Are You a Pantheist?

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
(www.pantheism.net) to knit together the global pantheistic
community.

The organization now has more than 2,000 members and anticipates
that there are millions upon millions of pantheists out there who
just don?t know there is a name?or group?for their beliefs. But
here?s the question: If pantheism has been around forever, why
organize now? After all, modern pantheists seem to pride themselves
on how amorphous and unstructured their practice actually is. It
can be a religion, a philosophy, or simply a way of life; rituals
are strictly optional?some pantheists choose to celebrate solstices
and equinoxes and Thoreau?s birthday; others, like Harrison, choose
to spend at least half an hour every day exploring nature?and many
pantheist traditions seem right in line with the environmental
activism already espoused by many organized groups.

?Some people think that pantheists should just commune with
trees alone and bump into other pantheists only by chance,?
Harrison says. ?That?s fine as long as they?re happy with it. But
we know that many pantheists feel quite isolated, especially in
largely Christian America.? Harrison believes millions of people
are becoming dissatisfied with traditional religions and are
searching for alternatives. ?We want to make sure that there is a
rational, evidence-respecting, nature-revering option on
offer.?

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