Pantheism rejects the idea of an interventionist creator God, but it does suggest that we are all somehow spiritually interconnected with each other, nature, and the universe.
“God” represents the interconnectedness of everything and everyone in Pantheism. It suggests that there are things that do lack explanations and that there seems to be some design, progress, and growth in which we are participants.
In Pantheism, to know oneself is to know God. To know our neighbor is to know God. To experience the universe is to experience God.
It is a sense of spirituality in things.
Athiest Richard Dawkins refers to Pantheism as “sexed-up” atheism because it rejects the idea of an interventionist creator God being.
As human beings we at times in our lives experience elevated levels of spirituality and interconnectedness, and then as human beings who seek to not only understand but to share about our experiences with others, we develop myths, stories and faith traditions that describe constructs of our perceptions of what those things mean.
In the history of humankind, at times the myths and constructs were based on nature, animals, or parts of the universe. At times, the myths and constructs grew to be very humanized because it made the stories of divinity, our relationship with it, and the characteristics of it more relatable to us. So, the Greeks and Romans had their gods, the Hindus had their gods, the native residents on different islands and continents on the earth had their gods that also had humanistic characteristics. Around 1000 BC (plus or minus), the Yahweh/Jehovah monotheistic tradition was developed and compiled from various sources–from which we ended up with Judahism, Christianity, and Islam.
Those myths, stories, and constructs are simply frameworks in which to relate to divinity. Pantheism accepts that they are man-made myth traditions, stories, and constructs based upon perceptions men and women that should not be taken literally.
So, a Christian tradition Pantheist might believe that there was a literal historical person named Jesus who might have taught things that ended up in the Gospels that help us to be more one and connected with each other, but at the same time, the person would not believe in a traditional construct of Jesus as God or a literal Son of God. A Christian Panthiest might have studied the historical development of the Pentateuch (5 books attributed to Moses) and the New Testament Gospels, and come to the conclusion that the stories are mostly allegorical. They would accept the scholarly consensus that the stories of the Garden of Eden, City of Enoch, Flood, Tower of Babel, and Exodus are all non-historical, mythical stories–at least in the forms they are represented in scriptures. They would accept the scholarly consensus that the characters of Adam, Cain, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Moses are all non-historical, mythical characters in the forms they are represented in scriptures. They would accept that the actual historical Jesus was probably a peasant Jewish follower of the Baptist, born out of wedlock in Nazareth, who probably did teach many of the things attributed to him in the Gospels, and that he was killed because he was a threat to the Romans and to the Jewish leaders of the time. They would accept the scholarship regarding the development of the Gospels that they were not eyewitness accounts, but that they were written by the equivalent of what would be grandchildren or great-grandchildren of contemporaries to the historical man named Jesus, based upon a many decades long “telephone game” of oral traditions that got modified and embellished, and that they were written in a completely foreign language (Greek instead of Aramaic) to the historical Jesus and his followers–who would have been largely illiterate.
A Christian Panthiest would perceive no literal need for an Atonement when the story of the Fall being in 4000 BC is demonstrably mythical because the earth was inhabited by about 50 million human beings at that time, with diverse cultures, races, languages, and spiritual practices–not two Caucasian people in a allegorical mythical Garden of Eden. To a Christian Panthiest, the concepts of the Fall and Atonement would be understood as the writers of those scriptures intending the stories to be allegorical and applicable to individuals and their experiences of personal growth and spirituality, and not a global or infinite sacrifice of Atonement by Jesus or a Fall with a literal Adam and Eve in a Garden in 4000 BC.
Side note: I encourage you to explore the history of what was happening in the world between 1000 BC and 4000 BC. These are demonstrable things that I don’t believe are compatible with the myths of the Jaredites, single Adamic language and Tower of Babel, Exodus, Flood, City of Enoch, or Garden of Eden in the ways they are represented in scriptures.
Back on point, a Christian Panthiest would practice their sense of spirituality through the teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels that help them experience being one with their fellow human beings and with God, and without literalist beliefs, they would connect with their Christian culture, tradition, and tribe as if it was their opportunity and “language” to connect with humanity and the universe (God).
A Muslim tradition Pantheist likewise would not believe in any sort of literalism with regard to Islam and the Koran, but they would pull from the spiritual practices, allegories, and metaphors of Islam that help them experience spiritual interconnectedness with humanity and the universe (God).
It some ways, Pantheism is spirituality without dogmatic literalism.
If you read or listen on Audible to Reza Aslan’s book, God: A Human History, he has a chapter where he explains his take on Pantheism.
I highly recommend this book:
If you like Rob Bell’s books or his podcast, or you have watched this video, “Everything is Spiritual,” he seems to approximate a Christian tradition Pantheist. (It’s about 2 hours long, but I believe that it is worth a watch.)
Personally, I am agnostic about a separate God being or substance that is apart from us and who gives a rip about the temperature of a person’s caffeine, or how many steps a person takes on the Sabbath, or if a woman’s shoulders are exposed. That makes no sense to me and feels entirely man-made.
However, I do believe that there is some sort of spiritual interconnectedness between us and some sort of design and beauty in which we participate.
In another post at some point, I’ll share information about what I perceive that the majority of Christians conclude are the “Fruits of the Spirit” are actually, most of the time, one or more of the Elevation Emotion, the Illusory Truth Effect, and Confirmation Bias.
However, I do personally hold the belief that some of what they/we experience in our religious practices, scripture study, etc. is more than those three things. I do believe that some of it is a sort of Pantheistic universal spiritual interconnectedness.
I believe Mormons and other Christians in many cases simply got the myth constructs wrong of what those experiences mean when their construct goes much beyond an experience of “communion with God”–with “God” not actually existing as an interventionist creator being who has favorites, chosen peoples, or rules about hot caffeine, the number of steps taken on the Sabbath, or exposed women’s shoulders.
If you want a jump start on the Elevation Emotion, the Illusory Truth Effect, and Confirmation Bias:
4 thoughts on “On Pantheism and spirituality–the way I understand it.”
Beautiful post Anthony. I particularly like the link to the elevation emotion. A beautiful thing!
I also believe God is omnipresent, which means God is everywhere, which means interconnected with everything. I can come to no other conclusion if God is omnipresent, then everything is God. That said, I still believe in an interventionist God as well.
True, my personal experiences validating this may just be confirmation bias, but if there was a prime mover before the big-bang outside of space and time, it also makes sense to me this could stay anonymous, even while intervening. I continue to believe in Jesus and hope Paul’s testimony about His resurrection is true, though I do not believe in “the fall” the way most Christianity does, which many make the resurrection contingent upon.
Anyway, regardless thank you for sharing your thoughts, your heart and your experience. I really value your perspective.
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Anthony, I love your blog. Thanks for sharing your journey and insights with us!
I’m curious if you’ve read any of Marcus Borg’s writings on Christianity? He talks a bit about pantheism but also panentheism, which is a bit different. My understanding is that pantheism is essentially an equating of ‘the universe’ and nature with ‘God.’ Your summary above is on point. Panentheism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism) is a bit different in that it seems the universe and nature as emanating from God, or being in God. Because I can’t articulate it as well as others, here’s what Borg says about the idea in one of his books:
“The second way of thinking about the God-world relation has been called a ‘procreative’ or ’emanationist’ model: God brings forth the universe from God’s being. Because the universe comes out of God’s being, it is in some sense ‘God-stuff.’ This model does not identify the universe with God, for God is more than the universe; rather, it sees the universe as being ‘of God’ and ‘in God.’ […] The procreative model affirms the presence of God within and beyond the universe and fits the notion that creation is an ongoing process, not a past event. […] [This model] leads to a much more intimate sense of the closeness of God to the world—indeed, the presence of God in the world.” (Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus J. Borg)
Your points about pantheistic Christianity sound nearly identical to what Borg advocates in his books. If you are interested, I recommend his book The Heart of Christianity, which is a light and conversational read but covers much of the kind of thinking that you’ve described in this post and few others. I think you’d really like it—I know that I have.
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I have spent time with books from Borg, Bell, Rohr, and others that seem to approximate these ideas in varying ways.
I have Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, but I haven’t yet read it all.
Rohr refers to panentheism, as meaning that instead of God being everything, God loves everything by becoming everything. This may be a distinction that sits better with people who hold to a Universal Christ reconciliation.
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I like that description. As part of my faith reconstruction after Mormonism, I have been researching a lot into world religions with a new perspective. The thing that has struck me the most—very much to my surprise—is how narrow and inaccurate my preconceptions of Christian theology were as a Mormon. Marcus Borg and Karen Armstrong’s writings have been eye-opening for me into a world of non-fundamentalist Christianity that is far more diverse in thought and tradition that I ever appreciated.
I’ve been recently attending worship and occasionally bible study with a United Church of Christ congregation whose minister was a student of Borg’s and also incorporates a lot of Buddhist thought and practice into his sermons. What I’m loving about this experience has been getting to know a community of Christians who don’t read the bible literally, don’t constrain participation by policing individual belief, and actually welcome and respond enthusiastically to challenging questions about core Christian beliefs. I know, of course, that not every church is this way—indeed, it is likely the minority experience of Christian churches in America. However, I’m discovering that it is also not an uncommon way of faith either. As a believing Mormon, I would have dismissed such a tradition out-of-hand as a radical and fringe heresy—oh, how perspectives change!
Thanks again for sharing your faith journey so openly and candidly. I just finished your interview with John Dehlin and really connected with your story. One day, I’d love to meet you and learn more about your continued journey and insights. Keep on!
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