What is pantheism?
That’s a loaded question. But let me rewind here… What have I almost always been? An atheist.
There’s a lot of baggage around the subject of atheism. People have all kinds of ideas of what atheists are, and the ideas are usually pretty unflattering. Some people hear “atheist” and they think of the group who sued to keep those beams from the twin towers out of the 9/11 memorial, or the guy who sued to keep the pledge of allegiance v2.0 out of the schools or somebody who tried to have some words about God removed from the city hall in their small town. Atheists just ruin the “we all believe in the same god” party. And they want everyone else to stop believing in God, too.
But that’s not necessarily true. A lot of people think atheists believe there is no God. This isn’t how I see atheism. To me, atheism means that I don’t believe in God, or any other gods.
What’s the difference (and, to be sure, these aren’t the only two definitions you’ll find)?
Definition 1: Atheists believe there is no God (gods).
Definition 2: Atheists do not believe in God (gods).
The difference is that Definition 1 requires believing in something. And anyone making a poetic argument will postulate that atheism requires faith, just like any other religion, because believing there is no God requires faith.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t believe in a whole host of gods who have come in and out of existence throughout the history of human civilization. Never mind Zeus, Odin, Isis or Osiris. A lot of us have heard of those gods. Let me name a god who is rather obscure: Crom Cruach.
Ever heard of him? Probably not. So you probably never believed in him, probably still don’t believe in him. You live all your days giving not so much as a millisecond of thought to the will of Crom Cruach; You do not believe in Crom Cruach.
It’s a passive thing. You exert no effort. You simply don’t believe in him.
Now, if you believed there was no Crom Cruach, you would have to put some effort into the whole endeavor. You’d have to know who he is, what his back story is, things about his character and the culture that gave rise to his worship.
Even then, you could still simply not believe in Crom Cruach. But to say, “I believe there is no Crom Cruaich,” you’re going out on a limb and saying you think he isn’t there. After all, it’s not really all that different.
Many atheists would be content to say they believe there is no God. Me? I say I don’t believe in God. Why? Because I just don’t put any effort into it. I live my days like there is no God and those days are good and bad on the basis of events that I don’t have any reason to believe are being influenced by anything more than a combination of chance, chaos, physics, systems, natural laws, and competing wills.
But some people say, “I don’t believe there’s nothing!” Well… neither do I. “Matthew, don’t you believe in a higher power? Something bigger and more mysterious?” I think about that shit ALL THE TIME. I just don’t think it’s God.
You see, God is Yahweh. Allah. Jehovah. The monotheistic “one god” to whom clever primitives attributed their opinions and stories as they documented them in the Bible, the Koran, the Torah. That’s a god, just like Crom Cruach. It’s only that they decided to assert that he was the one god. So, to give mojo to the dogma, they just capitalized his name and called him God. Like… if you thought that your Golden Retriever, Spot, was the only one true dog, so you decided to call him “Dog” instead of “Spot.”
Just like Crom Cruach, I do not believe in that Allah, Jehovah or Yahweh. Or any of the other gods dreamed up by cultures throughout human history. I see gods as super men, made in our own image, anthropomorphized characters designed to comfort the masses and provide unquestionable support and/or justification for all manner of lifestyle. To me, they continue to exist by way of indoctrination and are completely imagined. To me, every religion started as a cult. From my perspective, it’s all superstitious rubbish. So I call myself an atheist.
But higher, deeper, more interesting forces at work in the Universe that might be beyond my understanding? You bet I believe in that! But rather than manifesting by way of deities, or gods. Perhaps the spiritual significance is in everything. Perhaps it’s the multiverse. Perhaps it’s us. Perhaps I’m no more spiritual than an astrophysicist trying to unravel the mysteries of physics. But it feels spiritual to me.
My latest consideration is that the Universe is an organism (just one in a multiverse) that is the child universe of countless others that have preceded it – not in terms of time, but in terms of cause and effect. The Universe, as we call it, may be born from an entirely separate space-time, from an entirely separate universe. Perhaps we live in the multi-dimensional bubble caused by one of another universe’s black holes. If so, how did this universe-species evolve? And for what end purpose in it’s evolution does life exist? Is there some environment that universes inhabit that we cannot perceive (or perhaps we can – after all, what is dark energy)? Does life have a role to play in keeping this universe safe? If so, what? If not now, at what point in evolution will our Earth’s life be ready to fulfill it’s destiny?
Or are we simply the manifestation of the universe’s own consciousness? After all, we are made of star stuff; we are made of the Universe. Perhaps we serve no more complex of a purpose than to simply be, to live, to interact with other iterations of universal consciousness (our friends, our pets, the trees, other plants and animals) under the guise that they are separate from us, and that what we do matters so much, for the specter of death seems to always remind us that we haven’t much time left to live. Not as this character, anyway.
I do not know, but it is exciting to me. And I live my life with consideration to these ideas, these possibilities.
And that, to me, is Pantheism.