God, concepts of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

7. Pantheism

Pantheism consists of two theses: that (a) all things are parts of, appearances of or really identical with some one being, and (b) this being is divine. Claim (a) is compatible with the view that all items not identical with this one being are unreal, or ultimately unreal, but does not entail it. Nor does (a) entail (b), for one who holds that there is just one really real or all-inclusive thing need not treat it as divine. Still, if there is just one thing, or an all-inclusive thing, that thing is the ultimate thing, and has a claim to be the most perfect thing. So given the tie between ultimacy and deity and the tradition of perfect-being theism, those who hold (a) naturally tend towards (b).

Reverence for nature and mystical experiences of the unity of all things are a perennial source of pantheism, the former persuasive to nineteenth-century Romantics, the latter to Eastern thinkers. Once tilted towards this view of God, pantheists sometimes argue that their Unity has some attributes classical theism calls distinctively divine. Stoics argue that the universe is conscious and wise, Spinoza (§§2–4) that the one universal substance is simple, Hegel that the world-spirit exercises a kind of providence, and some contemporary philosophers that the universe viewed tenselessly exists independently and is eternal. The universe is certainly omnipresent in the sense that every place is part of it, though not as in classical theism (in which God is present as a whole in every place and time). In pantheism, God = universe, and so the claim that God and universe are causally related is problematic. Spinoza tries to preserve an efficient-causal relation by distinguishing an active aspect of the universe (natura naturans) from a passive (natura naturata). Hegel sees God as the universe’s final cause, claiming that full realization of its divine nature is the goal towards which the universe’s development moves.

The line between pantheism and panentheism is narrow. Pantheism holds that God is the sum of, the reality behind or the true identity of all things, and nothing beyond this. If a being with awareness and/or will is in some way more than its body, then a view can remain pure pantheism only by denying that God is a person or personlike, and many thinkers usually called pantheists (for example, Spinoza, the Stoics, some Hindus) may actually have been panentheists. Many find pantheism’s implications distasteful. If everything is part of God, or an aspect of him, and so forth, then God includes or really is the most unsavoury items, and (for example) whoever eats, chews on God. Thus ‘pantheist’ often serves as a term of theological abuse, and not everyone given the label deserves it.

Citing this article:
Leftow, Brian. Pantheism. God, concepts of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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