Pantheism

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

July 30, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Everything Is God

For the last in this series on starting points I would like to consider what is generally called pantheism which holds that everything is god.  Classical pantheism is held by Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.  However, elements have crept into Western culture in the form of New Age thinking, spiritualism, and popular media such as the Star Wars saga with its “Force” and Disney productions with its “Circle of Life.”

Consistent pantheism holds that everything in the universe is one thing, and it is called god.  This god is impersonal and eternal.  The implication here is the dissolution of all distinctions.  If everything is one thing than nothing is something.  Humanity cannot be differentiated from rocks and trees and birds and bees.  It may occur to the reader that in the modern world it is impossible to live out this world view.  Science, art, music, ethics and even love demand that we recognize distinctions.

Years ago I heard a lecturer try to define love as atomic attraction such as takes place due to the valence structure of various elements.  I did not know whether to laugh or to cry.  Today I wonder if he got away with that explanation when he told his wife he loved her.

The problem of pantheism is as old as thinking man.  In philosophy it is called the problem of “the one and the many.”  It requires a consistent pantheist to deny the “many” which in turns requires a denial that the physical universe exists.  The physical universe then becomes an allusion, something unreal.  In classic Hinduism it is called “Maya.”

Obviously a culture built on this world view does not develop science.  Modern India which is rich in education, technology and medical science is caught in a stark contradiction to the “old ways.”

Ethics is another casualty of pantheism.  There is really no way to distinguish between good and evil.  This is the same problem as is inherent in atheism except that atheism denies the existence of a spiritual world and pantheism denies the existence of a physical world.  For both there are no ethical distinctions because there is not a personal God who communicates his holiness in the moral structure of the universe.  Darth Vader may be evil and Luke Skywalker good in the Star Wars saga but there is no rational reason to make such a distinction.  This idea was sneaked in from the biblical perspective.

Another implication of pantheism is reincarnation.  In classical Hinduism this was tied to the cast system.  You are what you earned in a past life, so there is no sympathy for the outcast or the poor.  This has changed in modern times but again the difficulty of rational consistency looms large.

One of the key points in biblical thought is the absolute distinction between Creator and creature.  The Apostle Paul describes the unbelievers of his day with the expression, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

The intent of this too short series is to accent the fact that it matters where one starts their thinking process either consciously or unconsciously.  Biblical faith is self-consistent and fits the facts of life.  It has given us science, art, music, ethics, education, a democratic political system and much more.  It is worth serious consideration.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net). END-whs