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Introduction | Types of Pantheism
 
Introduction Back to Top

Pantheism is the view that God is equivalent to Nature or the physical universe - that they are essentially the same thing - or that everything is of an all-encompassing immanent abstract God. Thus, each individual human, being part of the universe or nature, is part of God. The term "pantheism" was coined by the Irish writer John Toland in 1705.

Some pantheists accept the idea of free will (arguing that individuals have some choices between right and wrong, even if they likely have little conception of the greater being of which they are a part), although Determinism is also widespread (particularly among naturalistic pantheists - see below). Some pantheists also posit a common purpose for nature and man, while others reject the idea of purpose and view existence as existing "for its own sake". Although Schopenhauer claimed that pantheism has no ethics, pantheists maintain that pantheism is the most ethical viewpoint, pointing out that any harm done to another is doing harm to oneself, because what harms one harms all.

The concept has been discussed as far back as the time of the "Upanishads" of Vedic Hinduism, and the philosophers of Ancient Greece (including Thales, Parmenides and Heraclitus) as well as in Kabalistic Judaism. The Biblical equation of God to acts of nature, and the definition of God within the New Testament itself, has led to the establishment of some Christian panthistic movements, from early Quakers to later Unitarians. In the 17th Century, there was something of a resurgence, and Spinoza in particular is credited with belief in a kind of naturalistic pantheism.

Types of Pantheism Back to Top
  • Classical Pantheism:
    This is the form of pantheism that equates existence with God without attempting to redefine or to minimize either term. It believes in a personal, conscious and omniscient God, and sees this God as uniting all true religions. In many ways, classical pantheism is similar to Monism, in that it views all things, from energy to matter to thought to time, as being aspects of an all-embracing personal god. It is distinct primarily because of its simplicity and its compatibility and inclusive attitude towards other world faiths. Classical Pantheism is represented by many religious traditions including Hinduism and Kabbalistic Judaism.
  • Biblical Pantheism:
    This form of pantheism (vehemently condemned by many traditional Christians) argues that some pantheistic aspects are expressed in the writings of the Bible. The Biblical equation of God to acts of nature, and the definition of God within the New Testament itself, all provide the basis of appeal to this belief system.
  • Naturalistic Pantheism:
    This is a form of pantheism that holds that the universe, although unconscious and non-sentient as a whole, is nevertheless a meaningful focus for mystical fulfillment. Thus Nature is seen as being God only in a non-traditional, impersonal sense. Critics have alleged that this constitutes an intentional misuse of terminology, and an attempt to justify Atheism (or some kind of spiritual naturalism) by mis-labelling it as pantheism. Naturalistic pantheism is based on the relatively recent views of Baruch Spinoza (who may have been influenced by Biblical Pantheism) and John Toland, as well as contemporary influences.
  • Cosmotheism:
    This is a small and controversial movement started in the late 18th Century to express the feeling was that God is something created by man and did not exist before man, and is perhaps even an end state of human evolution, through social planning, eugenics and other forms of genetic engineering. Among others, H. G. Wells subscribed to a form of Cosmotheism.
  • Pandeism:
    This is a kind of naturalistic pantheism, holding that the universe is an unconscious and non-sentient God, but also that God was previously a conscious and sentient force or entity that designed and created the universe. Thus, according to pandeism, God only became an unconscious and nonsentient God by becoming the universe. This is a sort of synthesis of pantheism and Deism.
  • Panentheism:
    This belief has features in common with pantheism, such as the idea that the universe is a part of God, although Panentheism argues that God is greater than nature alone and so the physical universe is just a part of His nature.
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