Are You a Pantheist?

An ancient spiritual impulse wins new followers

| July / August 2003

IF YOU SEE DIVINITY in a moonlit sky or a field full of daylilies; if a walk outdoors fills you with reverence more than stepping into a grand cathedral, synagogue, or mosque, chances are good that you are a pantheist.

If so, you?re in good company. Albert Einstein, Georgia O?Keeffe, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, Sitting Bull, and Mikhail Gorbachev are just some of the notables who have counted themselves as pantheists, subscribing to the fundamental notion that nature and the universe merit deep reverence and awe. Believing that the universe itself is divine, pantheists have no use for a personal, anthropomorphic God, much less supernatural realms like heaven and hell. As Canadian novelist and poet Atwood elegantly put it, ?God is not the voice in the whirlwind; god is the whirlwind.?

?We want to . . . take in fully the beauty, the wonder, the mystery of things just as they are,? says Paul Harrison, author of the book Elements of Pantheism: Understanding the Divinity in Nature and the Universe (Element Books). ?Seeing in all this the reflection of some transcendent creator-figure with a humanlike mind seems to miss the point, to pass by the reality that?s right in front of our noses.?

The term pantheism (not to be confused with panentheism, which holds that everything, including the universe, is contained within the supreme being of God) was coined in 1705 by Irish writer John Toland. But the underlying doctrine dates back to the ancient Greeks?most notably the sixth-century philosopher Heraclitus, who denied the existence of God, believing instead in a living cosmos where everything in the universe?you, me, the trees, the stars, the sun?is connected in a profound unity.

Although pantheistic philosophy dominated antiquity, influencing everything from Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism to Western philosophies like Stoicism, Neoplatonism, and Epicureanism, it was eclipsed for some 1,200 years by the spread of Christianity and Islam. Then the scientific revolution in the 17th century?in which Copernicus proved that the earth actually moved around the sun, thereby challenging our title as the center of the universe?laid the foundation for intellectuals like Giordano Bruno, Benedict Spinoza, and Toland to dare publish works advocating pantheistic principles. By the late 18th and the 19th century, Harrison writes, pantheism had become the ?religious heart? of romantic poets and philosophers like Goethe, Blake, Hegel, Wordsworth, and Whitman.

But pantheism waned in the first half of the 20th century as a new faith in the power of technology took center stage; but mounting environmental problems and the recent expansion of movements like deep ecology have granted pantheism a renaissance of sorts. And in 1998, Harrison founded the World Pantheist Movement ( to knit together the global pantheistic community.

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