Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

On those who believe God is the universe.

Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God.

2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God.
[Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God.

So they’re monotheist? Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe.

Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re talking about. “The universe” is the sum total of everything and everyone, and collectively that’s God. And all of us are part of him.

Nope, not even close to monotheism. But when people don’t know any better, that’s what they assume Hindus or Hinduism-based spiritual teachers are talking about. When they say “God,” they mean the universe. Everything, collectively. Which may or may not be conscious, know what it’s doing, have a plan for us, or offer us guidance—it kinda depends on the teacher.

It’s what we call pantheism. And under this idea, of course Jesus is God. Pantheists have no problem with that idea. The catch is, they figure everyone else is God too, and Jesus just happened to be more connected to his godhood than anyone else. And Jesus isn’t the only avatar, or incarnation, of God, either. There’ve been others, like Krishna. Some of them are alive today. (Some of these spiritual teachers wouldn’t much mind if we thought of them that way either. It’d sure help their book sales.)

So if you come across any of these eastern-style teachers who have some really interesting things to say about God, bear in mind this is how they imagine God to be. He’s not a being who fills the universe; he is the universe.

Why’s that a problematic idea? Well you do recall there’s a lot of evil in the universe. But if God is everything, that evil would also be a part of God. And God doesn’t do evil. 1Jn 1.5

Pantheism in the bible?

Since they figure God is everything, pantheists have no problem trying to shoehorn Christianity into their belief system. Why not? If God is everything, he’s also made up of Christians and our ideas. Just tweak a few of these ideas and make ’em fit.

Hence there are pantheists who claim Jesus also believed in, and taught, pantheism. They gotta take him out of context in order to make their case, but if you consider your case more important than context, that’s no big deal.

John 10.30-38 KWL
30 “I and the Father are one.”
31 Again the Judeans picked up rocks to stone him with.
32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from my Father.
Which one of them are you going to stone me for?
33 The Judeans answered him, “We’re not stoning you for good works, but slander.
You’re a human, who makes yourself God!”
34 Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? Ps 82.6
35 If God called these people who received God’s word ‘gods,’ the scriptures can’t be undone.
36 He whom the Father set apart and sent into the world—you call him a slanderer.
For I said I’m God’s son. 37 If I don’t do my Father’s works, don’t believe me!
38 And if I do… Even if you don’t believe me, believe the works!
This way you’ll know and understand the Father’s in me, and I’m in the Father.”

Pantheists zero in on Jesus’s quote from Psalms, “I have said you are gods,” and claim this proves we’re all gods—which is consistent with this universe-is-God idea. And that Jesus tries to base the argument that he’s God, on the fact everybody’s God.

Skipping the fact Jesus’s true argument is that he does his Father’s works. And if he doesn’t, don’t believe him; but he does.

As for the Psalms quote, let’s take a peek at that, shall we?

Psalm 82.1-7 KWL
1 In the god-council, our God stands up.
In their middle, God judges them all:
2 “For how long must you judge people wrong?
Lifting up wicked faces?” Selah.
3 “Judge the weak, orphaned, troubled—be fair!
4 Save the needy and weak from cruel hands.
5 They don’t realize they walk in the dark.
All foundations are cracked in their lands.
6 I have said you are gods, every one
all of you, children of the Most High.
7 But like one of the princes, you’ll fall,
and like any old human, you’ll die.”

That sound like pantheism to you? Here we have the LORD, a distinct and separate being, pronouncing his judgment upon these so-called “gods” who aren’t leading his people like he wants. Far from being a part of him, from living in his light, they’re evil. And the LORD doesn’t do evil.

Psalm 82 was penned by the psalmist/prophet Asaph. I don’t know what he believed about the existence of other gods. But what we see in this psalm, is that the “gods” the LORD were addressing aren’t infinite, eternal, cosmic beings. They can be overthrown and killed. Like a human. Quite possibly they literally are human: The LORD’s not addressing mighty spirits, but mighty humans who imagine themselves gods, and God has had enough.

So, they’re honorary gods. And Jesus didn’t have a problem with us considering certain created beings to be honorary gods. It’s no insult to the LORD—contrary to the Judean’s objection in John Jn 10.33 —because in Psalm 82 the LORD himself calls certain people “gods.” Only problem is when people start worshiping these “gods” instead of the LORD. And pantheists have the bad habit of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator—the same problem that’s always plagued humanity. Ro 1.25

We Christians follow Jesus’s lead. We’re monotheists who figure lots of beings are called gods, but only the LORD merits the title. We aren’t the LORD, and the LORD is God. And rightly gets to judge us when we won’t live up to divine standards.

Eastern and western pantheism.

Thus far I’ve been kinda writing as if all pantheists think alike. They don’t. Hindus come in many denominations, and much as they claim they all agree, they don’t entirely. And non-Hindus definitely don’t.

Hindu-based pantheism—which I’ll call eastern pantheism—tends to stand back from the idea of the universe being a person. ’Cause it’s not. If they talk about God, I find it’s usually about one of his forms, like Rama or Krishna. Those guys were persons, so they’re comfortable talking about their personal attributes and behaviors. But the universe is too vague a thing, and it’s hard to claim it has motives when everything that happens is… well, so random. And sometimes contradictory, like when a wave (which is after all one part of the universe) crashes against a rock face (another part of the universe) and they resist one another. What’s the universe’s will then?

Then there’s Christianity-influenced pantheism, which I call western pantheism. It’s not based on Christianity, but it’s heavily influenced by the Christian belief that God’s a being. So western pantheists have no problem talking about the universe as if it’s a person. “The universe wants me to have that job.” They’ll even pray to the universe.

But most western pantheists admit what they’re really doing is anthropomorphization: They’re treating an inanimate object like it’s human. ’Cause it’s awfully hard to relate to the universe unless we can bring it down to our level. So they imagine it a person called “the Universe.” Same as what the ancient Greeks did when they made a god of it named Uranos.

So no, the universe isn’t a person. It thinks nothing. Feels nothing. Wants nothing. We might talk about it that way, but that’s a poetic way of describing the processes of cause-and-effect—which is really how the universe works. It’s as if we said gravity works because an object wants to fall towards the heavier object.

Western pantheists talk this way because they’re used to talking this way. Because Christians talk this way. To us, God’s a being, so of course we talk about him that way. Western pantheists are simply borrowing our language, because eastern pantheism is too hard to relate to. But they don’t mean what we do. When a western pantheist says “God is love,” same as a Christian (and they’ll even quote the apostles in the scriptures) we mean that God’s primary motive and attribute is love… and they’ll simply be anthropomorphizing love. We mean that God exemplifies love in the best way, and they mean that love is the best thing in the universe.

But their universe still consists, in many places, of evil. And God doesn’t.

The other odd thing about western pantheists is this odd idea of nature as God. Which, to be fair, is a mistake we Christians are also guilty of. But while eastern pantheists are fully aware that humans are part of nature, westerners forget this, and sometimes cast us as competing with nature—and remind us we can either get with the program and cooperate with the universe, or fight it and wind up fighting God. Forgetting that according to their own belief system, we are God.

Then there are westerners who only dabble in pantheism. They’re not so much pantheists as pagans who don’t care to think of God as the wrathful bearded old white guy in Christian art. (In other words, Zeus.) They like a fuzzier idea, so pantheism appeals to them. God’s a force, not a being. He’s nature, science, the weather, circumstances, coincidence, karma, and all the stuff they can’t explain and describe. “God” is a catch-all term for everything paranormal, or maybe the power behind everything. But he’s not a being.

Nope. Totally a being.

God is relational. Kinda a huge clue God’s a being: You can’t have a personal relationship with a force, or an impersonal cosmos. Pantheism doesn’t foster that sort of relationship at all.

Which is why your typical pantheist tends to set the entire idea aside when it comes to their personal religious activities. Eastern pantheists concentrate on making their pantheistic God small: They select one (or a few) of the gods in their pantheon, and focus on that guy. Or they pick a favorite attribute of God—Mohandas Gandhi went with truth—and anthropomorphize it. They pick their favorite piece of the universe, and worship that. In so doing, like monotheists, they worship a being… while telling themselves they’re not really.

And of course western pantheists treat the cosmos as if it’s a being, and worship it same as if they were in an Abrahamic religion, worshiping God. They stick with that till it gets uncomfortable; till they realize “the universe” appears to expect things of them… and then suddenly they’re back to emphasizing the fuzzy, impersonal nature of the universe. Stuff got too real there for a while.

See, humans need relationships. Arguably that’s so we seek a relationship with God, as well as with one another. Pantheism doesn’t fulfill that need… unless pantheists kinda act like monotheists. In any case you can see why far more of humanity went with monotheism. An impersonal god isn’t a lovable god.

No, the fact pantheism doesn’t square with human nature doesn’t prove God’s a being. Jesus does that. But you’d think if the universe is an impersonal, dispassionate creator, it’d be far more likely to create dispassionate beings. Or at least beings who didn’t crave a passionate God so much. (Then again, it wouldn’t care.)

The author of Genesis deliberately stated God created the heavens and earth. Ge 1.1 He didn’t spontaneously come out of this universe, as other ancient middle eastern religions taught. He intentionally made this universe. It’s not a part of himself; it’s a separate thing from himself. Something he could personally interact with, as he later did, and currently does, with its humans.

And Jesus isn’t one of many divine avatars. He’s the monogenís/“only-begotten,” the only one who expresses God accurately, Jn 1.18 deliberately sent by God to express his love for us. 1Jn 4.9 The love, really, that an impersonal universe can’t have for the beings within it… because, again, all the evil.

Pantheism doesn’t jibe with Christianity anywhere as well as pantheists imagine. ’Cause if everyone is already an expression of God, what’s the point in trying to be more like Jesus, the accurate expression of God? What’s the point in obeying Jesus, pursuing a relationship with God, or any activity at all within this meaningless universe? I know; pantheists have clever answers to these questions which work for them. I’m just saying that if we follow their answers, we have to redefine Jesus to the point we’re no longer authentically following him. ’Tain’t Christianity. So how can pantheism be said to jibe with it?