PANTHEISM – All you want to know

PANTHEISM – All you want to know

PANTHEISM – All you want to know
PANTHEISM – All you want to know

Pantheism is the polar opposite of deism. The latter stresses God’s distinction from the real world and the former emphasizes God’s identity with it. Deism holds that God is beyond the world but not in it in a miraculous way; pantheism believes that God is in the world or, rather, God is the world. So deism stresses God’s transcendence and pantheism his immanence in the world.

There are several kinds of pantheism. The absolute pantheism of Parmenides identified only one being in the universe and designated all else as non-being. There is the emanational pantheism of Plotinus who believed that everything flows from God the way a flower unfolds from a seed. Further, there is developmental pantheism wherein God is unfolded in an evolutionary or historical way.

Hegel is a developmental example of the latter where God unfolds historically. Other pantheisms are modal such as in Spinoza where finite things are considered modes or moments in one infinite substance. Finally, there are manifestational or multilevel pantheisms such as are found in various forms of Hinduism. It will be instructive to look at several of these pantheistic systems.

An Exposition of Pantheism

The metaphysical background of pantheism is monism, and Parmenides is the father of Western monism. Hence, it is philosophically foundational to begin our analysis of the pantheistic worldview with Parmenides.

Parmenidean Monism

A monist believes that reality is ultimately unified. An absolute monist believes that reality is ultimately and only one; all multiplicity lacks any reality. Being is, and non-being is not. All is One and One is All. Being is one and multiplicity is non-being and illusion.

Parmenides’ logic of monism can be summarized very simply. There cannot be two realities or beings; for if this were so, one would have to differ from the other. If there were no difference then they would be one identical reality and not two. In order for there to be really different things, there must be some real difference. Everything that differs must differ either by being or by non-being, since there are no other ways to differ. However, two beings cannot differ by nothing or non-being, for to differ by nothing is not to differ at all.

And if they do not differ at all then they are identical and one. On the other hand two things cannot differ by being for being is the very feature they have in common and things cannot differ by what they have in common; that is, the point of identity cannot also be the point of diversity. It follows, then, argued Parmenides, that there cannot be two beings in the universe. All things are ultimately and absolutely one. Any seeming multiplicity is but an illusion.

Parmenides’ disciple, Zeno, used a reductio ad absurdum argument to prove his master’s monistic position. If one assumes multiplicity is possible, said Zeno, he ends in irresolvable paradoxes. For instance, if a line is divisible from point A to point B, then it can be divided in half and half of half and so on infinitely. But infinite divisibility is impossible since an infinite number cannot be reached.

Hence, divisibility is not possible. Therefore reality is indivisible. Likewise Zeno argued that motion is impossible since to move from A to B, one must first go halfway and half of half before that and so on infinitely. But since an infinite can never be traversed, one can never really move from one point to the next. It follows then that all is one indivisible and untransversible point of absolute identity. Or as Parmenides would have said, there is one solid, eternal indivisible ball of Being.

Plotinian Emanational Pantheism

Early Greek monism came to final fruition in the late Greek mysticism of Plotinus who is the classic example of Western pantheism. In him Greek rationalistic monism blossoms into pantheistic mysticism. A survey of his system from the Enneads will exemplify an emanational type of pantheism.

Contrary to Greek thought generally, Plotinus held that ultimate reality goes beyond being to absolute unity.

(1) The One is the absolute source of all being and multiplicity. Everything in the universe differs as to its degree of unity as it both flows from and varies from the absolute Unity (God). God must be absolutely One because all multiplicity presupposes some prior unity, but each multiple is made up of little unities. Further, the absolute Unity (God) is not self-conscious, since self-reflection involves a basic duality of knower and known; and absolute unity as such has no duality.

(2) Hence, when out of the absolute necessity of its own nature the One unfolds as a seed into a flower or as center into radii, there emanates Nous (Mind). This first emanant is the universal Mind which makes all knowing possible. Nous is the One becoming self-conscious and forming what Plotinus calls One-Many. When Nous reflects backward upon its source (the One) it becomes knowingly self-conscious. Then when Nous reflects inward upon itself it produces other minds or knowing beings.

(3) And when it reflects outward it gives rise to Life (or World Soul); this is called One-and-Many by Plotinus. From World Soul springs all other living things (souls) as species within a genus. The One, Nous, and World Soul form an emanational triadic Godhead from which all other things flow both emanationally and necessarily.1

(4) Beneath Mind and Soul there is Matter, which is the most multiple of all, the Many. Since the entire process is a necessary unfolding from unity to greater and greater multiplicity, it is necessary at last that the most multiple should be reached: this is Matter. Matter is not absolutely nothing; it is the last remnant of something before the emanations reach the brink of oblivion. Matter is the point at which no more multiplicity is possible without going into non-being.

Further, since unity is absolutely good, it follows that multiplicity is evil. Matter itself has no residue of good; it has only the bare capacity for good. There is then a complete hierarchy of being and goodness from First to last, from God to evil, from Unity to multiplicity, and from the One beyond Mind to matter.2

This process, however, is not one-directional. God not only emanates forth but the emanants return to the Source from which they come. There is a kind of boomerang of being whereby what comes down must go up again. What flows from ultimate Unity seeks to return again to this sanctuary. But the lower and latter is always inferior to the higher and former. Hence, absolute multiplicity cannot destroy absolute unity; evil cannot defeat good and non-being cannot annihilate being.3

Man, the microcosm who possesses mind, soul, and matter, is the point at which the return trip is made conscious. Wandering about as he does in the foreign land of evil and multiplicity, man’s higher soul becomes homesick for the Fatherland of goodness and unity. Man’s higher soul is as it were on an elastic band that can be stretched only so far into the material world.

Sooner or later a “snap” pulls man back toward the source from which he was originally stretched out. When a being overlooks the brink of utter oblivion, it recoils backward toward Being and the Source of Being. The final remnant of good is repelled as it stares into the naked face of evil.4

Mounting one’s way back to unity is not easy; matter is a drag on the soul. Hence, asceticism is a necessary preliminary stage in the ascent to God. One must turn from the outward multiple world to the inner more unified world of soul. The denial of the physical is essential to the attainment of the spiritual. The move from the external to the internal is the first move toward attaining union with God.5

The second stage is a move from the internal to the eternal, that is, the inward to the upward. This movement is from the lower soul to the higher soul and from soul to mind which is above soul. This is accomplished by meditation. In short, one must move from the sensible to the intellectual, by which Plotinus does not mean the realm of one’s individual intellect but an identification of our mind with Mind (the Nous).

Knower and known must become one; herein is the highest and most unified act of knowing. However, even when one’s individual mind has become one with Mind there is still a basic duality of knower and known; absolute unity has not yet been attained.6

For the highest and final union neither the preparatory asceticism nor the preliminary meditation will suffice; the One can be attained only by a “leap” of mystical intuition in which one becomes “one with the One” and “alone with the Alone.” It is a leap beyond Being and beyond knowing. There is no consciousness but only convergence.

The center of our being corresponds with the Center of all Being. In this state one has gone beyond the cognitive to the intuitional, beyond the rational to the mystical. Herein everything is absolute unity again. The prodigals have returned home and the strays are back in the fold. What emanated out has returned; everything came from God (ex deo) and to him all must return.7

Plotinus acknowledges that he has but negative knowledge of the One. He knows not what it is but that it is not-many. All positive, rational, or cognitive knowledge of absolute Unity is impossible. The best one can do is attribute to the One perfections that it produces but does not itself possess. Hence, we call what the One produces good, beauty, and being; but it does not really and intrinsically possess these characteristics that are attributed to It.

We can speak about It only in terms of what comes from It, but the sequents do not really tell us anything of their Source. God is literally ineffable.8

In summary, Plotinus’ form of pantheism is emanational in that everything flows out of God and returns to him. Ultimately All is in the One; the One is not in the All. The source of all reality is Unity, and it is the degree of unity by which something is constituted in the very nature of its being. The less unified, the less real something is. Hence, there is not in Plotinus a rigid and inflexible monism but an emanational and unfolding divine unity that cascades down the great chain of being from Unity toward greater multiplicity.

PANTHEISM – All you want to know
PANTHEISM – All you want to know

Spinoza’s Modal Pantheism

Benedict Spinoza was a rationalist in his epistemology but a pantheist in his metaphysical position. He begins axiomatically and definitionally. “By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite—that is, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.” By “substance” Spinoza means “that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself.”

“Attribute,” differing only formally not actually from “essence,” means “that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance.” A “mode,” on the other hand, is a “modification [affection] of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.” Armed with these definitions and some basic axioms, Spinoza proceeds to deduce the existence of a pantheistic God.9

First, “substance is by nature prior to its modifications.” Two substances whose attributes differ would have nothing in common. Two or more distinct things would have to differ either by their substance or by their attributes, since “everything which exists, exists either in itself or in something else.” It follows then that “there cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attributes.”

The proof Spinoza offers for this is reminiscent of Parmenides: “If several distinct substances be granted, they must be distinguished one from the other, either by the difference of their attributes, or by the difference of their modifications.”

But if they differ “only by the difference of their attributes, it will be granted that there cannot be more than one with identical attributes,” for they cannot differ by that in which they are identical. On the other hand, if they differ by their modifications only, “it follows that setting the modifications aside, and considering substance in itself, that is truly, there cannot be conceived one substance different from another—that is (by Prop. IV), there cannot be granted several substances, but one substance only. Q. E. D.” Hence, monism follows geometrically from self-evident definitions and axioms of thought.10

Not only is there only one substance in the universe—everything else being merely a modification of it—but that substance is infinite. Spinoza’s proof of this contention is as follows: “There can only be one substance with an identical attribute, and existence follows from its nature (Prop. VII); its nature, therefore, involves existence, either as finite or infinite.”

But “it does not exist as finite, for (by Def. II) it would then be limited by something else of the same kind, which would also necessarily exist (Prop. VII); and there would be two substances with an identical attribute, which is absurd (Prop. V). It therefore exists as infinite. Q. E. D.” So there exists one and only one infinite substance, namely, God.11

According to Spinoza, “the more reality or being a thing has, the greater the number of its attributes.” From this it follows that “there is but one substance in the universe, and … it is absolutely infinite.…” For “nothing in nature is more clear than that each and every entity must be conceived under some attribute, and that its reality or being is in proportion to the number of its attributes expressing necessity or eternity and infinity.”

Consequently, “it is abundantly clear, that an absolutely infinite being must necessarily be defined as consisting in infinite attributes, each of which expresses a certain eternal and infinite essence.” And if God must be defined as a substance consisting of infinite attributes, he must necessarily exist. For “if this be denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. But this (by Prop. VII) is absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists.”12

God then is the only substance that can exist. For “if any substance besides God were granted, it would have to be explained by some attribute of God, and thus two substances with the same attribute would exist, which (by Prop. V) is absurd; therefore, besides God no substance can be granted, or, consequently, be conceived.” From this it follows “that extension and thought are either attributes of God or accidents (affections) of the attributes of God.” For “whatever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.”

This does not mean that God has a body, mind, and passions like man. This is wrong because there is no definite quantity in God; he is absolutely infinite. Yet we must draw the conclusion that “extended substance is one of the infinite attributes of God.” The fallacy in opposing arguments, said Spinoza, is that they all assume wrongly that extended substance is composed of parts. This is not true. God is infinitely extended and yet he has no parts.

God’s substance is indivisible, for “if it could be divided, the parts into which it was divided would either retain the nature of absolutely infinite substance, or they would not. If the former, we should have several substances of the same nature, which (by Prop. V) is absurd.” And “if the latter, then (by Prop. VII) substance absolutely infinite could cease to exist, which (by Prop. XI) is also absurd,” for nothing can divide and destroy what is by nature a necessary existence. Therefore, God must be infinitely extended and without parts.13

In summary, “all things … are in God, and all things which come to pass, come to pass solely through the laws of the infinite nature of God, and follow … from the necessity of his essence.” For “from the necessity of the divine nature must follow an infinite number of things in infinite ways—that is, all things which can fall within the sphere of infinite intellect.” This follows because “from the given definition of any thing the intellect infers several properties which already necessarily follow therefrom.”

And since God is necessary, “it follows that from the necessity of its nature an infinite number of things … must necessarily follow.” Hence, “God acts solely by the laws of his own nature, and is not constrained by anyone.” In this sense God is said to be “free”; that is, God “acts by the sole necessity of his nature, wherefore God is … the sole free cause. Q. E. D.” God is not “free” in any deliberative sense, for “neither intellect nor will appertain to God’s nature.”14

Since God is necessary and since all things flow necessarily from him, it follows that “an infinite number of things … have necessarily flowed forth in an infinite number of ways, or always follow from the same necessity; in the same way as from the nature of a triangle it follows … that its three interior angles are equal to two right angles.” So “all things which are, are in God.… God, therefore, is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.” And since God is eternal as well as necessary, then all things flow both eternally and necessarily from God.

For “all things which follow from the absolute nature of any attribute of God must always exist and be infinite.” This is true of modes as well as attributes. For a mode which can only be conceived to exist through some necessary perfection of God must therefore itself exist necessarily. Otherwise, it could not even be conceived to exist.

From this it follows that every event and act in the finite world is determined by God. For “every individual thing, or everything which is finite and has a conditional existence, cannot exist or be conditioned to act, unless it be conditioned for existence and action by a cause other than itself.…”

But since this causal-conditioned series cannot go on to infinity, we must arrive alas at a first conditioning cause of every other act or event in the finite world. In short, “all things which are, are in God, and so depend on God, that without him they can neither be nor be conceived.” For “nothing in the universe is contingent, but all things are conditioned to exist and operate in a particular manner by the necessity of the divine nature.”

Whatever is, is in God. “But God cannot be called a thing contingent. For he exists necessarily, and not contingently. Further, the modes of the divine nature follow therefrom necessarily, and not contingently.”15

In Spinoza’s pantheistic universe, as well as in Plotinus’, evil flows necessarily from God. For “things could not have been brought into being by God in any manner or in any order different from that which has in fact obtained.” It clearly follows that “things have been brought into being by God in the highest perfection, inasmuch as they necessarily followed from a most perfect nature.” For “God’s will cannot be different … from God’s perfection. Therefore neither can things be different.”

If one were to ask Spinoza why, if God is perfect, there are so many imperfections in nature, he would reply: “The perfection of things is to be reckoned only from their own nature and power; things are not more or less perfect, according as they delight or offend human senses.”

As to why God created men who could and would be controlled by anything less than reason, it was, according to Spinoza, because “matter was not lacking to him for the creation of every degree of perfection from highest to lowest; or, more strictly, because the laws of his nature are so vast, as to suffice for the production of everything conceivable by an infinite intelligence, as I have shown in Prop. XVI.”16

In summary. God is an infinitely perfect and necessary being. Everything else is either an attribute or mode of his substance. Since God is infinite and necessary, an infinity of necessary degrees of perfection flow necessarily from his nature. Evil is necessary because with degrees of perfection come also corresponding degrees of imperfection. All is in God and flows from God.

God’s substance is absolutely good; it is only the infinite modal manifestations of this one substance that manifest the degrees of perfection (and imperfection). Hence, there is no evil in the infinite oneness and necessity of God. Evil is found only in the modal manifestations which are less than ultimately real.

Radhakrishnan’s Neo-Hindu Pantheism

The Indian religious experience is rich in variety. Everything from impersonal monisms to various forms of theism is found in the Upanishads. One of the most interesting and influential forms of neo-Hinduism is that of Radhakrishnan. His pantheism is modified in the direction of a favorable appeal to those influenced by Western theism.

According to Radhakrishnan there are several statuses or levels of reality. “We have (1) the Absolute, (2) God as Creative power, (3) God immanent in this world. These are not to be regarded as separate entities. They are arranged in this order because there is a logical priority.” One proceeds from and is based on the preceding. “We thus get the four poises or statuses of reality, (1) the Absolute, Brahman, (2) the Creative Spirit, Isvara, (3) the World-Spirit, Hiranya-garbha and (4) the World [viräj].”17

Radhakrishnan compares this to neo-platonic pantheism: “In Plotinus we have a similar scheme. (i) The One alone, the simple, the unconditioned.… (ii) The Nous. The Intelligible world which Plotinus calls One-Many, the world of Platonic forms or archetypes.… (iii) One and Many. The soul of the All is the third, which fashions the material universe on the model of divine thoughts, the ideas laid up within the Divine Mind.… (iv) The many alone.

It is the. world-body, the world of matter without form.”18 The Hindu scheme of reality, however, differs from plotinian emanationalism in that Brahman is manifest on different levels but does not emanate forth, with lower levels flowing out of higher ones. In this sense neo-Hindu pantheism is more a multilevel pantheism than emanational pantheism.

Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. For Radhakrishnan, Brahman comes from the root, brh, meaning “to grow, to burst forth.” Brahman is the one single reality from which the world of multiplicity springs. It is the subtle and infinite essence of which everything perceived is made. As formally defined in one Upanishad, “That from which these beings are born, that in which born they live, and that into which they enter at their death is Brahman.”

That “on which all else depends, to which all existences aspire. Brahman which is sufficient to itself, aspiring to no other, without any need, is the source of all other beings.…” It is the Primordial and the Supreme. “Verily, in the beginning this world was Brahman.19

Like Plotinus, Radhakrishnan believes Brahman to be indescribable. “We can only describe the Absolute in negative terms. In the words of Plotinus, ‘we say what he is not, we cannot say what he is.’ The Absolute is beyond the sphere of predication. It is the sunyata of the Buddhists.”20

Isvara, the Creative Spirit. The next level of this neo-Hindu triadic manifestation of God is personal. It is like the plotinian Nous or the platonic Logos. Here there is simple duality of subject and object. It is mahat, the great one, or buddhi, the intellect. As cosmic intelligence it contains all the ideas which serve as the principle of individuation for all other things. Isvara is the Supreme Light, the principle of communication.

He is the Supreme Lord who, like Plato’s Demiurgos, is the creative Mind behind the universe. Together with Brahman, “we thus get the conception of an Absolute-God, Brahman—Isvara, where the first term indicates infinite being and possibility, and the second suggests creative freedom.” As the Absolute Brahman is perfect and needs nothing. “It is free to move or not to move, to throw itself into forms or remain formless.

If it still indulges its power of creativity, it is because of its free choice.” In Isvara “the Supreme who is unmeasured and immeasurable becomes measured and defined. Immutable becomes infinite fecundity.”21

Hiranya-garbha, the World-Spirit. The world is not only a creation of Isvara but it is a manifestation of Hiranya-garbha. The world is the free self-determination of God. For the power of self-expression belongs to God. Hiranya-garbha is the spirit that pervades and animates the universe. “The World-soul is the divine creator, the supreme lord Isvara at work in the universe.” It is a definite possibility of the Absolute being realized in the universe. According to Radhakrishnan, the World-Soul is grounded in Isvara; there is no sharp distinction drawn between them in the Upanishads.

In point of fact, each is a successive manifestation of the absolute. “The absolute conceived as it is in itself, independent of any creation, is called Brahman.” And “when it is thought of as the spirit moving everywhere in the universe, it is called Hiranya-garbha; when it is thought of as a personal God creating, protecting and destroying the universe, it is called Isvara.Isvara becomes Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva when his three functions are taken separately, but “the real is not a sum of these. It is an ineffable unity in which these conceptual distinctions are made.

These are fourfold to our mental view, separate only in appearance. If we identify the real with any one definable state of being, however pure and perfect, we violate the unity and divide the indivisible.”22

Viräj, the Manifestation of the Absolute in the World. According to Radhakrishnan, the world is not an illusion but a lower level manifestation of the Absolute.23 By contrast with Brahman itself, the world seems almost nothing, but it is the last manifestation of reality. “Maya is the power of Isvara from which the world arises.” However, “God does not create the world but becomes it. Creation is expression. It is not a making of something out of nothing. It is not making so much as becoming.”

Hence, maya is not illusion but the creative manifestation of God in the multiple world. Of course the world of duality and multiplicity is admittedly not the absolutely real. It is only an echo of the real. “The world is neither one with Brahman nor wholly other than Brahman.” The world is grounded in Brahman. “The many are parts of Brahman even as waves are parts of the sea. All the possibilities of the world are affirmed in the first being, God.”24

Karma, Rebirth and Eternal Life. When buddhi, intelligence, turns itself from jiva (individual self, ego) toward atman (universal self) it develops true knowledge or intuition (vidya). Atman is Brahman as the universal basis of human personality. Hence, Brahman is known through the inner self of man. Thus one must turn from the outward and multiple to the inner world of thought and unity. “Knowledge presupposes unity or oneness of thought and being, a unity that transcends the differentiation of subject and object.”

Logical reasoning is incapable of comprehending God and “logical incapacity is not evidence of actual impossibility.” The individual should develop the habit of introversion, of abstracting from the outside world and looking within himself. For “by a process of abstraction we get behind knowing, feeling and willing to the essential Self, the God within. We must silence our speech, mind and will. We cannot hear the voice of the spirit in us, so long as we are lost in vain talk, mental rambling and empty desires.”25

“Until we negate the ego and get fixed in the Divine Ground we are bound to the endless procession of events called samsara” (cycles of rebirth). The principle which governs this world of becoming is karma. It is the law of retribution by which a man inherits in the next life his deserts from this life. Karma is not an external law imposed by God but an unfolding of the law of our being.

As Radhakrishnan noted, “If there is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Hinduism, it is said that it consists in this, that while the Hindu to whatever school he belongs believes in a succession of lives, the Christian believes that ‘it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment.’ ” By meditation, however, the Hindu believer can overcome the cycle of rebirths dictated by the law of karma and be united to Brahman.

For “he who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. Perfection is a state of mind, not contingent of time or place.” Life eternal, or moska, is liberation from births and deaths, for “he who knows himself to be all can have no desire. When the Supreme is seen, the knots of the heart are cut asunder.… There can be no sorrow or pain or fear when there is no other.”26

Radhakrishnan believes “the individual soul is eternal. It endures throughout the cosmic process.” Nevertheless, “the individual soul is an aspect of the Transcendent in the universe and when liberated from all limitations, he acts with his centre in the Supreme.”27 And its inner peace is manifested in the joyous freedom of outer activity.

Thus union with Brahman is a state of bliss or nirvana that is not only attainable in this life but is the guarantee that one will not have to undergo another life of pain and frustration stemming from selfish desire. For in nirvana the self attains its release from individual striving by achieving union with God.

Summary of the Central Tenets of Pantheism

There are many kinds of pantheism. There is the absolute pantheism of Parmenides where all reality is one monistic whole and all multiplicity is an absolute illusion or non-being. But all other forms of pantheism provide some reality status to some things other than God, at least for a time. Spinoza’s modal pantheism holds that everything other than the one infinite substance exists as a mode or moment in the divine essence.

Plotinus’ emanational pantheism provides that creation comes out of God in various degrees of reality depending on their distance from God and their degree of multiplicity. Hindu pantheism comes in various varieties but the position of Radhakrishnan is a kind of manifestational or multilevel pantheism in which the one absolute is revealed on different or descending levels of reality.

Other forms of Hindu pantheism would claim that lower levels are not so much manifestations of the absolute as they are mere appearance or, in the case of some, that the world of senses is an outright illusion, an unreality.

Finally, there is developmental pantheism in which God is unfolding himself in the historical or evolutionary process. In the view of Hegel the development is manifest in history. History is the footprints of God in the sands of time. Or, better, history is a phenomenological theophany.

Since space will not permit detailed evaluation of the various kinds of pantheism, we will concentrate on theses which are common to most forms, noting significant points in some of the representative types discussed above.

A basic intuitive epistemology is characteristic of pantheistic approaches to God. God is understood in the highest and most significant sense not by sensible observation nor by rational inference but by mystical intuition that goes beyond the law of noncontradiction.

2. The stress of the way of negation in religious language is essential to pantheism. God cannot be adequately expressed in positive terms. Nothing in our experience may be appropriately affirmed of the way God is. God is beyond being and beyond rational knowing.

3. The central pantheistic conception of God is the absolute unity and transcendence of God. The supremacy and unity of God are the core of ultimate reality and the basis for everything derived from him.

4. Creation is ex Deo, out of God. Creation from nothing, ex nihilo, is meaningless. God is the source for everything; all is rooted in his being. Creation springs out of God’s being either by manifestation, emanation, or some kind of unfolding.

5. Both creation and evil flow necessarily from God. The absolute is not personal and creation is not a free choice. It flows from God with necessity. Plotinus would say, “The good is diffusive of itself,” that is, it must issue forth the way rays must radiate from the sun or radii from the center of a circle or as a seed unfolds into a flower. And whatever evils, lacks, or deficiencies are seen in the emanations or manifestations are there because they must be there.

6. In the highest and absolute sense God is neither personal nor conscious. The Absolute and Supreme is not a He but an It. Personality comes about at best by emanation or manifestation on a lower level.

7. The universe is ultimately One, not many. In absolute monism, as in Parmenides, there is no reality status to anything but absolutely one Being. In other pantheisms there is agreement that whatever lesser reality there is in multiplicity and finitude, the many is always in the One but the One is not in the many.

That is, unity is the basic reality from which multiplicity flows, not the reverse. Further, whatever lesser reality is accorded to the finite and many, ultimately there is only one reality. Temporarily and/or manifestationally there are many modes and aspects of reality. But like radii, there is really only one central point of reality all have in common, i.e., in the only Being or One.

An Evaluation of Pantheism

As a world and life view pantheism has had a broad and persistent influence in the world. Much of the Far Eastern world for most of its recorded history has been influenced by pantheism. Even much of the Western world has been a series of footnotes on plotinian pantheism. The appeal of pantheism has not been without both truth and value. Examples may be briefly noted.

Positive Insights in Pantheistic Positions

Pantheism has provided much of value to its adherents and has given both insight and challenge to those who do not embrace it as a world view. Among these values we may take special note of six.

  1. First, pantheism attempts to be comprehensive in its perspective. Pantheism is not a piecemeal philosophy. It is an all-embracing view of the sum total of reality from that perspective. In this sense it is both metaphysical and comprehensive, two commendable dimensions essential to any world view.
  2. Second, pantheism has laid special emphasis on an ultimate dimension of reality that cannot be overlooked or denied, namely, unity. Unity and harmony are constituitive elements in any adequate world view. If this is a universe, there must be some reality basis for its unity.
  3. Third, no adequate view of a God who is worthy of serious human interest can neglect his immanent presence and activity in the world. A God who is totally and completely Other lacks relatability and no doubt, at least to many, he will lack worshipability. Pantheism appropriately stresses that God is really in the world, at least within the depths of the human soul.
  4. Fourth, pantheism acknowledges that only God is absolute and necessary. Everything else is less than ultimate and absolute in the supreme sense in which God is. No part of creation is independent or ontologically detached; all is completely dependent on God who is All in all. This insight is a valuable corrective for many materialisms as well as for deisms.
  5. Fifth, pantheism invariably involves an intuitive epistemological emphasis which is often unappreciated by more empirically oriented minds. This stress on the direct and unmediated intimacy with the object of knowledge (especially God) is not only valuable but it is unavoidable. Indirect or inferential knowing must rest finally on direct and immediate seeing. All justification must come to an end; first principles must be known intuitively. Hence, some form of intuitive knowledge is essential to knowing God who is the ultimate principle (person) in religion.
  6. Sixth, pantheists place strong and appropriate emphasis on the via negativa. God cannot be expressed in positive terms with limited meaning. God is infinite and transcendent and all limitation must be negated from terms applied to him. Without the way of negation verbal idolatry results, namely, the finitizing of God. Pantheists have preserved this important dimension of religious language.

One could take note of numerous other contributions pantheistic thinkers have made to the philosophy of history (e.g., Hegel), to comparative religions and human toleration (e.g., Radhakrishnan), to the preservation of mystical and spiritual emphases, as well as to many other areas. But time has come to critically evaluate the system as a world view.

Some Criticisms of Pantheism as a World View

Understood as a metaphysical interpretation of the universe, pantheism is decidedly lopsided and lacking. There are many reasons for this conclusion and a number of areas in which it may be illustrated.

  1. The most fundamental criticism of a strictly pantheistic world view is that it is actually unaffirmable by man, for no finite individual reality exists as an entity really different from God or the absolute. In essence a strict pantheist must affirm, “God is but I am not.” But this is self-defeating, since one must exist in order to affirm that he does not exist.

Of course most pantheists are not absolute monists in that they allow for some reality to finite man whether it be modal, manifestational, emanational, or whatever. In this way they hope to escape the self-destructive dilemma just mentioned. Their attempt, however, is not convincing for the following reasons. Claiming that man, as a self-conscious person, is merely a mode or aspect of God is a denial of the way man experiences himself. If we are only self-conscious modes, “why are we not conscious of being so?

How did this metaphysical amnesia arise and (yet more seriously) come to pervade and dominate our whole experience?”28 In point of fact, is it not self-defeating to claim that individual finite selves are less than real? How can any of our individual statements be true including the statement that pantheism is true? If we are being deceived about the consciousness of our own individual existence, then how does a pantheist know that he is not being deceived when he is conscious of reality as ultimately one?

  1. Second, granting that there are no real finite selves or “I’s,” then there is no such thing as an I-Thou relationship between finite selves nor between men and God. Both fellowship and worship become impossible. All alleged I-thou or I-I relations reduce to I. Indeed there is no true changing relation at all, since there are no separate changing relata to relate. Religious experience is impossible in any meaningful sense of the term since all meaningful experience involves something or someone other than oneself with whom one enters the changing experience. For if when one is conscious of experiencing God it is really only an experience internal to the modes or manifestations of God, then he is not really having an experience; only God is having the experience.

Some pantheists hope to avoid this problem by giving man a manifestational or emanational status, at least temporarily, as a self. This is true of both Plotinus and Radhakrishnan. Their attempt, however, is unsuccessful because when all is said and done there is no reality in the finite individual that is his own. His selfhood is real only at the point at which it is one with the absolute.

Logically this means that as finite and as individual it is not real, despite all attempts to say that it has some kind of lesser reality. They wrongly assume that whatever is not really ultimate is not ultimately or actually real.

Other pantheists, like Alan Watts, appeal to the Christian Trinity as a model where there is more than one person in communion, I-Thou relations, and yet only one being or essence. This move, however, will not suffice, since the persons of the Trinity are not anchored to finite and changing natures. They interrelate in accordance with the perfect and unchanging unity of one absolute and eternal nature. By contrast, finite egos bound to a space-time continuum (our “world”) are an entirely different matter. In this case, plurality of persons involves also a plurality of changing essences.

  1. Third, the basic metaphysical assumption of monism begs the whole question. From Parmenides to the present, monists of numerous varieties invariably assume a univocal notion of being without justification. This is apparent in Parmenides’ premise that things cannot differ in what they have in common (viz., being) for that is the very respect in which they are identical. If one assumes that being is identically the same wherever it is found, then of course it follows that being is ultimately one. That is, if being always means exactly the same thing (i.e., univocity of being), then the attempt to show there is more than one being in the universe is futile. Whatever being one points to and however distant and separate it may seem from other beings, in the final analysis they are all identical in their being. Not only is no proof offered for this monistic assumption, but a pluralistic alternative to it is overlooked, namely, that being is analogous. If being is not entirely the same wherever it is found but is only similar, then there can be more than one being in the universe. That is, there may be different kinds of being, for example, finite and infinite. And as long as the principle of differentiation is within the very being of the finite beings, then there can be many beings. Each of these can have its own identity different from the others, but each will have an element of similarity in that each has being. This analogous concept of being is at least a metaphysical possibility, and if it is possible then pantheism is not necessarily true. In brief, the central metaphysical premise of pantheism is the unproven assumption that being is to be understood univocally.
  2. Fourth, the ship of pantheism is wrecked on the reef of evil. Pronouncing evil illusory or less than real is not only hollow to those experiencing evil, but it is philosophically inadequate as well. If evil is not real, what is the origin of the illusion? Why has it been so persistent and why does it seem so real? As it has been aptly put, why is it that when one experiences suffering, he dislikes what he fancies he feels? Or, more seriously, how can evil arise from God who is absolutely and necessarily good? Making evil a necessary part of God or of the world process that flows necessarily from God does not explain evil; in fact, to the contrary, it explains away absolute Good. It makes God both good and evil. Or, as a pantheist would prefer, it puts God beyond both good or evil. But this leads to another serious inadequacy with pantheism.
  3. Fifth, there is neither ground for absolute Good nor an ultimate distinction between good and evil in a pantheistic universe. The ground of all is beyond being and knowing. It is beyond the laws of logic and distinction. Hence, ultimately and really there is no basis for distinguishing between good and evil. So, for God as God nothing is either good or evil, for he is beyond both and contains both in a transcendent way that is manifest in that which flows from him by way of mode, manifestation, or emanation.
  4. Sixth, the pantheistic God is not really personal. Strictly speaking, personality is at best a lesser or lower level of God. The Judeo-Christian personal God is a second-class citizen in the heavens. The absolute as absolute and ultimate is beyond personality and consciousness. These are pure anthropomorphisms or at best lesser manifestations of the Supreme. Rather than being the most personal Being and the paradigm for all personality, the pantheistic God is an impersonal force driven by metaphysical necessity and not by volitional and loving choice. God as a loving Father freely bestowing kindness on the world of his creatures is alien to the highest level of religious reality in a pantheistic world. A personal God—if there is one—is at best a lower manifestation or appearance of the highest impersonal reality.7. Seventh, the pantheistic God is incomplete without creation; he is dependent on the creation that flows from him for the attainment of the perfections that lie latent in his own infinite potentialities. To borrow Plotinus’ illustration, God is like a seed that must unfold in its own creation in order to blossom forth in all its potential. God must create a mirror so that by reflection on his creation he may come to know himself. For Hegel, God comes to self-realization by unfolding in the historical process; history, as it were, is necessary to develop deity.

By way of contrast, the theistic God is eternally conscious and complete and without need for anything to realize latent potentials. Indeed, the traditional theistic God is pure actuality without any potential in his being whatsoever.29 While a pantheistic God creates out of necessity and need, the theistic God creates out of love and desire.

  1. Eighth, if God is “All” or coextensive in his being with the universe, then pantheism is metaphysically indistinguishable from atheism. Both hold in common that the Whole is a collection of all the finite parts or aspects. The only difference is that the pantheist decides to attribute religious significance to the All and the atheist does not. But philosophically the Whole is identical, namely, one eternal self-contained system of reality.

What is more, statements that include everything, such as “God is All,” are vulnerable to the charge that they say nothing. For to say everything of God, including opposites, is to say nothing meaningful of him. Unless some real distinction can be made between the finite and the infinite, good and evil, and so on, then nothing significant is being said. Every affirmation must imply by contrast a possible negation in order to be meaningful.

Even the general statement “God is being” implies that “God is not non-being.” But to affirm, as pantheism does, that “God is All and All is God” in the ultimate and absolute sense is equivocal and non-sensical because it contains within it opposites such as good and evil, being and non-being.

  1. Ninth, pantheism involves a contradiction within the nature of God as infinite. For if God is infinite and yet he somehow shares his being (ex Deo) with creation, then either the finite is infinite, the contingent is necessary—which is clearly contradictory—or else the finite and contingent and many are not really finite and contingent and many. Rather, they are one, necessary, and infinite. In short, either absolute monism is clearly self-defeating (first criticism above) or else if God shares part of his infinite being with creatures, then part of it is lost and becomes less than infinite. It will not suffice for the pantheist to opt for a third alternative, namely, that when God gives being to a creature it is not God’s own being that is given but a being separate from it which is created in the creature; for this position is not pantheism but theism. The choices within this overall framework, then, appear to be absolute monism, which is self-defeating; contradictory pantheism, which holds that God remains infinite in his being even when part of his being is given to another; or theism. Some would attempt to avoid this dilemma by opting for a panentheism, which will be discussed in the next chapter. But one thing seems certain; one must move in some other direction than pantheism for a rational and coherent world view.
  2. Pantheism’s stress on the unknowability or ineffability of God is self-defeating. The very assertion that God is unknowable in an intellectual way is either meaningless or self-defeating. If that assertion is one that cannot itself be understood in an intellectual way, then it is a meaningless assertion. On the other hand, if the assertion “God is unknowable in an intellectual way” is really understandable in an intellectual way, then it is self-defeating. For in this case the pantheist is offering a statement about God to the effect that such statements cannot be made about God. He is making a positive predication about God that claims that predications cannot be made about God in a positive way. Totally negative predications tell one nothing. As even Plotinus admitted, every negative predication implies some positive knowledge (Enneads, VI, 7, 29).

Some pantheists, like Alan Watts, frankly avoid this dilemma by admitting that their writings are not informative about God. Besides signifying that their writings are meaningless, this implies in addition that the whole communication process is fruitless. Why write? Pantheists do write and often write long books. Furthermore, it is self-defeating for the pantheist to communicate to us his view of God only to inform us that he has not done so.

Despite what some pantheists say, what they actually do is use language to communicate to us a view of God which in turn they say is incommunicable.

Summary and Conclusion

Pantheistic emphases provide numerous insights into the nature of reality including the absoluteness of God, his immanence in the world, the unity of being. Pantheism attempts to provide a comprehensive, all-embracing philosophy. In addition, many pantheists have provided valuable insights into intuitive epistemology and the need of negation in religious language in order to preserve the transcendent and infinite nature of God.

On the interpersonal and social level many pantheists have stressed the need for tolerance and the desire for a spiritual unity among men. All of these, and more, are commendable contributions by proponents of the pantheistic viewpoint.

However, when we consider pantheism as a metaphysical system, there are numerous problems—some of which seem insurmountable. Most significant is the fact that pantheism is self-destructive of religious experience, of its own concept of God and of the ability even to affirm the position of pantheism without involving the existence of that which is contrary to the system, namely, the existence of a finite self making the affirmation.

In addition, the inability to adequately explain the apparent reality of evil and the relegation of God to an incomplete potential for perfection dependent on manifestation or emanation for completion of his being is a shabby concept of absolute and necessary perfection compared to the God of Christian theism. Finally, pantheism is often built on an intuitive or mystical epistemology that makes self-defeating or meaningless statements about the unknowability of God.

If it were true that God is actually unknowable and inexpressible by language or thought, then the pantheist could not have so expressed his view to us. The fact that pantheists in writing and speaking do express their view proves that their claim about God’s unknowability is self-destructive.


Exposition of Pantheism

  • Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Mind.
  • Hiriyanna, M. The Essentials of Indian Philosophy.
  • Plotinus. Enneads.
  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepali. The Hindu View of Life.
  • Spinoza, Benedict. Ethics.
  • Watts, Alan. Behold the Spirit.

Evaluation of Pantheism

  • Flint, Robert. Anti-theistic Theories, chaps. 9, 10 and apps. 39–41.
  • Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. I.
  • Hunt, John. Pantheism and Christianity.
  • Owen, H. P. Concepts of Deity, chaps. 2 and 3.
  • Zaehner, Robert C. Mysticism, Sacred and Profane.

1 Plotinus, Enneads. VI, 8, 9; III, 8, 9; V, 1, 8; VI, 8, 18; VI, 7, 37; IV, 2, 2.

2 Plotinus, II, 4, 11; I, 8, 7; VI, 9, 1; I, 8, 3.

3 Plotinus, IV, 8, 4; I, 7, 7; VI, 9, 11; I, 3, 6; II, 4, 12.

4 Plotinus, I, 6, 8; I, 2, 4; I, 8, 5; I, 8, 4.

5 Plotinus, I, 6, 3–4; I, 6, 8; VI, 9, 11; I, 3, 6.

6 Plotinus, III, 8, 10; V, 3, 4.

7 Plotinus, VI, 7, 35; V, 5, 6; VI, 9, 4; VI, 7, 34; VI, 9, 10.

8 Plotinus, V, 5, 6; V, 3, 13; VI, 9, 4; VI, 7, 29; V, 3, 14.

9 Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, Definitions I, III, IV, V.

10 Spinoza, Propositions, I, II, IV, V.

11 Spinoza, Proposition VIII.

12 Spinoza, Propositions X, VII.

13 Spinoza, Propositions XIV, XV.

14 Spinoza, Propositions XV, XVII.

15 Spinoza, Propositions XVII, XVIII, XXI, XXVIII.

16 Spinoza, Propositions XXXIII, XXXII, and Appendix.

17 Sarvepali Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads, intro., p. i.

18 Radhakrishnan, pp. 65, 66.

19 Radhakrishnan, pp. 52, 55, 56, 59.

20 Radhakrishnan, p. 67.

21 Radhakrishnan, pp. 63, 64.

22 Radhakrishnan, pp. 71, 66.

23 Other commentators on Hinduism, as M. Hereyanna, understands the world as maya, i.e., an illusory appearance of Brahman the way a rope may appear to be a snake from a distance (The Essentials of Indian Philosophy, pp. 158–59-). In the Sankara tradition the world (maya) is completely illusory or non-being.

24 Radhakrishnan, pp. 80, 82, 83.

25 Radhakrishnan, pp. 77, 96, 97, 102.

26 Radhakrishnan, pp. 114, 18.

27 Radhakrishnan, p. 127.

28 H. P. Owen, Concepts of Deity, p. 72.

29 See Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, 13, 11.

Geisler, N. L. (1976). Christian apologetics. Includes index. (173). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

PANTHEISM – All you want to know

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