The essay below is not an exact transcript of the video, text has been added or edited, and the video does not cover the entire essay, exactly, but it comes very close. Enjoy!
This is a response to a YouTube video posted by LordImmolation titled, “Pantheism.”
In his video he essentially asks pantheists and panentheists, “Why view the universe as God?” Because he feels it merely adds confusion, and I am forced to agree. It can and does add confusion, since pantheism is like a quasi blend between atheism and theism.
I thought he asked a series of very interesting and valid questions, so I will try to answer why I personally often refer to the universe as God. Though keep in mind, I also quite often use terms like nature, the cosmos, The Supreme Being, or the All to refer to the universe.
Some of the specific questions he asks pantheists and panentheists are the following;
1. Why aren’t you just Atheists?
2. Why don’t you just call it the Universe?
3. Is it really necessary to make this distinction, separate from atheism? Because he feels that pantheism is just a dressed up version of atheism or merely a more poetic expression of atheism, and that it should probably just be dropped altogether.
He felt that pantheism had no ontological significance. That is, that it didn’t seem to have any importance when investigating and discussing the nature of reality or existence. Overall, I think he wants us to show him an appreciable difference between our view of the universe and atheism. Now since I am a pantheist and not a panentheist, I will mainly focus on pantheism.
For those who are not familiar with those two terms, I will briefly explain them and how they differ from one another.
Pantheism is the view that the entire universe is God. That God and the universe are one in the same. God is the whole of all things, including all living things. The literal meaning of the word pantheism, which derives from the Greek language, is All is God. And one who believes in pantheism is called a pantheist, which is what I am.
However, panentheism is somewhat different in that it is the view that the whole universe is only a subset of God, and that God can exist separately and independent of the universe. Most panentheists view the entire universe as something that evolves or changes, even as whole. They also hold to the idea that God can choose to intervene and interact with the universe to make changes that would otherwise be impossible. These characteristics cause many to view panentheism to be closer to traditional theism. So keep in mind that I am a pantheist not a panentheist. I do not believe God can exist beyond or separate from the universe in any way. And I view the universe as a fixed thing, when viewed as a whole. In essence, this “whole” reflects a yin-yang quality, which forever remains balanced and conserved.
Now, it’s also important to describe how I personally define God, because it does stray quite a bit from the traditional Christian definition, which defines God as an entity that is all good, all knowing, all powerful, and the creator of all things. A supernatural being, usually a male or father figure, who watches over each of us with concern for our well being.
Personally, I don’t believe God is some all powerful male figure capable of doing what ever He wants. God, in my view, is the universe–limited to a set of natural laws. So God—the universe– does not have the ability to choose. God is more like a natural machine. In fact, I usually refer to God as It and almost never as Him, unless I accompany the word with Her to convey the yin-yang aspect of the universe. But to me, it is a very divine machine with rules and physical laws, which everything has to obey. For example, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction or the pi of any circle must be 3.14. I use the term divine, when describing this machine, only to convey its incredible functionality and complexity and order, which overall seems to have value, meaning and purpose, and not as something supernatural, or all good.
However, I do believe God, or if you prefer the universe, constantly sustains us and is responsible for our existence. The whole universe is required in order for any one thing to exist. So one of the primary reasons I refer to the universe as God, is to give it the respect I think it deserves. Because of the authority it has over us, and because it is directly responsible for our existence.
A second important reason I think of the universe as God and why I find the pantheistic view to be necessary and why the distinction needs to be made from the atheistic view is to emphasize that I don’t view the universe as random, accidental, or meaningless. The whole is more than the sum of its parts so-to-speak. Though I do realize not all atheists view the universe as a cold, heartless machine. In a nut-shell, theists tend to give too much significance to what they call God and atheists too often don’t give the universe enough significance.
There seems to be these eternal, unchanging, everlasting concepts and ideas woven into the universe. For example, mathematical concepts. Mathematics is not something that could have been created or something that evolved. It just is what it is. Mathematical concepts would still hold true even if somehow the universe did not exist. Also consider the non-mathematical concepts, like the idea of a cup, or a shovel, or even something as complicated as a phone, all which seem to transcend time or a material existence. These ideas are really not inventions, but rather discoveries. In other words, these concepts go beyond creation and they go beyond any accidental, strictly mechanical universe. Now, if you were to sum up all these eternally fixed concepts and ideas, you get this one overall concept which was never created and which can never be destroyed. The universe is like this ultimate being, which provides us with these ultimate lessons, and reveals this ultimate story of life. That is what I find significant about the universe as a whole, whereas atheists may not.
This leads me to yet another profoundly important reason I choose to refer to the universe as God. These eternal concepts also include permanently fixed forces, which act as guiding forces. And I’m not just referring to the fundamental forces like gravity, but the more advanced, sophisticated forces like the feeling of guilt one has when they do wrong or the desire most people have to help others who are suffering. Therefore, the universe, as a whole, seems to provide guidance. It tends to use all sorts of forces to push us towards a balanced path. Though at times it does this with amazing cruelty and can be quite unforgiving. Sadly, the universe always punishes us when we try to reach towards the extremes. For instance, if we become too selfish then the universe, by its own laws of nature, responds in a way so as to reverse our greedy behavior, like causing us to lose friends who have been taught by the universe to hate selfish behavior. If we are too giving then again the universe will respond in such a way that pushes our excessive behavior back into balance, such as allowing others to take advantage of us when we are too generous.
The universe, as far as I can tell, has a good track record of rewarding those who follow a balanced path. It’s important to note that the universe does deal in probabilities. So even a person who lives a balanced life can have his house torn down by a tornado. But if one does follow a balanced path, it increases the odds that life, or nature, or the universe will respond in a kinder, more balanced way. Those who are out of balance tend to get knocked around by the universe to and fro until he or she becomes balanced. So in this way, I find that the universe, as a whole, does try to protect and guide us, much the way a theistic god might be characterized to do. I truly believe the universe, as I have described it, is the closest thing we will ever have to any god.
Now here are some more trivial reasons I refer to the universe as God. The term atheist or atheism puts a bad taste in most people’s mouths. It has such a negative connotation for most people. When anyone tells a theist he or she is an atheist, the theist will usually give a look of disbelief or disgust, as though the atheist is automatically a devil worshipper who has no reverence or respect for life. So I started referring to this meaningful, purposeful universe as God simply out of convenience. It was a lot easier and helped me to avoid uncomfortable debates or discussions with friends and extended family members who were devout Christians, because I’m very selective with whom I choose to discuss my views with, one-on-one. I’ve learned in the past that one can go in circles forever when discussing such a subject with others whose views are at opposite ends.
However, I believe the pantheistic view helps to bridge the gap between theists and atheists—a bridge which is desperately needed. Pantheism has many things in common with both atheism and theism. It’s a marriage or balanced fusion of the two. God may not have spoken to a man named Moses with an actual audible human-like voice to tell him thou shalt not kill, but the universe does communicate to man through his life experiences, his emotional sensations, and his mental processes, that it is wrong to kill another human in cold blood.
Last, but not least, there’s the emotional reason I choose to view the universe as God, and that is it simply feels good to do so. It just feels right. But many of us pantheist would agree that yes, we could get away with just calling it the universe. It’s just that it comes off a bit hollow and makes the universe sound a little cold. Calling the universe God, for me, sure helps to warm it up a bit.
by Guyus Seralius, October 2010