Omnism or Monism?

A member of the Pantheism discussion group on Facebook wrote a common refutation of the influence of omnism –similar to Perennialism, but they are not one and the same– in modern pantheism. A few excerpts from the post:

It looks to me like we have often confused omnism for pantheism. The idea of pantheism is not subject to individual definition, although the definition itself explains a religious state that could be subjective to individual understanding. (Interesting juxtaposition there…)

The bedrock of pantheism is science…The major difference between omnism and pantheism, thus, is – omnism accommodates all religious beliefs as forms of truths, while pantheism stands with ONE objective form of truth which people from all religious beliefs can and should dump their sentiments and follow.

Think about it in terms of countries. while an omnist is like the citizen who belongs to every/any country based on religious experience, a pantheist is the one who says – screw countries! let’s all just be earth-ans, and this new adoption is based on scientific knowledge. The first step in becoming a pantheist is to be an atheist.

Certainly not all bad ideas, and the last line naturally evokes one of my favorite  quotes about pantheism (though probably unintended as such, and possibly apocryphal) from the great Werner Heisenberg:

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

But that “one objective form of truth” line, always attributed to science as though it were one uniform bloc of thought, that always raises my dander. The attempt to recast pantheism as nothing more than a religious expression of what science informs us is what brought the “sexed-up atheism” caricature upon us, not to mention hordes of self-identified pantheists who confirm the errant tag and look for little else from the philosophy. The idea that pantheism is a synthesis of religion and science seems lost on most.

I haven’t been contributing there much lately, but as an advocate of pantheism and a close cousin of omnism, I had to offer something. (The author slapped a “Love” on this comment, so I guess it went over well.)

“One objective truth” doesn’t exist in a human language. As soon as you put Truth into words, it becomes subjective, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you can embrace the intersubjective Reality that pantheism points us toward…which includes a small dose of omnism.

The beauty of science is that every discovery opens a door to greater mysteries, so there is never any finish line. The objective truth, Reality itself, by logical necessity includes both the known and the unknown and is therefore, as a whole, unknowable. The scientific method, with its mandate of a selective framework for each object of analysis, assures that every intersubjective truth will be surrounded and subsumed in mystery, as it should be. Again, this is something beautiful to admire, its perpetual quest without final realization. But that DQs it from holding ontological truth.

Science gives us some extraordinary models to work with and build from, no doubt. But its model of linear time is rather stunted and primitive, being based solely in perspective. We can learn much more about pantheism from the Hindu model, which combines the linear time of perspective with the eternity of the Absolute into an experience of cyclical time. Most branches of Christianity do not teach cyclical time because it is not well understood, but it is subtly built into the metanarrative of the Bible.

This model is also not Truth, but it is a superior model to the abstraction of a line with neither beginning nor end, or worse, a segment floating in nothingness. Just one example of why there will always be some gentle pushback when it is suggested that pantheism concerns itself with one objective truth & that this truth is purely scientific.

Lastly, I started out as an atheist (or apathiest, to be technical, I didn’t care enough to even think about my lack of beliefs), and pantheism smacked me directly in the frontal lobe. I had to turn to the various theisms to find models that made sense of what I was perceiving. I remained agnostic about the particulars all the way through, though there was no tradition that didn’t seem to contribute anything valuable to the mix, or corroborate in some poignant way what others had also suggested. This is where the omnism comes in for some of us. Yes, the world of the pantheist looks like that of the atheist, because divinity is in the retina of the eye of the beholder, and I would never have considered that subtle but profound difference without having considered that the same is true of God, Tao, Brahman, Pure Mind of Buddha, Ein Sof, et al. So I think it’s a slight mistake to suggest that one must become an atheist when many of us started that way and were just as stubborn about it as any theist –it too can feel like a comforting finish line in a world that doesn’t really have any.

One thought on “Omnism or Monism?

  1. Excellent, Waldo. You’ve distilled a lot of the dialogues I’ve been having with myself and my cell-depleted 76 year old brain. I know you are quite familiar with the thought of Watts, Campbell, Huxley, Jung, Merton, Teilhard, Rohr, etc. I was wondering if you are at all familiar with the writings of Ken Wilber (A Brief History of Everything, Up From Eden, The Atman Project, Quantum Questions) and Houston Smith (Forgotten Truth, Beyond The Post-Modern Mind). I think you would find their thought has resonance with your own.

    Sent from Tom



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