Testing worldviews: pantheismMay 19, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
The blogger who goes by the name “schooloffish” is to be commended for taking the time to consider pantheism, a view that many apologists simply brush off without addressing. In his post “DOES YOUR WORLD VIEW PASS THE TEST?“, schooloffish writes:
Pantheism, and perhaps paganism (witches) would hold that all things are GOD or have GOD in them. Pantheist generally have a high respect for life as all life is GOD. The question of contradiction is based more on definition then everything but there are still contradictions within the world view. The most apparent contradiction is that if everything is GOD than nothing is GOD. Even if you define GOD in a very general term as say a life force (The Jedi God), the religion can not account for anything because the life force GOD has no power to create. Therefore the pantheistic god is unimportant and totally meaningless. In a nutshell pantheists stating that everything is god is a meaningless statement and meaningless as a world view.
My own view is that when people think they are perceiving God, what they are really perceiving is the complexity and unpredictability of Reality itself, filtered through the social instincts we use in dealing with people, who are also complex and unpredictable. In other words, Reality, when filtered through human eyes, becomes God, at least in our perceptual experience. This is a much more personal variety of pantheism than is usual, and also a more humanistic view. God, as “God,” exists only because humanity exists to experience Her.
Since this is a variety of pantheism (albeit atypical), let’s consider how schooloffish’s objections apply. First of all, do I have a high respect for life? Yes, of course. I myself happen to be alive, and I recommend it. So far so good. What about the objection that if everything is God then nothing is God? That’s easy enough, let’s just rephrase it. Is it true that if everything is real then nothing is real? When you consider that God is Reality, you can see that the two are really the same question. It’s a moot point, however, because not everything is real: fictions, fantasies, errors, lies, etc. are all not real and therefore not God.
Schooloffish’s objection, therefore, is based on a misconception. It’s not literally every conceivable thing that is God or part of God. Only real things are part of God. Therefore it is quite meaningful to say that God is Reality, as distinct from non-real things like delusions, frauds, unmarried spouses, and so on.
As for God’s power to create, that’s easy too. God creates by becoming. If you’re used to the magical stories men tell about the gods they have imagined, this might seem odd at first, but if you think about it, every “creation” we see in real life is an instance of one thing becoming something else. Oils and pigments become paint. Fibers become threads and threads become canvas. Canvas and paints become a painting. One real thing becomes another. Even stories and fantasies draw on concepts and experiences that we derive from the real world (otherwise they’d be meaningless).
There are two possibilities: either God is Reality itself, and creates by becoming, or else God is part of something greater than Himself, some larger context that contains both everything that God is, and every created thing that is not God. Reality is always at least as great as God, because any God that is not part of Reality is not a real God, by definition, and any God that is real is at least part of Reality. Either God is Reality, or God is something less than Reality. So schooloffish’s God, Who creates things which are not God, is necessarily an inferior being. By the very act of creating, He demonstrates Himself to be only a part and not the Whole.
Naturally, if you are going to claim that the pantheistic God is meaningless, you must also complain that reality itself is meaningless. As we pointed out before, God and Reality are really the same thing; “God” is simply a personification that helps us humans cope with the incomprehensible complexity and uncertainty of the cosmos. Just because we cannot fully grasp the totality of Reality, however, does not mean that Reality (the pantheistic God) is meaningless. Indeed, we would not know what “meaning” was, if Reality did not teach us.
The pantheistic God is not only meaningful, She is the source of all meaning. Go ahead: try to think up something meaningful that is not based on or derived from Her. What words will you use to describe this meaning? All of our words are expressions and concepts and relationships that we have acquired through our experiences of Reality. Even the charismatic believer babbling “in tongues” is merely mimicking the experience of making incomprehensible noises with their mouthes.
The pantheistic worldview is thus quite rational and self-consistent, provided we recognize that our concept of God is a human approximation for the intricacies and uncertainties of Reality itself. We cannot, by flattery (worship) or pathos (prayer), influence God to grant us things we have not earned and don’t deserve. But even Christians know this, or eventually learn it: God’s ways are not man’s ways, and we have to learn what to pray for. Prayer does not change God, it changes the pray-er. By praying, we learn what we can and cannot expect from God (i.e. Reality), and this helps us.
What the pantheist knows explicitly and sensibly, the Christian sooner or later learns, somewhat foggily. Reality is what it is, no matter how much or how little you pray, worship, serve, or otherwise attempt to get the Divine Attention. Christians are continually surprised by the fact that their God always behaves more like Alethea than like the God of the Bible, and are forced to repeat the mantra, “God works in mysterious ways.” The pantheistic view, however, does not need to invoke “mysterious ways” because its worldview is already self-consistent. Pantheism, therefore, does a much better job than Christianity at passing schooloffish’s worldview test.