Naturalistic pantheism is a philosophical viewpoint and/or spiritual path which identifies the Universe with god. The word “god”, however, is used as a metaphor for the beauty of nature or for nature itself, pointing out that it’s worthy of reverence. It’s not used to denote a real, transcendent being, such as the christian God.
Therefore, naturalistic pantheism was described as “sexed-up atheism” by famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, which is fairly accurate. So what differentiates it from pure atheism then? And why would someone choose it instead? The main difference is that naturalistic pantheism has an object of worship. Nature is seen as something sacred and awe inspiring by itself, without the need for a supernatural world. Just like atheists, naturalistic pantheists respect the scientific method, critical thinking, logic and philosophy and often dislike ideas such as pseudoscience, esotericism and alternative medicine. This can be seen as an advantage of naturalistic pantheism: it offers the comfort, community and answers that were usually attributed to religion, but at the same time – it stays true to science.
The idea of pantheism is common to various philosophical traditions, spiritual paths and religions, such as Hinduism, Daoism and some Pagan traditions, but we generally consider Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Jewish/Dutch rationalist philosopher, to be its patron saint. In his magnum opus „Ethics“, he equates nature with god: “Deus sive Natura” (“God or Nature”). God is understood as a being of infinitely many attributes, so everything is god and god is everything. Although Spinoza’s pantheism seems to be more idealistic, proposing the existence of an infinite being, he was labeled an atheist and he was ostracized from the Jewish society. Regardless, his ideas survived and we remember him today as a great fighter for reason.
Modern developments in pantheism tend to be more on the naturalistic, atheist side. This “second Enlightenment” happening today, called New Atheism, seems to draw more and more people to atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, free thinking and – of course – naturalistic pantheism. Its „Four Horsemen“ are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (R.I.P. – 15.12.2011.), Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. They are all very active advocates of atheism, rigorously criticizing all forms of religion and religious practice. However, some would argue that atheists need something that inspires them and gives them direction and passion, something usually attributed to religion. Atheists usually answer that their passion lies in science, nature and doing good deeds. Therefore, atheists can be close to naturalistic pantheism without even knowing or acknowledging it. In that case, naturalistic pantheism would provide a great background for fostering such ideas, a large community of like-minded thinkers and feelings of inspiration and wonder simmilar to those commonly found in spirituality and religion.
What are your thoughts on atheism and naturalistic pantheism? Do you think the term “pantheism” is justified?
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