Members who hesitated before joining the WPM tell us that
several questions worried them:
- Is this a philosophy of life or a
- Why join? What will I gain from joining?
- Why do you charge people to join?
- Is this a scam? Will you start pumping me dry for
funds and demanding heavy commitments of time?
- Is this a cult? Will I get sucked into some kind
of guru-led pack of zombies who will start to brainwash me and separate me from friends
The following points may help to put the WPM into perspective.
Is this a philosophy of life or a religion?
Most of our members were raised in some other religion, or
as atheists, and for many the word religion has come to have bad connotations for them.
These members don’t use the word religion at all. They view natural/scientific pantheism
as a philosophy of life and an aid to a way of life more in tune with nature. They believe
that to use the word religion gives the wrong impression, by associating the World
Pantheist Movement with belief systems that are quite unlike it.
But we respect freedom of vocabulary – and some of our
members like to use the word religion for the combination of philosophy, ethics and
spirituality. Many people believe that the word religion implies belief in a God or gods.
But Zen Buddhism or philosophical Taoism do not believe in gods, yet they are included in
interfaith gatherings of religion, and in textbooks on the world’s religions. If the word
religion is to include non-theistic faiths like Zen Buddhism, it has to mean
something other than belief in God. In essence, it means an overarching viewpoint that
situates the individual in the universe, and gives direction to their life and resources
for dealing with life’s challenges and a link to others who believe and feel in the same
way. Pantheism is not just a philosophy, it can inspire one’s whole way of life, providing
a secure foundation for ethics, for ways of marking the wayposts of life and nature.
The second reason we don’t disallow use of the word religion
is because there is good evidence that many people, on leaving one religion, go hunting
for another. They feel a need for the complex package of services that a religion
provides, which include philosophy, ceremony, ways of dealing with stress, anxiety and
grief, and a community of like-minded friends for support and socializing. This kind of
package is difficult to convey with other words.
We know that many or most of the alternative religions on
offer are not compatible with evidence and logic, and many are not concerned about the
environment. We think that a rational and environmentally concerned alternative should be
available and that’s what we aim to provide.
Pantheists, , of course, can hold and celebrate their beliefs
privately, in nature or in their own homes.
What do they gain by joining the World Pantheist Movement?
- The confidence that comes from belonging to a growing international group that
shares their beliefs. This can be particularly important when you feel isolated in your
- Communication with other pantheists, both on the Internet and in real life.
- Social support, advice and mutual help.
- Friendship of like-minded people. You will be amazed how well you get on.
- Inspiration and invigoration, through Pan
magazine and the mailing lists, from the wisdom of other pantheists.
- Plus other services like free e-mail forwarding addresses @pantheism.net (see Benefits and subscriptions).
Why do you charge people to join?
Almost all membership organizations, including spiritual,
philosophical and religious ones, have subscriptions or collections to enable them to do
things that cost money.
In the case of the WPM these include
- The cost printing and distribution of magazines and information leaflets.
- The cost of our Internet domain and host.
- The cost of bank account and credit card processing.
- Advertizing to inform a wider public about the World Pantheist Movement’s
existence and beliefs, so more people can have this option.
- Meeting the costs of stalls at exhibitions and other special events.
- Subsidizing of low income membership and free developing country membership.
We do not, at this point, have any salaried staff to pay, or
any buildings to maintain, and all directors and other volunteers work without pay.
We do provide free facilities too: we have a bulletin board, a generic pantheist mailing list,
and a number of local lists for
individual countries and many US states.
Is this a scam?
Spirituality and religion have always attracted their fair share of fraudsters.
This is especially the case with religions that offer access to a better afterlife, or to
the granting of wishes in this life. There have been many publicised cases of diversion of
funds for private use – but even up-front religious uses can be excessive.
What worries people about spiritual and religious groups?
- High financial demands
- Low financial transparency
- Wasteful spending
- High salaries
- Potential for fraud
While many established churches give cause for concern in
these areas, our modest annual subscription fees start at $15/Â£8, while basic full
membership is $30/Â£20. This is far lower than almost all religious groups, where annual
payments, weekly collections and even tithes are commonplace. Of course many people who
can afford it do give more, but there is no pressure to do so.
The WPM does not promise heaven or salvation or the divine granting of
personal wishes, so we don’t have and don’t want the levers that theistic religions can
use to pressurize their members.
Groups recognized as churches by the US Inland Revenue Service are
not required to file accounts, ever. The WPM regards this as an undesirable privilege
which offers the perfect cover for religious fraud. We are not recognized as a church by
the IRS – we may seek recognition, but if we do this will be solely to help us gain
recognition for our wedding and funeral facilitators. We will always put our accounts on
the Web for all to see.
Our financial arrangements are designed to obviate fraud. All checks
require two signatures, and all expenditures above $100 require approval by the board of
directors. We have no salaried employees and directors receive no payments except for
expenses incurred on behalf of the WPM. We have no expensive buildings to build and
maintain. All our membership funds go into member services and promotion.
Is this a cult?
The World Pantheist Movement is probably less like the
popular image of a cult
than the vast majority of spiritual and religious movements and
indeed of established religions. If you want a parallel, think of the Sierra Club,
or the Humanist Association, or the Unitarian Universalists.
The word cult is a value-laden term in common use. All that
it really means is "a spiritual or religious group of which the speaker
disapproves." Some Christian Counter-Cult groups describe all non-Christian groups as
cults. There is very useful well-balanced background material at the Religious Movements
Page of University of Virginia and at the Ontario Consultants on Religious
Tolerance. Generally a more acceptable term is New Religious Movement.
Of course, in some cases there is every reason to
disapprove. In general the groups that attract most adverse comment share the following
- Pressurizing methods of recruitment
- Brainwashing, mind-control
- Separation from society
- Emotional harm
- Restriction of individual initiative and thought
- Devotion to a guru or charismatic leader
Claim of special or divine authority
Assertion of individual authority over members’ lives and thoughts
- Financial exploitation
- High demands on time and effort
- Heavy pressures to retain members
The trouble with the word cult is that it is over-used, so
that people become distrustful of any and all new spiritual movements, while accepting as
normal some very large and long-established religions that, in fact, have amost all of the
The WPM shares none of these characteristics. Unlike religions that
believe in heaven and hell, we have no psychological bribes or threats to offer. We
present our materials and our information on the Web and other media, and at fairs and
meetings. If people are interested we explain further, we answer questions, we
debate criticisms. Then it’s up to the person. If they’re not interested, that’s that.
Our members are ordinary folk, we don’t have communities or monasteries
that separate them from ordinary life. In many areas where we have enough members, we do
have meetings where people can meet fellow pantheists for shared activities. These may
range from discussions, socials, picnics and hikes, to outings to zoos planetaria or
science museums, to celebrations of equinoxes and solstices. The content and structure of
meetings are decided by the local group.
We do have a credo, but this is solely so that people know what we
stand for, so they know whether it makes sense for them to join. Ordinary members are not
asked to sign, learn or recite the credo. The credo covers a small number of key areas –
apart from that the WPM does not impose or prescribe any official position. We recommend
respect for human and animal rights and the welfare of the planet – but how you realize
that is up to your own conscience. We absolutely do not interfere in matters of personal
private behaviour such as sexual preferences or use of intoxicants. We do not prescribe
ceremonies or forms of meetings. How you express your reverence for nature and the
universe, whether you use any ceremonies or not, and what words you use to describe your
spiritual feelings and activities, is entirely up to you together with your friends and
We believe that every individual has direct access to ultimate reality:
this approach does not lend itself to any personal claims of divine inspiration. We do
have an organization and leadership, without which it would be impossible to do anything,
but the president has only one vote on the board of directors and only one voice among
hundreds in our lists and bulletin boards. WPM Members elect an advisory council to
represent their interests, which they can also express freely and openly in the members’
We welcome it when people want to help out, because there are a lot of
tasks to be done and so far not enough people doing them, but no-one is under any pressure
to do so if they don’t wish to. Nor is there any pressure if people wish to leave. When
they’re ready to leave, they just leave, and that’s that.
While humans are clearly vulnerable on earth, both from what we do
ourselves and from volcanism and meteor activity, we don’t believe there is any
supernatural being who has predetermined the span of our existence. Our destiny,
individually and collectively, is in our own hands.