Philosophy Phridays – Pantheism

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Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is Pantheism.

The word Pantheism is credited to John Toland, an Irish thinker, from 1705. But the basic ideas of pantheism have been around at least as far back as human history can take us. Here is how the article describes these ideas, “At its most general, pantheism may be understood positively as the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.” It is not confined to any one religion, culture, or period. It has always been a worldwide phenomenon.

There are two ways people arrive at pantheistic viewpoints, either from a posteriori religious experience or from a priori philosophical reasoning. The a posteriori position is basically when the world around us arouses religious emotions from us. We start to see the world itself as divine. The a priori position reasons from principles such as that God is omnipresent or that the world could not sustain itself without God or that God is omniscient or that God is the substance from which all things are formed. They reason from these ideas that God is everything or at least God is in everything.

For as long as there has been pantheism, there have been people who reject pantheism. There are many reasons for rejecting pantheism. Some complain that God is not a personal being in pantheism. Others say that God is necessarily perfect, and the world is imperfect, so they can’t be identical. (Although, it’s unclear how a perfect creator could create an imperfect world and still be considered perfect.) But what it mostly boils down to is that pantheism simply makes some people uncomfortable.

I’m not in any kind of position to weigh in on the truth of pantheism. I find it fascinating how there’s always been this tug-of-war between theists and pantheists. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find a religion that doesn’t have pantheistic tendencies. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find pantheists that don’t personify the divine in some way. And even atheists often speak in pantheistic terms. All I can say is that pantheism has as much going for it as any other theism (or atheism), and has as much against it as any other theism (or atheism). It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves.

Mander, William, “Pantheism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/pantheism/>.

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