Pantheism and Panentheism

Pantheism and Panentheism

By Konstantin Fyodorovich Bogaevsky (1872–1943)

Philosophers usually love abstract concepts and the categorization and systematization  of ideas. There is something about the way their minds work that nudges them in this direction. I have always disdained labeling and systematizing of ideas into this or that camp. I refuse to call myself a Jungian, a Hermeticist, a theist, an atheist, etc. because I see this as limiting imagination and reason. I don’t think it is inconsistent when I contradict myself by asserting two seemingly contrary ideas. There is much truth in paradox. One must attempt to transcend the typical polarities and adhere to the tension of the opposites. Jung certainly believed this:

All opposites are of God, therefore man must bend to this burden; and in so doing he finds that God in his “oppositeness” has taken possession of him, incarnated himself in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict.

My recent studies have led me to the realization that I do not believe God is only transcendent, which is the typical Western viewpoint. Neither do I believe that God is only immanent in Nature, which would be pantheism. This seems to be the position of Bruno, but I am not certain, not having read enough of the original source material. Perhaps it’s panentheism, which says God “interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it” (Wikipedia).

One cannot say positively that God “is” anything. Furthermore, which God are we referring to? Would it be the God beyond God, as Meister Eckhart postulated? He distinguished between the Godhead (Deitas) and God (Deus), the former being totally unknowable to human thought.

Many great spiritual traditions distinguish between an unknowable Ultimate Reality, and a Reality as experienced in everyday human endeavors. The Hindu religion recognizes this distinction as Nirguna Brahman, Brahman with no attributes; beyond human understanding; and Saguna Brahman, Brahman with attributes and manifested in human experience as Ishvara, a more personal ruler of the Universe. This is somewhat analogous to the Demiurge of the Platonic and Neoplatonic schools.

I absolutely feel that the Divine permeates Nature, including ourselves. But I think this idea alone would be one-sided. Affirming the power of paradox, as I do, I must hold God to be both immanent and transcendent simultaneously. This is the Deitas of Eckhart, the totally Unknowable Deity, the “Ground of God,” so to speak.

As much as I dislike labels, I am fond of the idea of panentheism. The following is taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Panentheism” is a constructed word composed of the English equivalents of the Greek terms “pan”, meaning all, “en”, meaning in, and “theism”, meaning God. Panentheism understands God and the world to be inter-related with the world being in God and God being in the world. It offers an increasingly popular alternative to traditional theism and pantheism. Panentheism seeks to avoid both isolating God from the world as traditional theism often does and identifying God with the world as pantheism does. Traditional theistic systems emphasize the difference between God and the world while panentheism stresses God’s active presence in the world. Pantheism emphasizes God’s presence in the world but panentheism maintains the identity and significance of the non-divine. Anticipations of panentheistic understandings of God have occurred in both philosophical and theological writings throughout history (Hartshorne and Reese 1953; Cooper, 2006). However, a rich diversity of panentheistic understandings has developed in the past two centuries primarily in Christian traditions responding to scientific thought (Clayton and Peacocke 2004).

I like this term because it is Soul-like; it causes one to follow a middle path to understanding, being composed of the roots of pantheism and theism (immanence and transcendence). Such words are angels, in the Hillmanian sense — messengers of Soul. This is because angelic words fuse two images together and deliver a truly Soul-filled message.

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5 thoughts on “Pantheism and Panentheism

  1. Ah, but then there is Pandeism, the reconciliation of Pantheism with Deism, the Deus which was wholly transcendent but which in setting forth our Universe became wholly immanent!! Consider Pandeism, and, Blessings!!

  2. Strange synchronicity: I was thinking about this very topic on my way to work this morning. Panentheism, God in everything as opposed to God is everything (pantheism). I first came across panentheism in Matthew Fox's books Coming of the Cosmic Christ & his book Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spritiuality. For me, it makes more sense than pantheism; only in the sense of making sense, if that makes any sense…

  3. Panentheism is the closest thing I have ever found to a description of God/reality that makes sense. I am quite sure that God is everywhere and in everything, and that there is no free will. All will is God's will – God creates, sustains and animates the cosmos. God is all that exists, but also has infinite unexpressed potential (which is why the 'en' or panentheism makes some kind of sense).

    I enjoyed reading your article, many thanks for your thoughts!

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