— The 14th Dalai Lama
Philosophical Wes post again, just to warn you.
There is a very common question in our society that people have been arguing for what seems like an eternity. The question is “Does God exist?” I’m pretty sure you’ve found yourself on one side of this question and have probably argued it passionately with other people at least once in your life so far. However, the more I have thought about this question, the more utterly useless I find it. First of all, what god are we even talking about? The answer is that most people are talking about the god that is considered to be all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing creator of the universe. In other words, the Western “first-cause” god. So if that’s the god we’re talking about, I would have to say “no.” But we know the word “god” has turned into a meaningless word, because it can mean basically anything these days. Some people see god as a metaphor for the human spirit, others as quite literally a old man with a beard sitting up in the sky. But I see the word differently even than that. I tend to lean pantheistic in my philosophical beliefs, and for those of you who don’t know what that means, it is the belief that “god is everything.” So to me, the word “god” means something entirely different.
Now, pantheism tends to get a bad rap in the theological and philosophical world. Viewed as silly, primitive, and thoughtless. It’s as if people expect pantheists to be nature-worshippers who perform human sacrifices out in the woods to appease the god of the universe. I can’t even begin to say how wrong of an assumption that is. Much to people’s surprise, pantheism and atheism actually hold very similar ground. Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist, even described pantheism as “sexed-up atheism.” And the more you compare pantheism to ideas such as atheism, agnosticism, and humanism, there are many similarities, the only difference is the definition of the word “god.”
Pantheistic beliefs have actually had a hold in many world religions, including the ones we know the best. Taoism is considered to be the oldest pantheistic religion, although the term “god” is rarely used. Instead the term “tao” is used, which in Chinese, literally means “the way,” in this sense, the way of the cosmos. The whole goal of Taoism is for people to live in “the way,” and to understand that they are completely a part of it. But in Taoism, the Tao is considered to be ground of all being, that sustains everything, but does not “lord it over everything” as the Western god tends to be known for. In this case, I tend to stray away from the use of the word “god” because of its connotation in more favor of a word like “tao.” The Tao Te Ching, the primary text of Taoism, is one of the only religious texts that I really enjoy, because of its simplicity, yet it’s deepness. It doesn’t have the long winded-ness that the Bible and the Qur’an are known for. For an example:
“The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth.
While naming is the origin of the myriad things.
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same—
When they appear they are named differently.
This sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;
The door to all marvels.”
-Tao Te Ching 1
As can be seen, the Tao in Taoism is considered to be the ground of all being, where “things” appear, but are fundamentally all part of the same thing, including humans. But Taoism is not the only religion in which this has appeared. One of the most famous sayings from the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism states rather explicitly, “You are that.” This same idea is implied by Buddhism, and can even be seen creeping through parts of the Western religions. In Judaism, the mystical tradition of Kabbalah holds similar ideas, as well as the entire Jewish sect of Hasidism (surprisingly one of the ultra-Orthodox sects). Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam also holds these ideas strongly. All one needs to do is read Rumi’s poetry to see these ideas manifesting themselves. Even in Christianity, these ideas come into being. Christian mystical tradition holds these ideas, and even concepts in Eastern Orthodoxy and even in the Catholic church has similar ideas. The Christian concept of “theosis,” as commonly known by the traditional Christian theological quote “God became man so that man may become God,” is a big thing in Orthodoxy, and much lesser so in Catholicism, but completely absent from Protestantism, unfortunately. Even Jesus’s sayings imply this same idea, as can be said in one part of John where a group comes to stone Jesus for blasphemy for saying that he was “God.” His response, oddly enough, was a quote from the book of Psalms, where he says “Does it not say in your law, that I have said you are gods? So how can you say I blaspheme because I say that I am the son of God?” Although in a roundabout way, this idea still comes through. Western religion, however, tends to make the distinction that this is not pantheism, but instead panentheism, which is the idea that god is both everything and beyond everything, and panentheism makes the claim that pantheism limits god only to the physical universe. But pantheists would say that the physical universe and “everything else” are basically the same thing anyways.
It seems that in a way, there is a “hidden god” throughout human history. Not a personal god that answers prayers and has supernaturally involved itself in human affairs, but a god that simply is, and of which we are a part. A god that “needs” us as much as we “need” it. In which everything relies on everything else for its existence. A god which is in the process of discovering itself through life, as the late astronomer Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
— Alan Watts