We seek renewed reverence for the biosphere as
the ultimate context for human existence....
by Ernst Haeckel
The personal anthropism of God has become so natural to the majority of believers that they experience no shock when they find God personified in human form in pictures and statues, and in the varied images of the poet, in which God takes human form - that is, is changed into a vertebrate. In some myths, even, God takes the form of other mammals (an ape, lion, bull, etc.), and more rarely of a bird (eagle, dove, or stork), or of some lower vertebrate (serpent, crocodile, dragon, etc.).
In the higher and more abstract forms of religion this idea of bodily appearance is entirely abandoned, and God is adored as a "pure spirit"without a body. "God is a spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Nevertheless, the psychic activity of this "pure spirit" remains just the same as that of the anthropomorphic God. In reality, even this immaterial spirit is not conceived to be incorporeal, but merely invisible, gaseous. We thus arrive at the paradoxical conception of God as a gaseous vertebrate!
Pantheism teaches that God and the world are one. The idea of God is identical with that of nature or substance. This pantheistic view is sharply opposed in principle to all possible forms of theism, although there have been many attempts made from both sides to bridge over the deep chasm that separates the two. There is always this fundamental contradiction between them, that in theism God is opposed to nature as an extramundane being, as creating and sustaining the world, and acting upon it from without, while in pantheism God, as an intramundane being, is everywhere identical with nature itself, and is operative within the world as "force" or "energy". The latter view alone is compatible with our supreme law - the law of substance. It follows necessarily that pantheism is the world-system of the modern scientist. There are, it is true, still a few men of science who context this, and think it possible to reconcile the old theistic theory of human nature with the pantheistic truth of the law of substance. All theseefforts rest on confusion or sophistry - when they are honest.
As pantheism is a result of an advanced conception of nature in the civilized mind, it is naturally much younger than theism, the crudest forms of which are found in great variety in the uncivilized races of ten thousand years ago. We do, indeed, find the germs of pantheism in different religions at the very dawn of philosophy in the earliest civilized peoples (in India, Egypt,China, and Japan), several thousand years before the time of Christ; still, we do not meet a definite philosophical expression of it until the hylozoism of the Ionic philosophers, in the first half of the sixth century before Christ. All the great thinkers of this flourishing period of Hellenic thought are surpassed by the famous Anaximander, of Miletus, who conceived the essential unity of the infinite universe ( apeiron ) more profoundly and more clearly than his master, Thales, or his pupil, Anaximenes. Not only the great thought of the original unity of the cosmos and the development of all phenomena out of the all-pervading primitive matter found expression in Anaximander, but he even enunciated the bold idea of countless worlds in a periodic alternation of birth and death.
Many other great philosophers of classical antiquity, especially Democritus, Heraclitus, and Empedocles, had, in the same or an analogous sense, a profound conception of this unity of nature and God, of body and spirit, which has obtained its highest expression in the law of substance of our modern monism. The famous Roman poet and philosopher, Lucretius Carus, has presented it in a highly poetic form in his poem "De Rerum Natura."
However, this true pantheistic monism was soon entirely displaced by the mystic dualism of Plato, and especially by the powerful influence which the idealistic philosophy obtained by its blending with Christian dogmas. When the papacy attained to its spiritual despotism over the world, pantheism was hopelessly crushed; Giordano Bruno, its most gifted defender, was burned alive by the "Vicar of Christ" in the Campo dei Fiori at Rome on February 17, 1600.
It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that Pantheism was exhibited in its purest form by the great Baruch Spinoza; he gave for the totality of things a definition of substance in which God and the world are inseparably united. The clearness, confidence, and consistency of Spinoza's monistic system are the more remarkable when we remember that this gifted thinker of two hundred and fifty years ago was without the support of all those sound empirical bases which have been obtained in the second half of the nineteenth century. The propagation of his views, especially in Germany, is due, above all, to the immortal works of our greatest poet and thinker - Wolfgang Goethe. His splendid God and the World , Prometheus, Faust, etc., embody the great thoughts of pantheism in the most perfect poetic creations.
Atheism affirms that there are no gods or goddesses, assuming that god means a personal, extramundane entity. This "godless world-system" substantially agrees with the monism or pantheism of the modern scientist; it is only another expression for it, emphasizing its negative aspect, the non-existence of any supernatural deity. In this sense Schopenhauer justly remarks: Pantheism is only a polite form of atheism. The truth of pantheism lies in its destruction of the dualist antithesis of God and the world, in its recognition that the world exists in virtue of its own inherent forces.
The maxim of the pantheist, 'God and the world are one,' is merely a polite way of giving the Lord God his conge ." During the whole of the Middle Ages, under the bloody despotism of the popes, atheism was persecuted with fire and sword as a most pernicious system. As the "godless" man is plainly identified with the "wicked" in the Gospel, and is threatened - simply on account of his want of faith - with the eternal fires of hell, it was very natural that every good Christian should be anxious to avoid the suspicion of atheism. Unfortunately, the idea still prevails very widely. The atheistic scientist who devotes his strength and his life to the search for the truth, is freely credited with all that is evil; the theistic church-goer, who thoughtlessly follows the empty ceremonies of Catholic worship, is at once assumed to be a good citizen, even if there be no meaning whatever in his faith and his morality be deplorable.
This error will only be destroyed when, in the twentieth century, the prevalent superstition gives place to rational knowledge and to a monistic conception of the unity of God and the world.
- Reprinted from Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) The Riddle of the Universe, 1900.
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