Where does pantheism fit in the world of ideas, and are we at a point where we need to revisit it?
Some things are great for a beginning, but outright wrong for an ending. A prologue, a birth, the morning sunlight hitting a groggy face, these are all great at the first, but strangely out of place when found at the end. And it is to this group of beginnings that we can and must allot that erroneous but beneficial step called pantheism.
Pantheism is the spark of a fundamental question, the question being ‘is God out there?’
For after the fall of man, after the amnesia had set in concerning the one true God that we could walk and commune with, after that, pantheism – the belief that the divine is in all things of the universe – not only makes sense but finds its appropriate place. This is because pantheism is the spark of a fundamental question, the question being ‘is God out there?’ It doesn’t answer the how; it doesn’t answer the why; but found in its proper place it does the marvellous job of pointing the human mind in the right direction, something other modes of thought have a terrible time accomplishing.
Of course, pantheism is not a great idea, but only a good one. For while it certainly acts as a first step in climbing the ladder to the real, it nonetheless has facets which need to be trimmed and characteristics that need to be shed entirely. In this way, the belief is very much like preparing a meal to satiate some hunger. Having made the first step of recognizing that food will alleviate the discomfort, a meal may or may not provide the kind of sustenance that can bring the body to health; it may or may not be the kind of food that can sustain one for the day’s efforts. In other words, the idea is more than worth having even if the particulars need to be shaped and refashioned to accomplish the final goal.
And what is the final goal of man when cut off so drastically from God as the first couple were when they were expelled from Eden? It is to reunite with God, to reconcile with humanity and our maker Himself; to become what we were meant to be. It is this goal that pantheism can help with. By trimming the edges, by asking further questions, by clarifying pre-conceptions and replacing misconceptions, the mode of thought which dominated much of the ancient world was an important step towards something.
So here is an odd question now worth considering.
Have we as a society, as a culture, as a people fallen so heavily into our own amnesia when it comes to God that only a good and robust first step will do? Is it possible that for many in our generation to come to the Faith, to know the full truth of the Gospel, they must first come to know the partial truths of pantheism? I think it’s a good idea. ‘The divine is in all things;’ okay, we who evangelize can work with that.