Saturday, March 16, 2019

Interview: Paul Harrison, World Pantheist Movement founder, asks -- "What is the purpose or meaning of God?"

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 28, 2017.

This is the second part of a four-article series on pantheism, as explained by Dr. Paul Harrison, who established and leads the World Pantheist Movement. If you did not read them, the first and second entries are available on-line. Most of the block-quoted material below appeared in previous articles, offering background on the subject matter. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

PANTHEISM (Gr. πᾶν, all, θεός, god), the doctrine which identifies the universe with God, or God with the universe …. the system of thought or attitude of mind for which it stands may be traced back both in European and in Eastern philosophy to a very early stage,” the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica explains.

For starters.

“At the same time pantheism almost necessarily presupposes a more concrete and less sophisticated conception of God and the universe,” Britannica continues. “It presents itself historically as an intellectual revolt against the difficulties involved in the presupposition of theistic and polytheistic systems, and in philosophy as an attempt to solve the dualism of the one and the many, unity and difference, thought and extension.”

This is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“At this period of enlightenment, a declaration from the pulpit that Christian Science is pantheism is anomalous to those who know whereof they speak — who know that Christian Science is Science, and therefore is neither hypothetical nor dogmatical, but demonstrable, and looms above the mists of pantheism higher than Mt Ararat above the deluge,” Mary Baker Eddy’s religion declared in 1898.

What does the Roman Catholic Church have to say?

“The Church has repeatedly condemned the errors of pantheism …. the Vatican Council anathematizes those who assert that the substance or essence of God and of all things is one and the same, or that all things evolve from God's essence …. The straining after unity in the pantheistic sense is without warrant,” it claimed in 1914.

So much strife over such a straightforward doctrine! Since when is a reasonable quest for truth about our world and its creation a bad thing?

Dr. Paul Harrison wrote Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the UniverseHe is an environmental scientist who built and helms the World Pantheist Movement. In its own words, the organization’s “primary aims are to make our naturalistic, scientific form of pantheism available to a wider and wider public as a religious option. This is partly to provide an alternative to the many forms of irrational belief that are being actively promoted around the world, often with huge financial resources backing them.”

Joseph Ford Cotto: In a nutshell, what scientific evidence is there to support the pantheistic argument?

Dr. Paul Harrison: Science is an integral part of scientific pantheism – we regard it as the best method we have for finding out how things really are. We believe in what’s out there in front of our faces and telescopes and microscopes. That’s the evidence, and not many people dispute it. We leave the job of explaining it to scientists. What scientific pantheism is about is our emotional reaction to what’s out there – a sense of wonder, awe, but also belonging, gratitude, reverence, acceptance.

None of these in any way attributing a personality to the Universe or Nature. Feelings like these can’t be logically disputed or refuted by evidence. Not everyone has those feelings, but it’s hard to argue that pantheists should not have those feelings.

Cotto: From a pantheistic point of view, is there anything which can be earnestly described as 'the meaning of life'?

Harrison: If there is no God providing a ready-made meaning for our lives, then we have to make our own meaning or purpose of our own lives. That’s a freedom rather than a burden. Usually it’s enough for most people to feel socially useful, to make a difference in the world at some level or other, and to be remembered by friends relatives and others for the good that they did or the love that they brought. Scientific pantheism would add that you should help take care of Nature, as well as celebrating the joys of life.

Looking deeper, what is the meaning of life, the Universe and everything? There’s no possible answer. The Universe just is, and it is what it is. It appears to be engaged a dance of creation and destruction. We can join in that dance and enjoy it.

Saying that God made it for this or that purpose does not answer the question of meaning, because then you have to ask: What is the purpose or meaning of God?

When you think about it, what meaning or purpose does the God of the Bible provide for our individual lives? Isn’t it mainly to worship and obey Him, and to prove to Him that we deserve to be sent to heaven and not to hell? Personally I do not find that a satisfying or comforting purpose.

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