Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, has described Pantheism as “sexed-up atheism.” That may seem flippant, but it is accurate. Of all religious or spiritual traditions, Pantheism – the approach of Einstein, Hawking and many other scientists – is the only one that passes the muster of the world’s most militant atheist.
So what’s the difference between Atheism and Pantheism? As far as disbelief in supernatural beings, forces or realms, there is no difference. World Pantheism also shares the respect for evidence, science, and logic that’s typical of atheism.
However, Pantheism goes further, and adds to atheism an embracing, positive and reverential feeling about our lives on planet Earth, our place in Nature and the wider Universe, and uses nature as our basis for dealing with stress, grief and bereavement. It’s a form of spirituality that is totally compatible with science. Indeed, since science is our best way of exploring the Universe, respect for the scientific method and fascination with the discoveries of science are an integral part of World Pantheism.
If you are looking for atheist groups or freethought groups or brights groups and email lists, and if you would like ones that do a lot more than just attack religion, then you may well find World Pantheism the place you were looking for.
Why go beyond straight atheism?
Does atheism need sexing up? As such, atheism answers only a single question: is there a creator God, or not? That’s an important question, but if your answer is “no” it is only a starting point. You may have reached that viewpoint based on your respect for logic, evidence and science, and those too are vital values. Yet after you’ve reached that initial “no God” answer, all the other important questions in life, all the options for mental and emotional wholeness and social and environmental harmony, remain open.
If atheism, humanism and naturalism are to advance, then they need approaches that don’t simply leave the individual alone in the face of an increasingly threatening physical, social and international environment. They need ways of life that offer as rich a range of benefits as traditional religious ones.
Atheism is advancing. Growing numbers of people, across almost all nations, declare themselves to be non-religious or atheistic. Atheistic books on religion, like those of Dawkins, Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens, are best-sellers.
But so far atheism and atheist groups have focused on attacking conventional religions, especially the Western theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It’s true that these religions often come with high costs: submission to written or priestly authority, belief in terrifying concepts such as demons, Apocalypse, Last Judgment and Hell, or the drive to impose one’s beliefs or religious values on other people. In many cases they give cachet and endurance to backward, repressive or destructive social values, developed in agrarian societies many centuries ago. And it’s valuable to highlight these costs.
The attractions of religion
But negative critiques will not suffice. There are many motives beyond fear or habit why people hold fast to old religions or convert to new ones. There are many reasons besides ignorance and folly why they make religion the center of their personal and social lives.
Religions are not just a confidence trick on the part of prophets and preachers, or a self-destructive aberration on the part of believers. They have had social survival value in the past, and they continue to provide individual and personal benefits today, and these benefits are the source of their continuing numerical strength.
- Religions provide communities of mutual support.
- They overcome existential isolation and alienation, giving people a meaning for their lives and a sense of their place in the universe and nature.
- They provide remedies for grief at the death of loved ones, and for the fear of one’s own death.
- They combat the feeling of helplessness in a threatening world full of crime, conflict and disaster.
- These benefits show up in the form of better health and longer life.
Of course, if you’re buying these benefits at the price of abandoning logic, ignoring evidence, believing in contradictions and impossibilities, teaching your children to fear a God who is getting ready to destroy the planet, signing on for social values that repress the rights of others, let alone sacrificing your life to slaughter those who disagree with you, then maybe the price is too high.
A naturalistic spirituality
Are these negatives an inevitable part of the bargain? They may well be an inevitable part of belief in the unbelievable or of uncritical adherence to ancient scriptures.
But is it impossible to get the benefits that conventional religions offer, without giving up one penny of the value offered by reason, science, and progressive respect for the human rights of everyone? Don’t we need approaches that offer the same range of advantages as supernatural religions â€“ but without the costs?
Can there be such a thing as a religion without god, an atheistic religion or a religious atheism? The Buddhism of the Pali scriptures does not have a God or gods. Nor does the Taoism of Lao Tzu or ChuangTzu.
Can there be such a thing as a completely naturalistic form of “spirituality” with no supernatural elements?
Increasingly, leading atheists and humanists like Neil De Grasse Tyson, Sam Harris and Michael Shermer are saying yes. Of course we can quibble about the word “spirituality.”
When you pursue this approach of celebration and spirituality further, you are no longer in the real of basic atheism – which does no more than deny the existence of gods. You have in fact arrived at Scientific Pantheism. At World Pantheism we have been exploring this possibility since the beginning of 2000 CE. We do so through our global and local mailing lists, through our magazine Pan, and through a growing number of local groups. We have lists about scientific and philosophical ideas, as well as about practical ways of developing our naturalistic spirituality. You can find links to these on our main page.
Our completely naturalistic Pantheism does not believe in any supernatural beings, forces or realms and is fully compatible with atheism and skepticism. As Richard Dawkins writes:
Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings.
In practice, while a significant minority of our members like and use the word God to express the depth of their feelings for Nature and the wider Universe, the majority do not use the word about their own beliefs.
There are other names for similar approaches, such as religious naturalism or naturalistic paganism. We have gone with Pantheism simply because it’s the best known, and has a long pedigree.