Monday, December 21, 2009


Ross Douthat comments today on the pantheistic message of Avatar and of Hollywood movies in general. I haven't seen Avatar so I can't comment on it's message. I tend to see the veneration of nature as displayed in Disney movies from the days of Bambi right up to the more recent Lion King and Pocohantas as useful popular corrections to the usual commercial propaganda that progress and technology and capitalism will save us. I am not sure they really make a dent against this omnipresent propaganda, but I appreciate the efforts to plant the seed of a different kind of message in young minds.

But I want to take a little issue with this comment by Douthat:
At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.
I don't think this is quite right. Pantheism isn't really for anyone who "pines for transcendence." Pantheism collapses the transcendent into everything around us. For the pantheist God is in everything and there is nothing more, nothing transcendent.

For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, there is panentheism, which holds that the everything is holy but the holy is not defined by everything. There is something more - transcendence - even if that something more is not a personal God of the Bible who exists "wholly outside our world but intervenes with some regularity.

It's a small but important distinction.

Apparently there are those who are attracted to Orthodox traditions because of its panentheism. For those of us who don't find the bells and whistles of Orthodoxy meaningful, there is another panentheistic alternative. It is called liberal Christianity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with Pantheism. It is as legitimate as any other religion. It is the world's oldest religion and the most relevant to the modern world. At a time when humans are depleting the oceans of life, destroying the rainforests, driving countless species into extinction, and even altering the climate, we need to return to a deep spiritual connection with Nature.

Unlike the Bible religions, Pantheism is in harmony with the scientific discoveries that we humans are related to all life through hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Every time we take a breath our lives depend on the combined metabolic activity of millions of species of plants and animals.

Pantheism offers a deeply spiritual perspective that allows us to live happy lives in harmony with the Biosphere.