Monday, March 18, 2019

Interview: World Pantheist Movement leader Paul Harrison admits "fundamentalism is growing in some areas," but pantheism is "growing world-wide"

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 29, 2017.

This is the final 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 firstsecond, and third 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: How might pantheism be described?

Dr. Paul Harrison: Basically the term means “belief that All is God.” The Irish writer John Toland, who first used the word “pantheist” in 1705, defined it as someone “who has no eternal being but the Universe.” In modern usage, it has come to mean a belief that everything is, in some sense, a unity, and is deserving of our reverence.  

Cotto: How did the World Pantheist Movement come about?

Harrison: In 1995 I started to write my book Elements of Pantheism straight onto the Internet, section by section, with an email link for people to comment. I was quickly asked to become vice-president of the Universal Pantheist Society, which claims to represent all types of pantheist and does not have a statement of beliefs. I soon realized that it was impossible to promote or explain generic pantheism. I was interested in promoting a more specific form – naturalistic, scientific pantheism.

As more and more people wrote to me, I made an email list where they could all talk to each other. The list grew large, for those days, with lots of endless debates. So I asked my email list for volunteers to draw up an agreed statement of our common beliefs, which we published in 1998. We then incorporated as a 501(c)3 charity, and on the eve of 2000 we opened for subscribing members.

Cotto: In contemporary America, do you see pantheism's societal relevance growing?

Harrison: We see it growing world-wide. Even though fundamentalism is growing in some areas, in most developed countries more and more people are turning away from organized religions, but they are still looking for a spirituality that makes sense of their place in Nature. Pantheism is starting to show up in censuses, in countries where it is included as an option.

We are living in a time where most people in the world, and even in the USA, agree that our planet is facing some very ominous threats, starting from climate change, global warming, sea level rise, melting of glaciers. On top of that we are seeing an ongoing destruction of a lot of biodiversity on land and in the oceans. Scientific pantheism is particularly relevant because it puts Nature at the focus of our concerned action. By doing that we can better assure the survival of our species, and the quality of life of current and future generations.

Earth is not just pathway to a better life after death, Earth can be our paradise, as long as we take care of it.


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