In this post we continue with a second example of Inconsistency in faith claims: Pantheism
Pantheism is a spiritual belief system which is not as well known in the west but has dominated philosophy and religion in the east for millennia. It is now making significant inroads in the west. It is the belief that all the universe is god, in some sense of the term “god.” The prefix “pan” means “all.” “Theism” refers to god. So pantheism means “all is god, or god is all.”
Therefore the pantheistic worldview asserts that only the universe exists, and only god exists, because god is the universe and the universe is god. They don’t overlap. They are the same. God does not exist outside the universe, nor is god independent from the universe. God does not even exist inside the universe; the universe is god. All that exists is the god/universe.
Some movies have propagated some version of pantheistic belief including the Star Wars series with the “force” permeating nature, the Matrix movies and their concept of the world being an illusion while reality is interconnected, and Avatar a form of pagan worship seemingly based on a pantheistic worldview. However these are only some expressions of variant pantheistic beliefs not the core of pantheism itself. The core is this concept of the god/universe being the “One” and the only thing that exists.
Though some in the Pantheist camp don’t agree pantheism should be described as the worship of all the universe as god, that is the classic pantheist definition. Merriam Webster provides this definition of Pantheism: “a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe.” Dictionary.com provides this definition: “any religious belief or philosophical doctrine that identifies God with the universe.” So those pantheists who disagree that they worship nature either are atheists or they are unorthodox pantheists. It is difficult to call oneself a pantheist if one does not ascribe to nature some sacred properties.
In the west we are used to arguments between theists and atheists or agnostics. “Do you believe in God, or do you not?” tends to be the center of the battle. Pantheism seems to split the rails and gather truth from both camps. Pantheism stands with theists in affirming God’s existence, but it also stands with atheism in affirming that the only thing that exists is the universe. If theism believes God made all things, and atheism believes all things exist except god, then pantheism seems to meld those two concepts and take the middle road. It advances the concept that all things are god.
Yet it is debatable whether pantheism solves the concerns either theists or atheists raise. For pantheism, unlike theism, believes god and the universe are the same, and unlike atheism believes god exists as the universe itself. Atheists see no spiritual properties or value to the universe, only material, unplanned existence, and theists would never worship what God created. For to them only God, not nature, is worthy of worship. Nature is a product of God’s creation and is vastly inferior to God.
Again, you will find some pantheists who deny they worship the universe, but they still call it “sacred” or the equivalent, and they still go to nature to find their peace, harmony, belonging, and meaning. They tend to fight for nature’s rights. So their actions belie their denial that the universe is to be worshipped as god. In fact, to them there is nothing more sacred than nature. Nature is all; and all is sacred and valuable. Pantheists believe that the universe has spiritual significance and should be worshipped in some sense by us. It is not just raw, insignificant material but has life-energy in it and meaning to it. The universe, all of it, is divine or ‘the One.” And nothing exists except this “one.”
That means a pantheist believes in an impersonal god, not a god you can speak with or enjoy as you would a conversation with a person. The pantheistic god is not a father or mother or guide or even a friend. It cannot relate to you. It’s just life-energy. God, to them, is ultimately impersonal and unknowable. Generally speaking pantheists don’t pray to this god by speaking and listening to messages or responding to commands and advice; they meditate without commitment to any stated teaching to try to arrive at their personal enlightenment.
Furthermore, since all of us live in the universe, derive our existence from the universe, and are constantly part of the universe, we, by necessity, are part of the divine whole. Since all is divine, and all is to be worshipped, we are divine and we are to be worshipped too. Even more astonishing, this worship logically extends to include plants, animals, minerals, stars, the ocean – everything! This worldview asserts that a cow, crow, person, fungus, lump of coal, computer, cell phone, or automobile are as much a part of the one god as anything else. What must go along with the concept that all is one is that “I” am that one too. Pantheism necessarily deifies the human self by making it part of the divine whole. Everything in existence is united, cosmic, divine being and energy – including us! There is no separate existence or identity – only the One!
Most of the religions from the east including Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism and the New Age religions have pantheism as their core or base. Some philosophers also have been and are pantheistic. Admittedly they go in different directions from the core, but their religions and worldview depend on the truth of pantheism. If pantheism is not true, then their religions and worldviews are not true. Since the base of each of these religions is pantheism, if you take away that base, the entire superstructure of their religion fails and falls.
Therefore we can evaluate pantheism by looking at its core claim and seeing if it is consistent with itself.
My goal in this segment is not to evaluate the various religions in their unique characteristics, contributions to religious thought, pathways to enlightenment or wisdom they espouse. Nor is it to controvert that people gather a measure of life benefit from following those religions. Rather it is to look at the claim of pantheism and note that it is a self-contradictory, self-canceling belief and thus is not true. It lacks the important commonsense quality of consistency which all of us should trust. Pantheism like agnosticism is self-defeating at its core. A self-contradiction at the core is fatal to the whole system.
Again, this contradiction is not hard to spot.
If everything in the entire universe is just one giant unified god, then there can be no independent existence of any of the beings or creatures in that universe, including us. There only exists the One! Yet pantheistic religions all attempt to instruct, guide, help the individual to find its way back to the One. So Pantheism has to affirm the individual’s existence while denying anyone is an individual. Pantheism has a message for the individual, but considers the individual to be an illusion, not reality. Reality is that all is one divine whole.
To expand on this contradiction… To claim we have some relationship to the universe, namely that we are to worship god/universe or relate to god or learn from god or try to get back in touch with the One, or become one with nature, or achieve enlightenment, or Nirvana, etc… is self-contradictory, because pantheism has already declared that we are all one, all the time, and everywhere we go. There is no need to get back in touch with the One if we can never be separate from the One in the first place. There can’t be any need to be enlightened if you are already the enlightened One. We have no individual existence in Pantheism, so we never could be separate.
This reveals a fatal blow to pantheism. For if pantheism is true, we cannot listen to or learn from the universe, relate to the universe, seek a pathway to god, or become separate from the One. If all is One, then all truly is One, including us. Nothing is not god/universe. Nothing is outside of god. If all is One then there is no individual existence for any of us. Individuals are not just connected in a matrix. They are not merely holding hands as individuals. They are all One all the time. The individual cannot relate to the whole, because there are no individuals to relate to the whole – just one whole.
So Pantheism is self-contradictory at its core. It is self-contradictory because if it is true, it is not true by its own standard. And if it is not true, it is also not true. Either way, it is not true. The worst thing a worldview or religion can do is to be self-contradictory, because it excludes itself by its own claims.
The Pantheist is stuck with the contradiction that at the same time he affirms only one giant unit, but he cannot affirm it because he doesn’t as an individual exist to affirm it. Only the “One” exists; only the one would be able to affirm itself. But who would it affirm it to?
In fact, how can the pantheist even know that he, as an individual, is real? To be consistent, he should not believe he is real. If he can’t know he is real, how can he know anything is real or affirm anything as real? How can he teach? How can he try to have a relationship?
Now, it must be conceded, that in an attempt to get around this self-contradiction, many pantheists resort to a belief in what they call modes or emanations or manifestations spinning off of the One and giving individual characteristics to lesser beings in the universe – like gods, humans, animals, or plants. Just as the sun gives off rays and radiation, so the One universe spawns or emanates entities to exist in movement away from the One. Some emanations are further away than others and have lost their way. These emanations supposedly explain how individuals could have lost their understanding of belonging to the whole, and must now learn to relate back to the One.
These splinters or rays or modes of existence which spin off the whole, seem to relieve that tension in their belief system. They seem to give individualism to a belief which is ardently holistic. By positing emanations, individuals supposedly can relate to the One with worship or admiration or truth-seeking.
However postulating emanations or manifestations is one thing, proving they are not still merely part of the whole, is another. The question must still be asked: Are these emanations always part of the One or not? If they are, this hardly provides for their individualism. They are still part of the One. They have not left. In fact there is no possibility of movement away, since all is One. The sun illustration breaks down. For rays which move away from the sun are no longer part of the sun. And what is part of the sun is still part of the sun. So if these emanations are not part of the whole, then they have now become creations or separate entities. If that has occurred, then Pantheism is no longer true. There now exists more than one unit or whole. This nullifies pantheism which requires them always to be the uncreated part of the One.
So either way they do not escape their contradiction.
Further reflection serves to highlight the contradiction. If we are emanations, why are we not conscious of being emanations? How did it come to be that we are unaware of our reality? If we are all just one, emanations or not, how did we forget that? Normal Geisler in his book on Christian Apologetics asks it this way, “If we are being deceived about the consciousness of our own individual existence, then how does a pantheist know that he is not being deceived when he is conscious of reality as ultimately one?”
So positing emanations ends up being a slight-of-hand trick. It plays with words without achieving anything. Their clarification only heightens the confusion. A manifestation is not an individual no matter how hard it tries within a Pantheistic worldview.
There are other self-contradictions with Pantheism I won’t take as long to develop, but they are worth mentioning.
Pantheism affirms that everything we experience through our physical senses is illusionary. Things are not what they seem otherwise we would be aware of the whole all the time. Yet Pantheists simultaneously use their physical senses to learn what they need to learn to inform them of that truth. They can’t have it both ways.
Also pantheists, in order to promote their belief, must claim that the laws of logic don’t exist. For the laws of logic force the human mind to make distinctions which the pantheist vigorously denies. Distinctions are bad in pantheism. Yet their teachers must constantly use the laws of logic to explain their point of view. Pantheists use logic to deny logic. They claim the law of noncontradiction is not a law, but then use it as a necessary tool when convenient.
Pantheism also cannot explain evil nor make a moral case against evil. There is no way to distinguish good and bad or make judgment on morals or even make a case that something needs to be punished or rewarded. Nothing in Pantheism is good or bad. It’s all the same. All is One. Pantheism then must pronounce all evil as illusionary and all good as illusionary. A rock has as much value as your wife or mother. Disease is as beautiful as a rainbow. Rape is as legitimate an activity as bowling. “Love your neighbor” would have to become “I am my neighbor” or more accurately, there is no me or neighbor to love – just the One. I can’t even love the one, for I am the one. yet there is no “I” for me to speak this way. Pantheism leads to irrational thinking and to total indifference to morality.
The bottom line is, if there are no individuals, then there is no relationship with the whole. There just is the whole. For the “I” does not exist to relate to the “whole.” Fellowship and worship become meaningless words in a system where all is god. Religious experience becomes impossible. Faith is nullified by pantheism.
Pantheism and all religions based on it do not pass the consistency test. Commonsense tells us to reject them.
Do you see how beneficial the commonsense test of consistency is? Not let’s move on to another test.