Why Panentheism?

Here’s another answer to a question that I offered in a Facebook discussion, which I thought might be worth sharing here. It was an explanation of why I find the language of panentheism helpful.

I don’t know that I, from my own human perspective, can sort out where Nature ends, or where God ends, or whether talking about either having an “end” really makes any sense. But by not positing a radical distinction between the two, I can note that most people would agree that there is a Reality that transcends us, which caused us to exist, and “in which we live, and move, and exist.” And so I think that helpfully moves things away from fruitless debates about “Does God exist?” to a discussion of “What is reality, how do we know, and how should we live in light of both what we know and the limitations on our knowledge?”

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  • David Evans

    For atheists, that Reality would I suppose have to be the universe. Does it transcend me? Yes in the sense of being much older, larger and more complex. Does it contain anything which would tempt me to use theistic or even panentheistic language? Not as far as I know.

    I think the battle lines will soon be found to be in the same place after your proposed change as before.

    • arcseconds

      Why should the fact it tempts others to use that language but not you be a problem?

  • cameronhorsburgh

    Does this mean you identify with process theology? I ask this because I certainly like the language of panentheism, and it seems to describe my view of the Divine rather well. Yet whilst I find process thought rather interesting as a thought experiment I simply can’t go along with the associated metaphysics.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      Although there are some things I like about process thought, I can’t embrace various aspects of it. So it sounds like we have similar thinking on this topic! :-)

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    I rarely use words like “Nature” or “Reality” – or other such capitalized abstraction which trick us into thinking the abstraction really exists. “God”, of course, is just such a critter too.

    Without this host of CapAbs (capitalized abstractions) in mind, one is less tempted to create untangable paragraphs like this.

    But CapAbs are great tools to create a fantasy world — a fun place for the mind to live. CapAbs are commonly used in political, philosophical and religious studies. CapAbs are like Alchemy, they try to make something out of nothing.

    CapAbs are great for communication because they are quick code for sharing agreed ideas (even if self-deceptive), but the essentialist module tricks us of their substantiality.

    Jim, I think what bugged me the most about this short post was when you said, “I can note that most people would agree that there is a Reality that transcends us, which caused us to exist ..”

    This is the “majority-wins” fallacy. Also, even if the majority believe in spirits or gods, this in no way makes the debate about the existence of spooks and demons “fruitless”.

    It was this illogical dismissal that was obvious to me. And to pull it off, you use CapAbs — a common move.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t think that I am suggesting that the majority wins. I am suggesting that there is a substantial number of people who would agree about something important. Nor was I suggesting that challenging belief in supernatural beings is fruitless – rather I was suggesting that it might be more important to collaborate to challenge that, than to instead debate whether reality deserves to be capitalized or not. :-)