Some Vocabulary

I don’t have a lot of time, but for those interested, I thought I’d keep things going with some vocabulary. (BTW, so much hatred on the web. My goodness, how can people be so vicious about another’s idea of God?)

From The Universal Pantheist Society
Chronological Syllabus:
The Relation of Pantheism to Religious Evolution
by James Picton

Primeval Period
When man first emerged, he surely mixed himself with the world. Life was everywhere, but to man, had not yet taken the form of spirits or magic.

Many societies adopt some form of ancestor worship. From this led the notion of souls able to detach themselves from bodies, and therefore to survive death. Later, animism resulted in a fascination for strange-looking, weird, or imposing objets enshrining some sacred potency for good or evil, mostly the latter. Both types of animism survive all over the world in various modified forms, and are traceable even in the doctrines and ritual of advanced theological and ceremonial religions.

Polytheism is a belief in many personal gods, among whom one may be primary. This is a higher development of animism, prevalent in Europe down to the fourth and even fifth century A.D., and in India down to the present time.

Henotheism of the local worship of one god to the neglect of others, while the existence and local power of the gods of other tribes is not denied. this was the religion of Israel from the early time until perhaps the seventh century, B.C. Henotheism was also favored by local populations in ancient Egypt.

Monotheism is the worship of one personal God as the only deity, all others being treated either as devils or as non-existent. This began to be the religion of Israel from the seventh century, promoted by its early prophets. Likewise, the monotheism of Mohammed owed a great deal to Jewish tradition, but if anything is even more intensely ñunitarianî than Judaism and certainly more than the modern form of Christianity with its concept of the Trinity. Under modern Christianity, the doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation have prepared the way for a larger conception of Deity.

Pantheism is the idea of the Universe as one living Being, of which all creatures and things are parts thereof. This religion of the Universe was implicit in animism, much as the tree is implicit in its seed. So, in one sense Pantheism is prehistoric and co-evolved with the first emergence of man. Pantheist ideas are common in Vedic literature, and in various Amerindian religions. Today, with scientific understanding and the aid of the philosophy of Spinoza, there is a re-emergence of modern Pantheism. In its modernized form, it is now being readily accepted as a major religion of the people.

UPDATE: Initially, I had included this note, “This is not exactly my understanding of Panentheism because it is minus the “and then some” that I put with the “God is everything” bit. Also, I think the aid of Spinoza is fair, but I don’t think Spinoza was a panentheist.” Matt pointed out that this paragraph is actually about Pantheism not Panentheism. Shameful. If you don’t have time to do it right don’t do it. So, here’s the definition of PanENtheism from wikipedia:

Panentheism A panentheistic belief system is one which posits that the one God interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well.

If you’d like to read a pretty academic piece on the difference between the two, here’s a good piece. I will try to do better next time.

6 replies on “Some Vocabulary”

I think you’ve confused two words, with a vital difference expressed in a missing “en”.

Pantheism is, in short, “God is everything”.

Panentheism is, “God is everything and then some.”

Good morning, friends.

I want to push this last post a little bit. While I appreciate brevity, we need a few more words here.

Pantheism says that everything in the material universe and God are one (the definition of each other).

Panentheism, which you’ve qualified as being different from pantheism with the phrase “and then some,” says that everything is in God and God is in everything and beyond everything, including (and this is the significance for me) that God still exists, did not abandon creation at any point, and still is an active agent, engaged & interacting. It is, in ancient Jewish terms that still fit, “the living god.”

That’s the kicker for me. And Matt, that’s why it’s valuable for me to wrestle with understanding God & not just calling “it” creation or the material world, or something that already has another definition. (I’m remembering a question you posed in an earlier post on this thread–a very good question.) I call it God because I’ve never heard any other word for it that suffices.

I suspect that people who embrace other concepts of God (i.e.Deists)have throughout history been propelled into curious investigation & worked hard at articulating their thoughts and beliefs precisely because of that nagging intuition that there is something “out there” that defies definition but still insists on being in relationship with creation (oops! too close to quantum theory?)and won’t stop bugging us till we pay attention and try to put it into words.

Then someone asks another question and we find out those words were insufficient!

I have (or at least used to have) a book by Alan Anderson (from the link you posted) who has tried to move the New Thought religions into embracing panentheism. It’s a tough sell, because most New Thought folks that I’ve encountered (Unity, Religious Science, and the like) seem to be pretty much in the pantheist camp.

I once had a conversation with a New Thought pantheist. I said that pantheism seemed to me to just reduce the word “God” to a meaningless concept if you were just saying that it was another name for the world. Why even have the word “God” if it is just a synonym? His response was to say something along the lines that God is the ocean and we are the waves. I am afraid that I still don’t get it. I think his point was that God was a deeper or more general level of reality and that is why they have a different word for “God” that is distinguished from the world. But it seems to me that this is hedging. Either God is identical with the world or he/she isn’t. Is it really pantheism if you say that God is actually something different from the world in any sense whatsoever? I guess I’ll never really see the appeal of pantheism.

Another thing about Alan Anderson is that he is not just a panentheist, but he is also an advocate of process theology. I am a fan of process thought myself, but not all panentheists are necessarily proponents of process theology, at least not explicitly.

I wrote an entire post and it got erased… how frustrating!

Linda, your reply is exactly why I hang out with people who are smarter than me.

we need a few more words here.

Yes, of course. I was hopelessly terse.

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