What is Pantheism?

Pantheism is the philosophical belief that God and the universe are identical.

The term comes from the Greek pan, meaning all, and theos, god.

Although the word itself was coined by John Toland in about 1705 the idea is much older. Xenophanes (590-480 BC) taught a similar view in reaction against the anthropomorphism of the ancient Greeks, who represented their gods as human beings.

Pantheists see all things, whether objects, living creatures, or ideas, as mere parts of an all-encompassing whole, God or Nature. This whole is divine, or at least it contains a divine principle shared by all things, and God is not a separate being. Thus, Christianity and Judaism reject pantheism, holding that God is transcendent, that is, that He existed before the universe and transcends or is beyond it.

Hinduism is strongly pantheistic. In eighteenth century Europe pantheism developed as a reaction against the Deists, many of whom taught that God, having created the universe, had no further interest in it. It was the desire to bring God back into the universe that resulted in His being made identical with it.

Early religious thought in India and Neo-Confucianism in China both contained pantheistic elements. In the West the Greek Stoics also developed a pantheistic system. The most complete expression of this philosophy appears in the writings of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who saw God as the unlimited, all-inclusive substance.

Pantheism should not be confused with panentheism, which is the belief that God is everywhere in the universe and that every part of the universe exists in Him but which denies His identity with it. The paradox of pantheism lies in the use of the word 'theism', for ultimately it has no place for a god who exists or who has any personal attributes or individual identity separate from the universe. In this sense it is hardly a belief in a god or gods at all but rather a mystical belief in the unity of matter.

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