may not have the words for it, but they feel it. They feel the interconnectedness of all things. In other words, they feel something Divine. The feeling is the same for all people, but the interpretation is different.
All experiences are interpreted through our worldview. If I am raised in a Christian nation, this feeling of Something Greater will be interpreted as God. If I am raised in an Islamic nation, this feeling of Something Greater will be interpreted as Allah. If I am Jewish, it will be Elohim. If I am Hindu, it will be Brahman, Vishnu, or maybe Shiva. If I am a Taoist, it will be the Tao. If I am a Buddhist, it will be Buddha nature. The point is, that the feeling does not tell you anything about what actually exists. It just tells you that there is Something Greater of which you are a part.
For Pantheists, the Universe answers that description without adding human imaginings on top of it. The Something Greater that all religious people experience is nothing more than the Universe. It is the only answer that makes sense of the fact that none of the religious agree on what this supposed supernatural God is. The reason they can agree that God exists is because Nature is what they are feeling as Something Greater. And the reason they can’t agree on what God is like, is because these concepts are human projections added onto that feeling. They don’t stop at the feeling, but imagine all kinds of attributes and conceptualizations, many times losing the sight of the feeling itself.
A Personal Relationship with Reality
Another reason the Universe or Nature is considered Divine, is because we need to have a healthy relationship with it. Not only for ecological reasons, but for our own psychological well-being. Again, look at the evidence. Ecopsychology, writes Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist, is “the study of the psychological processes that tie us to the world or separate us from it” (17). A “growing body of research” supports the idea that we need a “healthy” relationship with Nature (17-18).
“Indeed,” writes Thomas J. Doherty, “findings on the benefits of greenery and natural settings for psychological health and well-being through stress reduction, improved cognitive and emotional functioning, and the development of identity, efficacy and meaning, are some of the strongest in the social sciences” (19). But you don’t need psychologists to tell you that being in Nature has a positive effect on you, you have likely experienced it yourself.
Evidence of Nature Mysticism
“Mysticism,” writes Wayne Teasdale, “means direct, immediate experience of ultimate reality” (20). For Pantheists, that means a direct, immediate experience of Nature. And, as Richard Dawkins explains, “A quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists. It has no connection with supernatural beliefs” (32). Although, some people do add “supernatural beliefs” to something that is, actually, just a natural phenomenon.
There have been many Nature mystics, such as John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth. As William James reports, “Certain aspects of nature seem to have a peculiar power of awakening such mystic moods. Most of the striking cases which I have collected have occurred out of doors” (210). This has been my own experience, both as a Christian and after becoming a non-believer. The experience is the same, but the interpretation has changed. Before I would have told you that I knew for sure that is was God, now I know better.
And the most reasonable explanation of why you can get the same mystical experience from God and Nature, is that the experience has the same source. Since repentance and faith in God is required in order to have a relationship with him, a non-believer should not have a mystical experience. But they do. So the only other option is that it is Nature, not God, that both the believer and unbeliever are experiencing.
Pantheism is Natural
Pantheism is the most popular alternative to Theism. We are educated and culturalized into believing in an all-powerful and all-loving God. But the widespread evil in the world shakes us from our complacency in holding to hand-me-down beliefs. We begin to think for ourselves, question authority, and examine the evidence for ourselves. We then discover that the Bible is untrustworthy, the church corrupt, and too many preachers are hypocrites. We then begin the search for a spirituality worth believing.
C. S. Lewis admitted that, “Pantheism is in fact the permanent natural bent of the human mind” (374). Pantheism is the natural inclination of a mind not yet indoctrinated with human ideals and human projections. We want to make everything in our image, and so anthropomorphize the Divine. We think it has to be a person because we are a person. Reality is under no obligation to capitulate to our wants and desires.
As the evidence for Theism continues to crumble, the evidence for Pantheism is strong. The Universe exists, therefore the Divine entity of Pantheism exists. And as I have shown, there are certain characteristics of the Universe that make it appropriate to consider it Divine. I have shown the importance of having a healthy relationship with Nature, and the reality of mystical experiences of Nature. Both of which verify the subjective need for considering the Universe Divine, and therefore of Ultimate Concern, to use Paul Tillich’s term.
Since the Universe exists, the most important part of this article was to show that it was appropriate to consider the Universe Divine. I think that I have done that. And so the evidence leads to one conclusion, the Universe is an all-sufficient Divine Unity. It is not enough to objectively study it, we must develop a healthy relationship with it. In other words, humans are incurably religious because we actually need to connect with the Divine characteristics of Nature.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
• Buzzell, Linda and Craig Chalquist. Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009.
• Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Mariner Book, 2008.
• Doherty, Thomas J. Ecotherapy: Theory, Research, & Practice. Martin Jordan and Joe Hinds, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
• Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Pantheism.” Encyclopedia.com. Accessed February 16, 2017. http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pantheism
• Harrison, Paul. Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe. 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books, 2013.
• James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Collier Books, 1961.
• Levine, Michael P. Pantheism: A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity. New York: Routledge, 1994.
• Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007.
• Mercadante, Linda A. Beliefs Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual But Not Religious. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
• Teasdall, Wayne. The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999.