Dialectical Spiritualism: the Synthetic Elegance of Pantheism — The Pez King Blog #5

feWkU1491004560“Theism was the thesis. Atheism was the antithesis. Pantheism is the synthesis.”

I am not a fan of catch phrases and avoid using them at most reasonable costs. But I admit, this has become my standard comment in Facebook conversations about pantheism’s relationship to the more well-known warring opposites. It usually gets a positive response. Most people who study pantheism recognize it as its own category of theological thought, distinct from either pole of the dialectic that produced it.

But what exactly does that mean? How does pantheism encapsulate an emergent philosophy drawing from aspects of both sides of the theological divide?

The answer is not entirely clear yet. Though the term “pantheism” dates to the late 1600s and the mode of thought it entails is much older,  the synthesis is defining itself in real-time, following several generations in which the antithesis has both wrested the upper hand from the thesis and exposed us all to the fatal flaws of a spiritually dead materialism. Pantheism, in other words, as a genuine wisdom path and faith alternative, is emerging before our eyes as it matures and grows in both visibility and viability, but with some intellectual lag time in which it doesn’t quite yet stand alone as a concept. The idea that one can identify with a pantheism that is clearly distinct from both theism and atheism is a novel proposition that even pantheists are slow to embrace

Modern pantheists seem to co-identify disproportionately with the atheist side of the coin in comparison to the theist. They insist that the “God” in the etymological root of the term is just a vestige from a more primitive mindset, that any theos it represents is nothing more than a metaphor for their unitive object of reverence which is Nature and the universe itself, and that is the extent of what is drawn from theism. Fair enough. If that is all they want of God, that is all they will see.

I certainly support this reverence for the tangible world and our “re-immersion” in Nature. The emergence of pantheism marks the end of our fruitless self-banishment and diaspora from Nature in search of a supernatural realm in the great beyond, which portends to greater ecological awareness and sanity in our future. But that alone is little more than atheist materialism in a sexed-up God costume, with little more than enthusiasm to build and sustain the reverence. Baruch Spinoza was no mere materialist, and to equate his notion of substance with the modern paradigm of strict materialism does no justice to the philosophy. It might even tacitly assert Cartesian dualism by naively and simplistically claiming to have resolved it with a materialist monism.

The pantheism I’m talking about is post-modern in orientation —it draws upon a new way of seeing that emerges from a paradigm shift beyond the current modern mindset. I propose that in this vision of pantheism one will find the fulfillment of the ideas of Spinoza and Giordano Bruno, or what they would have been telling us had they witnessed all the intellectual upheaval of the past 300 to 400 years, and lived to see scientific materialism rise to such dominance that even modern theology would by and large become an anachronistic reaction to it.

This pantheism is not in conflict with the contemporary iteration called “scientific pantheism,” in as much as we agree on what is verifiable through the scientific method. It just offers the latitude to think a little further outside that box…OK, infinitely further. But there is only one step involved.

To wit, I offer this summary of intent for the essay to follow:

Theism and naturalism [1] are mutually exclusive philosophies that share a foundation in dualistic thought. The former involves a pre-Cartesian duality of spirit (pneuma) and matter (hyle), while the latter excludes spirit but juxtaposes matter and mind. Pantheism reconciles both dualities and synthesizes the thesis and antithesis across the Cartesian divide, not by choosing sides and declaring a winner, but by applying non-dual logic to each dialectic. The result is not a philosophy that looks at both sides of the coin, so to speak, as much as one that presents a unique Möbius coin in which heads and tails mutually imply each other.


[1] I chose to use the positive assertion of naturalism —a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discountedrather than the negative assertion of atheism, which atheists insist is nothing more than a lack of belief in any theistic philosophy.  

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