Pantheism is the belief there’s no such thing as a personal God. All of reality is considered an expression of the divine. Pantheists feel no need of an anthropomorphic God—that is, a God resembling humans in any way. Modern pantheists believe that their God is not above them nor outside them, but within them. You may call yourself an agnostic, when the term “pantheist” might be closer to the mark.
Origin of Pantheism
Although the idea of pantheism was first introduced to the Western world during the Renaissance by the philosopher Spinoza, the basic idea of pantheism as a religion has existed in various parts of the world for thousands of years.
After Baruch Spinoza introduced Westerners to the idea of pantheism during the 1600s, it took hundreds of years for the philosophy to catch on. By the middle of the 1800s, many leading writers and philosophers subscribed to the idea: William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Thoreau. Even Abraham Lincoln was considered a pantheist. Those close to Lincoln said that he doubted the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands it.
Carl Sagan, the famous 20th century scientist was once described as believing “in the god of Spinoza and Einstein, not behind nature but as nature, or equivalent to it.” Einstein himself wrote in 1954, “I do not believe in a personal God and have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.”
While many modern Westerners are unfamiliar with the term “pantheism,” many of them unknowingly subscribe to the underlying philosophy. (Pantheism has been described as Hollywood’s religion of choice since the 1990s.)
Most folk religions, including those of Native American origin, can be seen as pantheistic or a mixture of pantheism and other doctrines. Asian religions that include elements of pantheism include Sikhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism. In the case of Hinduism, pantheistic views exist side by side with reverence to more than one deity.
Pantheism is a popular element in modern spirituality and new religious movements. Some consider pantheism a form of religious naturalism. It has been described as an example of “dark green religion” with a focus on environmental principles. Sometimes pantheism is confused with animism.
As one of the world’s oldest religions, animism involves worshipping the spirits of animals and even objects. Natural objects of veneration include animals, mountains, bodies of water, and celestial bodies. For example, in certain Native American traditions “Grandmother Moon” is believed to watch over the children of Earth, helping them realize their dreams and visions. Spirit beings are thought to have human-like emotions such as desire, jealousy and even anger. The animist world view usually promotes unity and goodwill between the living and spirit worlds. The pantheist view is less concrete; it excludes the concept of individual deities and envisions no afterlife.
Animists seek to appease the spiritual world in the hopes of good fortune during life and a clear path to the afterlife. They usually believe that it’s possible to contact the spirits of the dead.
What’s Your Path?
Are you a pantheist, animist, a little of both, or neither? If you don’t have a personal God, but believe in all beings as a universal spiritual force, you may be a pantheist. The term “pantheist” applies to many people who, when questioned, identify themselves as “agnostic.”
If, on the other hand, you believe that unique entities, such as trees and animals, have their own souls or spirits, your spiritual path has elements of animism. People who subscribe to parts of both spiritual paths or aren’t sure what they believe, fall into the category of “agnostic.”
If you’re not a Christian, Jew, or member of any other orthodox religion, you may be a pantheist without realizing it.