The Problem with Pantheism

Did you or your children ever play little league baseball? Can you remember a time when only the winners of the league (and maybe 2nd and 3rd place) took home a trophy? Perhaps like me you have a hard time with the recent trend of participation trophies. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way someone got the bright idea that every kid who bought a pair of cleats should get a trophy. Rewarding the kids who work hard, practice and hone their skills is no longer a priority. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps we’re trying to spare the feelings of the losers. Perhaps the virtue of participation really is more important than the concept of winning. Personally, I think this is a bunch of bunk. Maybe a kid can’t hit a fastball. So what? Let’s help him find his own gift; maybe it’s playing a tuba or swimming. Maybe she’s a natural born writer or scientist. My point is that we should award the kids in an area that they deserve recognition. If every kid that runs onto a baseball diamond gets a trophy, the trophies become somewhat meaningless, right? What’s so special about winning a trophy if everyone gets a trophy?

Right now you’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with pantheism. I’m making a point – trust me.

The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy defines pantheism as follows:

Pantheism is a metaphysical and religious position. Broadly defined it is the view that God is everything and everything is God. A slightly more specific definition says [that] pantheism … signifies the belief that every existing entity is, only one Being; and that all other forms of reality are either modes (or appearances) of it or identical with it.

This concept of pantheism is common amongst Eastern and New Age religions. Whenever you hear a person talk about “The All” or “The One” you can rest assured they are espousing a belief in pantheism. A person who expresses a belief in pantheism is normally trying to convince others to respect nature. The argument is that we should care for and respect nature and other people because all of it – man, rocks, mountains, trees, animals and etc. – are all part of “The All.” Everything is God so we should treat everything with the proper respect.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that this isn’t the Biblical view of creation. Rather, the Bible teaches that we should be able to recognize God based on His creation. Our appreciation of creation and nature should cause us to fall on our knees and worship the true, living God. We may discover the general attributes of God by examining His creation; for instance, He is a God who appreciates beauty, love and friendship. He is a God who loves painting glorious skies and landscapes just to watch our mouths fall open in wonder. However, we must not confuse the Creator with creation. These revelations that can be found in nature are general. If we want to learn the specific attributes of God we must study the Special Revelation found in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. When we confuse the general and special revelations of God we are making the same mistake that Paul addresses in Romans 1:25, “[We exchange] the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the creator.”

I would take it one step further and suggest we are in violation of one of the Ten Commandments.  When we worship creation as if it were God, we are creating idols. Yes we should respect, preserve, and care for our environment; but only because it is a gift from God, not because it is God.

If we consider all of creation God – you are God, I am God, the trees are God, Squirrels are God and etc. – than there is nothing special about being God; much like little league participation trophies, God becomes meaningless.

Look at it this way … if everything is God, than nothing is God. Pantheism is akin to atheism in the sense that God becomes unnecessary. I prefer to learn about the real, living God as revealed in the Scriptures. Yeah, it takes more effort and more dedication than simply pronouncing that nature is God, but it is more rewarding in the end.

Thoughts on Pantheism and Wicca

I find it interesting that the most read post on this site remains to be a review I wrote on a book about Wicca. Of all the google search terms that have led people to this site, terms that include the word ‘wicca’ are the most prevalent. I have no doubt that this post will be widely read since its title includes the word wicca. It all seems oddly ironic to me considering the nature of this blog. Naturally, I’ve been asking myself why there is such an interest in Wicca lately and, as with most questions I ask myself, I decided to see what someone that is smarter than I am had to say on the topic … so I asked C.S. Lewis.

Lewis is one of the smartest people I have ever read. He was a writer and modern day philosopher who also happened to be a Christian.  In his book on Miracles, he talks extensively on Pantheism. While Lewis doesn’t speak directly about Wicca, I feel comfortable making the connection as Wicca is a form of Pantheism.

Lewis writes that Pantheism is the base form of religion that most humans are drawn to because it is congenial to the human mind. He compares it to a comfortable pair of shoes that fit well but fail to keep the feet dry. Basically, Lewis asserts that pantheism is popular because it is easy. On the surface, it seems the most fair and logical form of faith. Lewis argues that pantheism is the “natural bent of the human mind” and that humans have a tendency to naturally “sink” to its level. Lewis argues that when devoid of higher thought, the human mind will always settle on pantheism because of its congeniality. Lewis asserts that pantheism is as popular today as it was in ancient India and ancient Rome because it is our base-level of faith.

Christianity, on the other hand, is not nearly as congenial to the human mind. It requires higher thinking and work. Lewis points out that most pantheists will claim the opposite is true. It has certainly been my experience that pantheists claim Christianity is too simple and empty of thought to be true, so I have to agree with what Lewis is saying. Lewis presents a fantastic analogy to illustrate his point. He compares religion to physics. For years, scientists knew that atoms existed before there was any proof. Lewis claims that it is apparently natural for humans to believe in atoms. The problem with this old atomic theory is that the atoms science imagined were hard little pellets like a grain of sand or salt. Scientist imagined atoms in this way because of their past experience. They just couldn’t conceive of an atom as it truly is.  The true nature of the atom was so alien to scientist’s natural mode of thought that they couldn’t even fathom it. Lewis claims that pantheism is to religion what the old atomic theory was to science. Christianity it so alien to our natural mode of thought that most people can’t even fathom it. It is easier, and more natural, to believe in pantheism.

Lewis argues that the sublime and mysterious nature attributed to pantheism is just a sham. In reality, it is just an archaic, base-level religion that is continually being repackaged as something new and exciting. Christianity is the only true alternative to such thought because of the claims of Christ. Jesus said that He was “…  the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If we agree with C.S. Lewis, we would expect that Christ’s claims would be difficult for people to understand because they go against our natural tendency to cling to an easier form of faith that requires less “work.”

Basically, Lewis is saying that the fact we have such a hard time comprehending the claims of Christ lends to Jesus’ credibility. We should expect that if Christ’s claims are true, they should be troublesome to our natural mode of thought:

“This troublesomeness does not of course prove it [Christianity] to be true, but if it were true it would be bound to have this troublesomeness. The real musician is similarly troublesome to a man who wishes to indulge in in untaught ‘musical appreciation’; the real historian is similarly a nuisance when we want to romance about ‘the good old days’ or ‘the ancient Greeks or Romans’. The ascertained nature of any real thing is always at first a nuisance to our natural fantasies – a wretched, pedantic, logic-chopping intruder upon a conversation which was getting on famously without it.”  Miracles, page 137.

Lewis’ writing on pantheism presents a pretty clear answer to my question regarding the appeal of Wicca. Basically, people are drawn to Wicca for the same reasons they are drawn to any pantheistic faith  … it is their natural tendency to do so. It seems plausible to me. I certainly agree with Lewis’ assertion that Christ requires us to raise our level of thought. Christ forces us to consider questions that may seem difficult at first to answer. I know from personal experience that it was easier for me to write Christians and Christ Himself off (although it is painful for me to admit) as lunatics. It was my natural tendency to impose my own version and impressions of God on the creator. It  is much harder to learn what God has to say about Himself than it is to envision Him the way I wanted Him to be. I will add that as I learn more about God, He is far greater and more powerful than anything my mind could of envisioned.

Clark