God and Belief: The Pantheist Alternative
By Irv Thomas
I once considered myself an atheist; but I have long since discarded that label because I am fully satisfied that there is more to this world than 'materia and mechanics.' Nor would "agnostic suffice, for this defines one who doubts all possibility of evidence of any deeper truth. I do "believe," and have had more than enough evidence, but I refuse to cast my belief in the traditional framework.
But if Atheism is a mistake, so is "Monotheism," the idea that there is A God: a single and all-powerful personified ultimate authority over all that exists. I suggest that this view is a mistake of terribly destructive consequence, but I affirm again that I am not coming from an atheist point of view, though I would seem to fit the definition.
It is not this pro-God or anti-God question that is all that important, but rather a very subtle shade of distinction which accompanies the major issue. My refuge lies in the specific subdivisions of monotheism, polytheism, and pantheism, all of which are properly "theistic." I am challenging only monotheism here.
Monotheism has not only emerged as the unquestioned survivor of the "theistic sweepstakes," but it has somehow earned for itself a certain elevation in what passes for objective rating. Pick up any book on comparative or primitive religion and you will likely find some sober testimony to the "fact" that recognition of a single omnipotent god is the hallmark of an advanced religion, hence an advanced society. I have never seen it challenged, which is rather curious to say the least, because we are talking about religion, which is philosophy, which is belief, and thus is purely relative.
The tenets of our most basic philosophy of all, neatly divides the world into "believers" and "non-believers," as if there were no alternative.
If what we intuit is Divine, what we make of it is certainly not! God is not a being, a fact, a he, a she, or an it, but a human effort to account for the otherwise unexplainable, the mysterious inner truth which our material world hints at but does not reveal. When we assign, to that explanation of the unexplainable, any quality or qualities (including individuality as well as gender, form, style, opinions), it is completely a projection of human vanity and self-righteousness. To then take this bit of human conceit and place it awesomely beyond criticism or reconsideration can only be called a backward lapse into superstition - for only in such a realm is what man has wrought untouchable.
The power of the dominant churches has succeeded in so solidifying the monotheistic claim as to make any other belief a form of anti-religious heresy. It has thus coercively imposed certain views, with certain resultant values,upon the social consciousness -- at the same time as it discredits, indeed vilifies, by authority of dogma and doctrine, any who would seriously challenge those views. The values which have thus been worked into the social fabric, and which are implicitly upheld by the established churches include: The urge to power; control of Nature; exploitation of resources; patriarchal dominance - all of which can be shown to have evolved from the monotheistic concept.
It is understandable that the mysterious forces of nature were at first personalized into gods and goddesses. When one speaks to the wind, or entreats the heavens for rain or for sun, one must speak to a visualized entity. Once committed to a pantheon of gods and goddesses, it seems reasonable that a single great one should emerge - if for no other reason that the natural human urge to one-upmanship. The process, then, of mediating the mysterious, first through a recognition of spirit-presence; then through a pantheon of nature-beings; and finally with one all-powerful, all-holy God, is an understandable progression.
But when we arrive at that ONE, we have discovered for ourselves something no longer a part of nature, not even speaking for nature, but something radically beyond and superior to nature. We have discovered a Creator. Modeled not on Earth, whose waters and soils nourish and supply us with the resources of life; not on the sun, whose unfailing energy quickens and vitalizes all that is alive for us; but on Ourselves! We have deified the most heretical graven image of all: the human being. The consequences of this self-idolatry are not easy to measure. Not because they are in any sense hidden or difficult, but that their sheer immensity (like the ocean) makes them nearly invisible. We quite literally swim in a life-fabric (or a death-fabric) - grown from this presumption to godliness. It would not stretch the point to say that everything deadly to life on this planet owes its origin to the workings of this assumed identity between God and human.
In deifying the human image, with explicit creative power over all of nature, we tend to transfer such power by simile to ourselves. To put it crassly: by lusting after a God-image of our own likeness, whose power to create and destroy is not subject to denial, we legitimize our own raping of this planet and its natural blessings, and we raise in ourselves the foolish and deadly notion that our creative technology will resolve any problem that our destructiveness creates.
What is amounts to is that we have used the worship of a man-like god to "bootstrap" ourselves beyond reasonable awareness of the finite limits of nature. Not that our science grew from our religion, but that our religion provided a framework of consciousness in which we could consider ourselves separate from - and ultimately superior to - nature, and virtually empowered to supersede nature to our own separate benefit.
Playing around with our godliness has brought us, finally, to problems bigger than we can handle. The assumption to godliness is not the actuality of Godliness; nature, in the long run, still holds the reins and we are coming slowly to a realization that this game may no longer be worth playing.
It's a hard lesson to learn, after all these many centuries. The illusion we have made for ourselves dies hard.
Not only have we created and worshipped God in our own image, there is the matter, too, of God's "Himness" - the Patriarchal burden we have carried for these many centuries, and the cultural one-sidedness to which it has brought us. Having personified, and then singularized this Creator-in-our-own-likeness, we of course had to give it gender, for who can visualize an androgynous human being? Perhaps it might have been so unlike us as to have diluted the process of identification. It is probably immaterial whether it were masculine or feminine, for either would have been a lopsided warpage of nature's reality; but the imposition of a masculine Divinity surely accentuated the impulse to power and control.
Feminist writers have certainly made us aware of this link between a male God and a power-focused, male-dominated society. But they seem not to have seen through to the deeper source of monotheism, itself. Once again, the immensity of the belief likes beyond challenge. And the question returns: Why is monotheism so deeply entrenched as a "higher order" of belief? Why is this dogma so "religiously" held above challenge? It may well be the single major belief to have escaped scrutiny in our so-recent idol-crashing decade.
Let us look at one alternative to monotheism: Pantheism. The Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions, which I quote in full: 1. The religious belief or philosophical theory that God and the universe are identical (implying a denial of the personality and transcendence of God); the doctrine that God is everything and everything is God. 2. The heathen worship of all gods.
You will not find much reference, anywhere, to Pantheism. As a word, it is barely three centuries old. As an idea, it goes back to the dim beginnings of known history - certainly before present-day religion. But in the best of libraries, you will find no books on it. With some research you may find passages in general studies, brief and passing references that link pantheism to the Celts, to paganism, to proto-religious ideas. Whereas you will of course find shelves, sections, whole libraries devoted to the minutiae of Judeo-Christian theology.
The reason for this has to do with what took place in the early centuries of Christian development. Pantheism was quite literally bludgeoned out of existence. Christianity, for all of its latter-day holiness, was probably the most aggressive, intolerant, bloody church ever to seek a convert. This is history, of course, and it is not denied by the church - though it is certainly played down. But it didn't end with "history."
In the ensuing centuries, right up to recent and current times, the church has vigorously put down, by every method at its command, any potential resurgence of nature or spirit deification. The subtle and continued brainwashing is so much a part of our existence that it tends to pass without notice. In the afore-mentioned Oxford English Dictionary definition of Pantheism, you'll note that this most respected language authority - supposedly removed from fields of theological dispute - not only inferentially equates pantheism with heathenism, but takes the parenthetical trouble to point out, to all who may be in doubt, that pantheism is clearly anti-God. Pantheism, it infers (as dos the church in toto), is not merely another religious form or preference, but something of the devil, to be devoutly resisted.
This is a subtle but quite frontal attack, through our very language, on any who would question Judeo-Christian dogma. Nerve-ends are touched, reactions are triggered, when we confront the charge of "heathen," "Pagan," or "atheist." Our "religious freedom" is only a civil guarantee, not by any means an emotional reality for the greater number of us.
Historically, each new vision of "the Truth" tries to beat down its antecedent predecessor. And yet, each predecessor survives, often gaining strength from its claims to being closer to the original truth. Why, one wonders, should pantheism be any exception to this general rule? It is time, I think, for Pantheism to once more come into its own, to claim its rightful place as the very source of religious belief - to be honored and not revised. Heaven only knows, we can use a religion which honors nature, and teaches us to respect her.
So what this all amount to, for me, at least, is a long-due declaration of independence from the imprisonment and warpage of monotheism. I no longer want to be enchained by any conceptual remnants of a doctrine so antithetical to nature that it must expend centuries of effort in the separation of God (and man, and woman) from Nature.
If we can see the connection between a god who supersedes nature; a religion which rejects nature; and a culture that tramples and pillages nature, we can better identify for ourselves where our spiritual priorities and allegiances lie.
Copyright 1986 by Universal Pantheist Society. Permission to reprint will be generous.