Pantheism: Nature is God

pantheism

Pantheism is the belief that nature or the universe is identical to God. Unlike theists, pantheists do not believe in a personal god who interacts with people, performs miracles, listens to prayers or judges what we do as being morally right or wrong. Unlike atheists, pantheists do believe in some sort of god. Some people say that pantheism is the complete opposite of atheism since it says that everything is God, whereas atheists believe in no god anywhere.

However, some also argue that pantheism is a close relative of atheism since the pantheist essentially says that the universe is all that there is, but that it makes sense to call the universe God. If the universe and God are identical, then God is not something supernatural, but just a poetic name for something much larger and more mysterious than ourselves. Pantheism is like a spiritual form of atheism – Richard Dawkins calls it “sexed up atheism.”

Although the term pantheism did not exist until the 17th century, the idea of it is much older. Hindu and Taoist philosophy is pantheistic in some ways. In the ancient Hindu text, the Vedas, Brahma (or God) is said to be the basis of the whole universe and also that the whole universe is pervaded by Brahma. Brahma is in minerals, plants, animals and humans equally. Taoism is also similar to the outlook of a pantheist.

In the foundational text, the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Tao is referred to as if it was something divine and holy. But the text never refers to a supernatural, transcendent God, but to a mysterious ground or principle underlying all things. The famous Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi said: “Heaven and I were created together, and all things and I are one.” When asked where the Tao was, Zhuangzi replied that “There is nowhere where it is not…There is not a single thing without Tao” – he admitted that it must even be in “excrement”.

The most well-known pantheist is probably the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-77). Spinoza was a Jew who would flee from the Spanish Inquisition to Holland and change his Jewish sounding name to a more Christian one. He later became Benedict Spinoza. If that wasn’t enough of an insult to Spinoza, he was also excommunicated from his synagogue in Amsterdam for his non-orthodox views on religion and God. Spinoza studied Descartes who was a dualist, that is, Descartes believed there are two kinds of substances in the world: mind and matter.

God, for Descartes, would fall into the category of mind, as would human souls. Everything else – minerals, plants, animals – were material and there was nothing divine about them. Spinoza came to reject this dualism and in his book, Ethics said there is only one type of substance and it is called God or Nature. It’s no wonder that Spinoza would later be regarded as a heretic – he was arguing against the Judeo-Christian God which watches us and cares what we do. Spinoza’s God was impersonal. Some say that Spinoza had created a religion of nature in which the adherent expresses respect and awe at nature or the universe, instead of towards a personal god.

Others have argued, however, that although Spinoza did identify God as Nature and said that God is in all things, he did not say we should show religious awe to God. The philosopher Steven Nadler says Spinoza wanted to study God in an objective and rational way – if we start to show religious awe towards God then this would make the study of God more open to error and superstition. Spinoza expresses these views in his work Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, where he criticises organised religion and says we must use our rationality and not rely on claims made in holy books. He also claimed that prophecies, miracles and other supernatural events do not exist; God acts only through the laws of “his own nature” which could stand for the laws of the universe. He rejected the idea that there was any sort of purpose or plan of God or Nature. Max Muller, who studied comparative religion, did notice an obvious similarity between the one substance that Spinoza believed in (God or Nature) and the one substance or principle described as “Brahman” in Hindu texts such as the Upanishads.

Some argue that Albert Einstein was also a pantheist – in that he believed in a god, but definitely not a personal, anthropomorphic one. In his own words: “The idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I am unable to take seriously.” Einstein had always said that he was a deeply religious man and this even affected his science. For example, he is known for famously saying: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” Einstein did, however, reject the idea of a god who is concerned about our individual lives, judging us when we die and intervening in the laws of nature he created when he feels like it. He saw this as a very immature concept of God – it was just too human-like to be a true representation of such a being. As Einstein puts it:

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.

Einstein regarded the universe with the same kind of feeling that religious people direct towards the Judeo-Christian God. He was just amazed and awe-struck by the fact that the universe exists, that it is so ordered, and how mysterious it is. He was also struck by how science and reason could give us access to the structure and order of the universe. Because the universe was so ordered and possible to understand Einstein gave it divine qualities and called the universe – or the laws of nature – God.

When Einstein said that “God does not play dice”, he was not referring to a God who created the universe, but to a God which is the universe, which is non-random and can be understood by reason. Einstein would reject quantum mechanics because it was random and so couldn’t be a part of the universe – but if he were alive today he could appreciate the evidence for it and perhaps see quantum interactions as another part of the mystery of God.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), a friend of Henry David Thoreau, expressed his pantheistic views in his essay Nature (1836), which puts forward a non-traditional appreciation of nature. In the essay Emerson reinterprets the “divine” as being something large and visible – the divine is all around us he says – in nature. But he also said that living in society means that we are, for the most part, separated from it. As a founder of the transcendentalist movement in America, Emerson believed that society distracts us from what the “spirit” of nature, as he calls it, has to offer. Thoreau would carry on this tradition in his book Walden (1854), where he describes how he lived away from society for two years, in nature and in complete solitude. Emerson referred to nature as the “Universal Being” and he often describes his feelings of religious respect and admiration for the natural world around him.

10 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    June 15, 2015 / 6:34 pm

    calling "oxygen" god doesn't make it a god, just like calling the universe "god" doesn't make it a god

    we already have names for these things, quit trying to muddy the waters with more useless definitions of gods…

    • Sam Woolfe
      June 18, 2015 / 3:23 pm

      I do not believe this is muddying the waters. The earliest religions were fertility cults and for our ancient ancestors celestial bodies (the moon, the sun, the planets) and natural cycles (seasonal changes) were very much endowed with divinity and personified as gods. I see no issue with an atheist being spiritually inclined (like myself) and metaphorically referring to the universe as 'God'. The universe, like belief in a deity, can evoke similar feelings of humility, awe and gratitude. I'm not saying I am a pantheist, but I can definitely sympathise with it.as a point of view.

  2. Kraka Doros
    April 29, 2020 / 12:33 am

    When we say “Nature” we do not mean the animals the trees the mountains the ocean, but the forces or the force which make them exist. And these forces or force are connected with the idea of God. If you have read N.Kazantzakis you will find a great idea about what God is. In one of his works he says : ” I asked the almond tree to tell me what God is, and it blossomed”
    If i am allowed, i would like to share a muic video with title :”My Nature my God” and it is here :

  3. Nivlac Naharts
    June 1, 2020 / 2:41 pm

    It all comes down to belief because whatever an individual or a group believes in becomes their reality. I don’t believe in the miracles said to have occurred in the bible but I do believe the universe and life itself is a miracle. Some feel the need to force their belief on others in a “My way or the highway” ultimatum, when believing in whatever one chooses just feels right. To each their own.

    • Sam Woolfe
      Author
      December 3, 2020 / 11:33 pm

      I believe it does make sense to think of the existence of the universe and life as miraculous, not miraculous in the religious sense, as if the laws of nature were suspended, but in the sense of how mystifying it is that both exist instead of not existing.

    • A Helper
      January 18, 2021 / 4:47 am

      There are no miracles in the Bible.. NOTHING SUPERNATURAL.. there is only symbolism, metaphor, and poetic words.. along with frequent ambiguities.. to make us think.. A blind man is a man without understanding.. a deaf person is someone who will not listen.. A person is DEAD.. because his heart has stopped working.. metaphorically speaking.. and when Jesus walks over the high waves of the sea.. and still the winds and calms the waves.. All we need to do is ask.. what does this really mean.. search the Bible until we find the answer..
      ———————————————————————————————

      JESUS WALKING ON WATER.. AND SILENCING THE WIND AND WAVES…

      A MIRACLE… OR ALLEGORY ?

      “He is stilling the noise of the seas, The noise of their waves and the turmoil of the national groups. He causes the windstorm to stand at a calm, So that the waves of the sea keep quiet.” – “The national groups themselves will make a din just like the noise of many waters. And He will certainly REBUKE IT….”

      ALLEGORY – As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory (in the sense of the practice and use of allegorical devices and works) has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

      Writers or speakers typically use allegories as literary devices or as rhetorical devices that convey (semi-)hidden or complex meanings through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, or events, which together create the moral, spiritual, or political meaning the author wishes to convey.”

      =================================================

      “And when he got aboard a boat, his disciples followed him. Now, look! a great agitation arose in the sea, so that the boat was being covered by the waves; he, however, was sleeping. And they came and woke him up, saying: “Lord, save us, we are about to perish! ” But he said to them: “Why are you fainthearted, you with little faith?” Then, getting up, HE REBUKED THE WINDS AND THE SEA, AND A CALM SET IN. So the men became amazed and said: “What sort of person is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:23

      “HE REBUKED THE WINDS AND THE SEA, AND A CALM SET IN”

      AND.. THE INTERPRETATION FOR WIND & WAVES.. IS…

      “The national groups themselves will make a din just like the noise of many waters. And He will certainly REBUKE IT, and it must flee far away and be chased like the chaff of the mountains before a wind and like a thistle whirl before a storm wind. But the wicked are like the sea that is being tossed, when it is unable to calm down, the waters of which keep tossing up seaweed and mire.”

      “They have multiplied altars in order to sin. I proceeded to write for them many things of my Law; Just like something strange they have been accounted. THE NATIONS ARE FEEDING ON WIND and chasing after the east WIND all day long. Lying and despoiling are what they multiply.

      —————————————————————————————————–

      “Finally I realized that the alchemists were talking in symbols.

      “Why this is fantastic,” I thought. “I simply must learn to decipher all this.”

      -By now I was completely fascinated, and buried myself in the texts as often as I had the time.”

      Extract from “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” by Carl Jung.

  4. Edward Taylor
    June 28, 2020 / 4:53 pm

    The basic tenets and philosophy of pantheism are much older than Christianity, and other religions. Pantheism probably or does goes way back to the time of the Neanderthals. The great 19th century American poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were Pantheists. There are other Pantheist poets also. Pantheism is more realistic because of its basic tenets and philosophy about nature and the universe. Pantheists like myself included have respect for nature and that it should be protected.

    • Sam Woolfe
      Author
      December 3, 2020 / 11:29 pm

      I wouldn’t be surprised at all if pantheism was one of the earliest religious feelings that humans had. To me, it seems not too far off from animistic beliefs, the idea of unique spirits or souls existing in all natural objects in the universe, a belief that is widely recognised as one of the oldest forms of religion. Of course, pantheism differs from animism in that it doesn’t posit a unique soul in each object, but I still see similarities between the two, especially in the way that both make all of nature sacred and deserving of reverence.

  5. MPG (@MPGKY48)
    December 26, 2020 / 3:05 pm

    I cannot believe I didn’t know about your writings before. Love from a Hindu! I believe in Advaita Vedanta, which as you pointed out, believes that everything is ultimately one. Dzogchen Buddhism also has certain similarities with Advaita Vedanta. I hope peace and love prevail in the world!

  6. A Helper
    January 18, 2021 / 4:21 am

    Some of our greatest thinkers.. have identified something.. a force.. maybe .. that is far beyond our understanding.. and i think the word – GOD – is a good symbol to represent this.. whatever there is.. that they observed during their life-time..

    I have come across many other recorded observations.. by great minds in science and philosophy.. that are saying much the same.. I have had several experiences myself though-out my life.. after long sessions of meditation.. altered states of consciousness.. that just blew me away.. the most amazing experiences I have ever had.. so I know that there exists something else.. far above our everyday experience.. I feel very fortunate that I have had such experiences. This is a vid I made by re-mixing the work of other artists.. about one method we can use to experience the God Inside us..

    The Transformation – Become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFuiQfNdrqQ

    As Heinz Pagels, a theoretical physicist explains: “The visible world is the invisible organization of energy.” – “This UNTHINKABLE void converts itself into the plenum of existence – a necessary consequence of physical laws. Where are these laws written into that void? What “tells” the void that it is pregnant with a possible universe? It would seem that even the void is subject to law, A LOGIC THAT EXISTS PRIOR TO SPACE AND TIME.”

    ”Mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that ALTOGETHER SURPASSES OUR UNDERSTANDING.” wrote Freeman Dyson

    “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is STRANGER THAN WE CAN THINK.” – said Werner Heisenberg

    Albert Einstein also wrote – “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is SOMETHING THAT OUR MIND CAN NOT GRASP and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.”

    “The word – God – is a metaphor for THAT WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL LEVELS OF INTELLECTUAL THOUGHT. It’s as simple as that. The Ultimate, Unqualified Mystery is BEYOND HUMAN EXPERIENCE” – Joseph Campbell

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