Sunday, March 3, 2013

Two kinds of pantheism

There are two kinds of pantheism. One might call them: reductive pantheism and world-enhancing pantheism.

Reductive pantheism says that the world is pretty much like it seems to us scientifically (though it might opt for a particular scientific theory, such as a multiverse one), and that God is nothing but this world. In so doing, one will be trying to find a place for the applicability of divine attributes for the world.

World-enhancing pantheism, however, says that there is more to the world than meets the eye. There is something numinous pervading us, our ecosystem, our solar system, our galaxy, our universe and all reality, with this mysterious world being a living organism that is God. World-enhancing pantheism paints a picture of a divinized world.

World-enhancing pantheism is a genuine religious view, one that leads to distinctive (and idolatrous!) practices of worshipful reverence for the world around us. Reductive pantheism, on the other hand, is a philosophers' abstraction.

It is an interesting question which version of pantheism is Spinoza's. His influence on the romantics is surely due to their taking him to be a world-enhancing pantheist, and he certainly sometimes sounds like one. But it is not clear to me that he is one. Though it may be that Spinoza has managed to do both: we might say that under the attribute of extension, we have a reductive pantheism, but the availability of the attribute of thought allows for a world-enhancing pantheism.

World-enhancing pantheism is idolatrous, while reductive pantheism is just a standard atheistic metaphysics with an alternate semantics for the word "God".


Jeremy Pierce said...

I wonder if the difference is primarily teleological.

Dale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dale said...

Hey Alexander,

Interesting post. I think that pantheism *can* mean a kind of monotheism. A prime example would be the theology of the great Hindu philosopher Ramanuja. He seems to believe in an absolutely perfect being. BUT this being relates to the cosmos, he says, like a soul to a body. Or like clay to a clay pot. Either way, one could say that the cosmos "is" God, or at any rate is not wholly distinct from God. But, he believes in exactly one perfect being. So he's a monotheist, right? They even believe this God is creator of the cosmos - though this is as it were out of himself, not ex nihilo.

It is an interesting question whether this counts as idolatry. I think it needn't involve *literal* idolatry, because one with this theology may eschew images and idols. But if "idolatry" means worshiping something numerically distinct from God, then again, it is unclear if they're doing this (wouldn't their worship be directed at the Soul of this body?). Also, "idolatry" is often used in a way where it means by definition a sin. But it's not clear that there must be sin involved in believing this sort of pantheism.

Of course, as a matter of fact, this sort of religion usually does involve literal idolatry, as they identify this one God with the Vishnu of Indian mythology.

Dale said...

Oh - and its clear that their sort would be a "world enhancing" pantheism.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

There are times when if I weren't so bound by the teachings of the Church, I would prefer world enhancing pantheism. The more I read about it the more attractive it is to me. I have one question -what are we to make of Teresa of Avilla in her statement that God dwells withing in us, inside the inner most roome of our Interior Castle which is the soul?

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think that the kernel of truth that is found in world-enhancing pantheism is more truly, and non-idolatrously, found in the Thomistic idea that all positive features of creation are modes of participation in God.


I don't know that that view is a pantheism. It doesn't make God be the world, but the soul of the world.

Dale said...

Certain Hindu theologies, including this one, are cited as examples of "pantheism."

One might argue that they are rather panENtheism.

Both, as they stand, are very vague terms.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Thanks Alex.

Heath White said...

It seems to me that "God is the soul to the physical world's body" is panentheism, pretty pure.

The SEP entry on Spinoza spins him as a reductive pantheist. Having no expertise whatsoever in Spinoza scholarship, I cannot say more.

Alexander R Pruss said...

At least Spinoza has one kind of enhancement: the world is a world of modes of one substance.

Unknown said...

Spinoza seems to disavow pantheism:

In a letter to Henry Oldenberg he states:

"as to the view of certain people that I identify god with nature (taken as a kind of mass or corporeal matter), they are quite mistaken."

Though I have not purchased the book that contains the letter & cannot put the sentence in proper context, it would appear that Spinoza explicitly rejects the strict equality of God and nature.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The operative words are "taken as a kind of mass or corporeal matter". Spinoza sees one total reality as having two attributes (aspects?): matter and thought. Total reality as matter = nature (considered passively). Total reality as thought = God. It's the same total reality.