However, pantheism and atheism are actually quite similar in some ways.
Philosophy of Religion
The pantheist god is not outside the universe; it is the universe. For atheists, on the other hand, the universe is its own reality but not a god. But there may be further differences between them because some pantheists may believe that nature has certain god-like qualities, such as intelligence and spirit, while atheists usually believe in a purely mechanical universe.
There are some religions that hover between pantheism and atheism. The Chinese religion of Taoism can be interpreted either way; Taoists believe that the universe is all produced and governed by the universal Tao , or first principle, which is basically the essence of natural law, but which according to Taoists, can never be fully defined or understood. In practice, there are two very different kinds of Taoism—one which features gods, rituals, prayers, and dogmatic beliefs, and another which is entirely a form of natural philosophy without religious elements or dogma.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French traveler and philosopher who came to America to write books and essays on democratic society.
Philosophy of religion and the scientific turn
He argued that pantheism was more compatible with democracy because it equated the Creator with Creation. Rather than placing God above the natural world, it unified God with the natural world, in exactly the same way as democracy aims to unify the government with its people. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues.
We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. Albert Einstein was once asked whether he would describe himself as a pantheist or atheist, and this was his response.
He never firmly identified himself as a pantheist, but he said that he admired pantheism, especially because it instilled a sense of wonder and humility toward the universe. By describing the universe as divine, pantheists try to gain better understanding of their own smallness and limited perspectives.
Atheism, Einstein argued, was not an effective way to instill this sort of attitude. At various times and places, people have come up with the idea that Nature or the Universe is a sacred being, and that there is no separate God standing outside, or within, that universe. Some people believe that the ancient pagans were essentially pantheists, and that their spirituality was based on a belief in the sacredness of the whole universe. Certainly some pagans in Europe thought this way.
For example, Stoicism , a philosophical-religious sect of ancient Greece and Rome was heavy with pantheism. Similarly, the Taoism of ancient China had pantheist elements. Modern pantheism can be traced back to the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who argued that pantheism had to be true if there was to be any logical basis for believing in God. Spinoza was always something of an outsider in philosophy, and his ideas were never as influential as philosophers such as Kant or Hegel. Since time immemorial man has striven to express the relationship between the finite and the infinite.
I was not so much alienated by the fact that in expounding their religious beliefs they confused Christian truths that had always been close to me with much that was unnecessary and irrational. It was more the fact that the lives of these people were just like my own, with the only difference that they did not live according to the principles expounded in their teachings. I felt strongly that they were deceiving themselves and that, like myself, they had no other concept of life than of living while they lived and of grabbing hold of everything they could.
In contrast to what I saw happening in my own circle, where the whole of life is spent in idleness, amusement and dissatisfaction with life, I saw that those people who laboured hard throughout their entire lives were less dissatisfied with life than the rich. According to the explanations of these theologians, the basic dogma of faith is the infallibility of the Church. At the time it was so essential for me to believe in order to live that I subconsciously hid from myself the contradictions and obscurities in the religious dogma.
But there was a limit to the amount of meaning that could be read into the rituals. I experienced the same thing over the celebration of the major feasts.
John Hick, "Allowing for Evil"
I could understand the law of observing the Sabbath, in other words devoting one day to God. But the most important feast was in memory of the Resurrection, the reality of which I could neither imagine nor understand. On this day the sacrament of the Eucharist was performed, which I found quite incomprehensible. All the other twelve feast days, except for Christmas, were in memory of miracles- things which I endeavoured not to think about, in order not to deny them: the Ascension, Pentecost, the Epiphany, the Intercession of the Virgin, and so on.
At the celebration of these festivals, feeling that an importance had been ascribed to things I considered to be of little importance, I either invented something that would suffice as an explanation, or closed my eyes so that I would not see the things that tempted me. I so often envied the peasants their illiteracy and lack of learning. They found nothing false in those doctrinal statements which seemed apparent rubbish to me. They could accept them and believe in the truth, in the same truth that I believed in.
Only for me, wretched fellow, it was obvious that the truth was interwoven with fine threads of falsehood, and that I could not accept it as such. As a result of my interest in religion, I had come into contact with believers of various denominations: Catholics, Protestants, Old Believers, Molokans, and others.
Among them I met many deeply moral men with sincere belief. I wished to be a brother to these people. And what happened? The teaching which had promised me unity of all through one faith and through love, that very teaching, speaking through its highest representatives, told me that all these people were living a lie, that the thing which gave them strength of life was a temptation of the devil, and that it is we alone who are in possession of the only possible truth.
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And I saw that the Orthodox Church regarded as heretics all those who did not profess an identical faith to theirs, just as the Catholics and the others consider the Orthodox followers to be heretics. And I saw that the Orthodox, although they may try to hide it, regard with hostility all those who do not practice their faith by using the same external symbols and words as themselves.
And this could not be otherwise, first of all because the assertion that you live in falsehood and I in truth is the most cruel thing that one man can say to another and secondly, because a man who loves his children and his brothers cannot help feeling hostile towards those who want to convert his children and his brothers to a false belief. And assuming that truth lies in union by love, I was struck by the fact that theology was destroying the thing it should be advancing.
Which is Humanity! By love, we understand love of self — universe. We should use love for social harmony. Then I understood it all. While I am seeking faith, the force of life, they are seeking the best way of fulfilling, in the eyes of men, certain human obligations. And in fulfilling these human affairs they perform them in a human fashion.
However much they might speak about their compassion for their lost brethren, or of their prayers for those who stand before the throne of the Almighty, it has been necessary to use force in carrying out human duties. Just as it has always been applied, so it is now, and always will be. As I turned my attention to what is done in the name of religion I was horrified and very nearly repudiated Orthodoxy.
There Are Two Main Issues In The Philosophy Of Religion
At the time Russia was at war. And, in the name of Christian love, Russians were killing their fellow men.
It was impossible not to think about this. It was impossible to avoid the fact that killing is evil and contrary to the most basic principles of any faith. And yet prayers were said in the churches for the success of our armies, and our religious teachers acknowledged this killing as an outcome of faith.
And this was not only applied to murder in time of war, but, during the troubled times that followed the war, I witnessed members of the Church, her teachers, monks, and ascetics condoning the killing of helpless, lost youths. As I turned my attention to all that is done by people who profess Christianity, I was horrified. It must be careful and attentively examined in order to be understood, even if it is not understood in the way I understand the propositions of science.
I do not seek that, nor can I, since I know the unusual nature of religious knowledge. I shall not seek the explanation of everything. I know that the explanation of all things, like the origin of all things, must remain a secret of eternity.
But I want to understand in such a way as to be brought to the inevitably inexplicable. I want to realise that all that is inexplicable is so, not because the demands of my intellect are at fault they are correct and apart from them I can understand nothing , but because I can recognise the limits of my intellect. I want to understand in such a way that everything inexplicable presents itself to me as being necessarily inexplicable and not as being something that I am under an obligation to believe.
I have no doubt that there is truth in the teachings, but I also have no doubt that there is falsehood in them too, and that I must discover what is true and what is false and separate one from the other.
Related God and the Universe of Faiths: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion
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