A Look at the Consequences of Pantheism
Pantheism, the underlying philosophy of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christian Science, The Four Agreements, and a number of other philosophies, generally termed "new age" by Christians, has replaced Christianity as the most widely-held belief in America. Rather than focusing on the many differences between the pantheistic worldview and Christianity, in this article I'd like to get to the heart of why it matters. I want to point out the dark consequences of the philosophy which speaks so freely about everything being united in love.
What Is Pantheism?
Pantheism literally means "God is all" and "All is God." The word is from the Greek: "pan" means "all," "theos" means "god," and "ism" means "doctrine" or "belief." Pantheism is the view that the universe, or nature, and God are equivalent. According to the belief of pantheism, I am God, you are God, the table is God, animals and bugs and trees and dirt are God; in short every single thing in the entire universe is one essence and that essence is God. At first this may sound like a poetic statement, a metaphor, encouraging us to believe that there are divine qualities in all of us, and beauty in all parts of creation. But that's not what pantheism means by these statements. It posits that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, we as individuals are not distinct from others, from our environment, nor from God. We do not think separate thoughts, feel separate feelings, nor make separate choices. And any perception of such dichotomies (divisions) to our minds through our senses is simply an illusion.
Where Does Pantheism Lead?
We derive our meaning from understanding our purpose and our relationships. But when our purpose turns out to be to cease from all desire (or purposing) and our relationship to all things turns out to be oneness with them, all meaning is gone. If, on the other hand, our understanding of our relationship to all things turns out to be an endless discovery of our uniqueness, our unique natures and interactions with all of the other unique beings and things, then meaning is unlimited.
The thought of the ultimate connection of one in all, and all in one, can be appealing. But this is only true as long as we are contemplating elevating the human to the divine. But oneness has to work in both directions. If the human is divine, then the divine is also human. When we move in the downward direction, we've lost anything we had gained. Not just that, but we must even drop the abstract concepts of up and down which are opposites and represent diversity. In the undifferentiated whole, all diversity must be dropped; it is all illusion. Even the idea that something can be better implies good and bad; to say we understand things the way they really are, implies truth and non-truth. Once we've dug our trench on the side of oneness, which is the same as no diversity, we've got to take the whole package. We can't try to have it both ways.
It would be bad enough if we had to live in the emptiness that comes from pressing pantheism out to its logical conclusions in the areas of beauty and truth, but we are brought past the brink of despair when we consider what this philosophy does to love. This leaves us lonely. It is bad enough when beauty is destroyed because the sprinkling of snow on the mountain tops is one with the baby bird on my lawn and with the morning sun in my eyes. They get their beauty from what they are, from what defines them; in other words, from the uniqueness and diversity. And it is bad enough when truth is destroyed because all the wisdom we acquire is equal to all the folly, because in the end all roads lead to the same place. Each thing derives its value from its unique nature. Only by treating each thing according to its nature, can we sustain and not destroy its value.
All of that would be bad enough, but the loneliness it brings, brings despair! What could possibly be bad about all of us being one, in love, to say that in our hearts we're all connected, all united in God? It is trying to have all of the reward without any of the risk. The very thing that makes love love, the joy and the ecstasy of two becoming one, is that they are in the realest possible way, two. If we skip over that and go directly to the one, we have nothing left of what mattered. If we each are unique in this, the most significant of all possible ways, then we risk everything, but we can gain everything. To say we are not one, by nature, in our hearts, has profound implications; it is to speak about love and selfishness, or good and evil. If we are not one, by nature, in our hearts, then we truly choose. In true freedom we can unite ourselves to each other or tear ourselves apart from each other. Only if love is voluntary is it love. Only if we are distinct in this center of our beings, in the heart of our beings, the part that chooses, in our free wills, can we ever have the meaningful unity of love.
The Appeal of Pantheism
It's easy to see why many people find pantheism so much more appealing than Christianity. (There could hardly be two more diametrically opposed views of life!) With that risk that comes with our uniqueness and our freedom, comes complete responsibility for our own choices, and shame for those destructive selfish choices. It's easy to see that people really do freely make these selfish choices and that these choices are responsible, in one way or another, for profound suffering, in our lives and throughout history. The Christian is told that God thought the reward would be worth the risk; that the pain is real, but that God has compassion for us; that we remain free to choose, but that God has made arrangements, at great expense to Himself to win our hearts back and set all things right. On the other hand, the pantheist is told this present incarnation is not a result of a deliberate choice but merely an emanation from God; that the pain is an illusion, that we will all inevitably return to the one, and that we can find relief in the present by denying the diversity to find enlightenment.
But diversity isn't a problem for the Christian. The stories we believe in, the stories that claim to come from God Himself revealing those things that only God could reveal, the stories we accept on the authority of others because of the amazing supernatural events that surrounded them and the insights they give us which no other story gave, tell us of a God who was never alone. He has three beings, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, within His one being, God. Therefore, He has both unity and diversity in His own being. So when God is said to have chosen to create, out of nothing, a creation full of unity and diversity, like Himself, but distinct from Him, it makes sense. The philosophical problem of the one and the many is solved. And when it comes to love, we have the only sufficient explanation: God is a being who has forever been in a loving relationship which He has now invited us into.
Contrast this Christian view of love with the cold, impersonal, and lonely universe of pantheism. It may be easier to take hold of what's happening in pantheism if we draw a comparison with its companion philosophy, atheism.
What the pantheist and the atheist both fail to recognize is that they hold, in essence, identical philosophies. "What?!" the pantheist cries, "we embrace the sacred in all things! We are more spiritual than even the Christian." "What?!" protests the atheist, "we don't imagine there is anything other than the material. We completely reject the spiritual superstition of even the Christian." But the pantheist believes that all is one essence, that it has temporarily taken on a form that creates the illusion of diversity, but will ultimately resolve back into uniformity. The atheist believes that all is matter and energy, or ultimately just energy. They believe that all is this one essence, that by chance has temporarily taken on a form that creates the illusion that it was designed with a purpose, but that ultimately it is all the result of chance and will eventually resolve back into uniformity, which they call total entropy or heat death.
The pantheist believes that our consciousness of being one is hidden behind a veil. The atheist believes our consciousness itself is misleading us into thinking we are independent, making truly free, first-cause choices.
Christianity Stands Alone
So pantheism and atheism are the same philosophy called by different names. Indeed, the pantheist has no better explanation for where meaning can come from, or how love can be real, than the atheist. The atheist calls everything that exists "dust." The pantheist calls everything that exists "spirit." In stark contrast to both of these, the Christian says that when God created, He made Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath (literally "spirit") of life. And when mankind sinned, destroying life, God sent His Son to suffer and die for us, speaking words that were "spiritual." He was God, a spirit, but became a man, of flesh like us, and He showed us His love and told us His truth, that was from heaven, not earth, so that if we receive it we will have life, which means a change in our hearts that will make us love and not selfishly destroy anymore.
So the scripture says,
"The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy. The second man is from heaven."1
"The bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world."2
"I am the bread that came down out of heaven."3
He explained what He meant this way,
"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."4
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life."5
"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word he will never see death."6
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'"7
Once again in this case He explained that being "born of the Spirit," or "being spiritual" means to respond to His teachings, which are from heaven, and His act of dying on the cross for us, which His Father in heaven sent Him to do. He expressed this when He said,
"'If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."8
So, when the Christian uses the word "spiritual," he is not denying the reality or the value or the goodness of the physical realm, but is asserting the necessity of sustaining our lives by trusting God's love for us and trusting that His commands are life to us. What commands? When asked what we must do to do the work that God requires, He said,
"This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."9
He also said,
"This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you."10
John combined these two commands into one statement,
"And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us."11
With this kind of love and meaning for our lives, it's no wonder Jesus said,
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."12